Trapping Isn’t Tantrum-worthy


Like a lot of NHL fans, I’m not sure why people are just now realizing that the Tampa Bay Lightning use a 1-3-1 system.

I’m also not sure why the 1-3-1 suddenly infuriated the Philadelphia Flyers Wednesday night.

But now, there’s talk about the NHL “doing something” about trapping teams.

Obviously, there are things that can be done.

Greg Wyshynski suggested a shot clock, which is an interesting idea.

But if the NHL really wants to kill trapping, they need to talk to their television partners.

Specifically, they need to talk to them about how they shoot NHL games.

Most NHL telecasts follow the puck through the three zones. Sometimes there are some shots from behind the goal up the ice, but for the most part, NHL games are shot like you’re watching above center ice. It makes sense, because viewers want to see the action. But in hockey, a lot of action occurs behind the play, too. And when you can see the whole play, it’s very easy to see what types of systems a team is running.

There’s never been a fan-driven outcry against systems because they’re tough to suss out on TV.

Even while Philadelphia was stalling, it was hard to tell exactly what was going on, because the camera was focused on the Philadelphia defensive zone. It’s only until Versus went to an overhead shot that fans could see the issue with Tampa’s 1-3-1:

But what if the league put pressure on its television partners to make more use of overhead shots? That might shame some teams out of relying so heavily on the trap. Because while it’s painfully obvious when a team is trapping in a live situation, it’s not always as obvious on TV.

But does the league even want to end trapping?

I can’t imagine anyone was happy about Wednesday’s Flyer tantrum, but systems do a lot for teams. They make weakened teams competitive (the Bolts were playing without their top two defensemen, which was part of Tampa coach Guy Boucher’s rationale for sticking with the trap, even after things got awkward).

And perhaps most importantly, defensive systems let players rest. The NHL season is long. Players can’t go all out for 82 games. Trapping lets players rest. It’s not always entertaining, but it’s a necessary part of a physically demanding game.

The Flyers were frustrated, but their trap tantrum wasn’t about protecting the integrity of the game for fans. If the Flyers wanted to make sure the fans got a good game, they shouldn’t have stood around in their own end killing time off of the clock.

Is trapping the NHL’s biggest problem? I’d probably focus on headshots and concussions before I’d worry too much about trapping.

But if the NHL does want to take on trapping, public shame via television might be the most effective way to go.