Point/Counterpoint: The 1-3-1

Point/Counterpoint is a new series which argues both sides of a topic relevant to the Philadelphia Flyers. This week, Pavialax and Dan A debate whether or not Tampa’s 1-3-1 is good for the sport of hockey.

Point by Pavialax:

I somehow missed the memo that says I should be outraged by Tampa’s audacity in playing the 1-3-1 system.

Amidst the fallout from last week was discussion of how to prevent teams from playing the trap or at least preventing a standoff situation like we saw multiple times in the game. It seems most of the backlash is directed toward the trap itself, with a healthy dose of criticism for the way Peter Laviolette chose to play against it with blatant stall tactics.

Due to the chess game being played out on a national broadcast, the 1-3-1 and trapping systems in general will be one of the topics discussed at the GM meetings this week. Bob McKenzie of TSN polled GMs in the league to ask which team was to blame: Tampa for playing the 1-3-1 or Philadelphia for trying to bait Tampa out of their system. What he found was 13 responded by saying it was Tampa’s fault, 3 that blamed Philadelphia and 2 that stayed neutral. Eight of the 13 who blamed Tampa also said they were in favor of rules or penalties against the 1-3-1.

Is the 1-3-1 really bad for hockey? I don’t think so.

I think there are other areas of the game that deserve attention over what happened in an isolated game. After all, Tampa used the 1-3-1 last year and there wasn’t any fuss. In fact, Tampa had a very successful season in 2010-11 and the system was applauded.  Of course last week’s game wasn’t the best for enticing new fans to the sport, but neither was the NHL Guardians project.

Tampa doesn’t rely on the 1-3-1 100 percent of the time and other teams have beaten it, so is the problem with the system, or how Laviolette handled it?

Tampa uses a 1-2-2 when actively forechecking, but when it’s clear that they will not get puck possession from the forecheck, they transition seamlessly into a 1-3-1, in which there is no active forecheck. Unfortunately, the Flyers tend to settle the puck down in their own end before bringing it up instead of relying on quick passing and movement up the ice, so this undoubtedly caused Tampa to drop into the 1-3-1 and the result was a battle of wills between the benches.

Without the Flyers trying to “bait” Tampa into breaking their formation and system by playing the “come and get it” waiting game, there would be no stalemate and very little controversy.

We expect coaches to coach to their team’s strengths and at the same time try to eliminate areas in which their weaknesses may be exposed. Tampa’s weakness right now is defense, especially with injuries to two of their top defensemen and they were worried that the Hartnell-Giroux-Jagr line was going to light them up like they did to Columbus.

The trap is smart hockey when you need to hold onto a lead. It creates turnovers and creates scoring opportunities by capitalizing on mistakes made by the opponent. It clogs up the neutral zone, it promotes the dump and chase, it is stifling and suffocating at times and it is a great system when a team needs to hold onto a lead.

More importantly, Tampa’s execution of the system is admirable (really it is) and it has made them a tough team to beat in the neutral zone and a very dangerous team to play against in transition. It also doesn’t necessarily promote low scoring games all the time and doesn’t stifle its players’ offensive production as both Steven Stamkos and Martin St Louis both broke the 90 point plateau last season.

Is the system boring? Yes. Laviolette’s answer to boring was to be more boring until Tampa came out of the 1-3-1. Was he making a point? Yes. Did it work? Not really. The Flyers earned a point for the tie in regulation while being held to a season-low 15 shots in the game. If the Flyers are so much bigger and faster than last year, Laviolette didn’t do a great job at playing to his team’s strengths (my opinion), but that is another discussion for another day.

Yes, the NHL is a business, yes it should provide entertainment, but it’s also a sport. Just like any other sport the objective it to win and sometimes win at all costs.

I found the game entertaining. I may not be the majority, but a game that is an exception, rather than the rule, shouldn’t inspire the NHL to implement other changes to the rulebook by requiring a team to forecheck or on the flip side of the coin, requiring a team to advance the puck even if it means advancing it into a trap.

First, what disappointed me more than watching the Flyers’ various defensemen skating in circles with the puck was first the way the officials handled it, or rather that they seemed so unsure of how to handle it. Second, I was disappointed at the way the Versus crew covered the game, especially a nationally televised game. If you are trying to draw more fans into the game, talk some strategy, talk about ways to break the system, talk about why it’s so effective, but don’t whine about it and criticize the coaching and certainly don’t walk of the set in mock protest as Mike Milbury did. Actually, I was hoping he’d walk off and not come back, but oh well.

Terry Murray probably had the most valid concern of the trap being implemented in youth hockey programs, because it teaches positioning rather than developing effective fundamentals and skills. I agree with this concern, but that is for youth hockey programs to correct.

Even if we need to take the trap out of the NHL, how do we do it? Rule changes that have been proposed in varying places range from a shot clock (horrid idea and definitely facepalm worthy) to banning zone-type defenses (as was done in the NBA years ago) but do we really need to adopt ideas from the NBA? I’ll give a resounding hell no to that one.

The trap allows a different dimension of the game to come through and rather than complaining about it or wanting to outlaw it, GMs should be far more concerned with their coach’s ability to combat it through strategy. If every team plays the same way on defense, on the forecheck, on offense, to me, it’s boring.

I know some people are of the opinion that high-scoring games are needed for hockey to be entertaining, but as fans we should be able to appreciate other dimensions of the game. Embrace the trap as part of the game. Embrace the execution. Embrace the coaches that come up with a strategy to combat it. I love hockey. I love seeing plays develop and the strategies that different coaches use. To sum it up, the 1-3-1 isn’t going to single-handedly bring down the NHL and we as fans should appreciate all the different dimensions of the game.

Counterpoint by Dan A:

We have the numbers. We have the statistics. We have the outcome of the game. The Tampa Bay Lightning held the Philadelphia Flyers to a mere 15 shots on goal, the fewest the Flyers have put on net in any game in recent memory. Tampa won 2-1 in overtime on a goal by Brett Connolly. In terms of league statistics and standings, this game probably won’t mean that much by season’s end.

However…for anyone who sat through that entire debacle (except my esteemed colleague, it would seem) the game was completely and mind-numbingly boring.

In the first seven minutes alone, on two occasions the Flyer defenseman holding the puck stopped dead in the defensive zone, wasting time in the face-off circle waiting for a forecheck that never came. The stalemate was only ended by the referee’s whistle blowing the play dead and awarding offensive-zone faceoffs to the Lightning. Not even that put a stop to the antics, as the Flyers amended their strategy to skating in circles in their own zone, keeping the puck in motion and the play alive.

In the words of Flyers captain Chris Pronger: “That’s not hockey in my book…Would you pay money to watch that? I wouldn’t either. That was a TV game, too. Way to showcase the product.”

This is the crux of the argument.

People pay money to watch hockey games. The speed and grace of these athletes is unmatched; the spectacular goals, brilliant saves, and bone-crunching collisions coming together to form a medley of awesomeness. When the puck is stationary in one section of the ice, with no one pressuring the puck carrier, the entertainment value goes right out the window.

The only pleasure I derived from watching that game was the fits of laughter that threatened to burst from my lungs at the dumbfounded looks on my friends’ faces as they watched this unfold.

When it comes down to it, a professional sport is a business. The object of a business is to maximize revenues and the way to do that in the sports and entertainment market is to put butts in the seats and in front of the television. And the way to do that is to put an entertaining and attention-grabbing product on the ice. Correct me if I’m wrong, but just seven years ago the NHL lost an entire season largely due to this.

The plodding game that hockey had become (at least to the audience-at-large) was alienating casual fans and, combined with other factors, led to many teams and the league losing money. The solution to this was a salary cap and a plethora of new rules meant to “speed up” the game and increase the flow of scoring. The team that benefited most from this style of play, the New Jersey Devils, has not been the same team since they were forced to abandon their once-innovative strategy. The league, and most importantly, the majority of fans rejoiced at the supposed extinction of this slow and methodical style.

The Lightning’s 1-3-1 system involves one forechecker whose job is to force the play, three players sitting in the neutral zone to force the puckhandler to one side and take the puck if possible, and one player in the defensive zone. I can’t be the only one who sees what this is.

This is the neutral-zone trap wolf in sheep’s clothing, waiting in the midst of the flock to devour it. We can’t afford to take this kind of risk, lest the NHL slip back into the clutching and grabbing mess that cost the league millions of dollars.

In addition, the true effectiveness of the trap is also questionable.

In spite of the Lightning’s use of it in the playoffs last season, though it did allow them to defeat the Crosby and Malkin-less Penguins and perennial underachievers in Washington, it was able to be circumvented by the offensively-challenged Bruins. And in the most recent example, the trap wasn’t responsible for beating the Flyers. Laviolette did that by refusing to play an offensive game.

In conclusion, the 1-3-1 trap is boring and even has a limited level of effectiveness. The Lightning have yet to prove that their success wasn’t a flash in the pan last year, their team defense is in the bottom third of the league in spite of their boring style, and their use of the trap slows down the game to a snail’s pace, minimizing its entertainment value. I hated the trap when New Jersey used it, I hated the trap last year when the Lightning used it, and I continue to hate it this year.

  • John

    Counterpoint wins

  • John

    Counterpoint wins

  • John

    Counterpoint wins

  • Sonny Lusch

    as long as any trap is allowed, nobody wins. good arguments on both sides.

  • Sonny Lusch

    as long as any trap is allowed, nobody wins. good arguments on both sides.

  • Sonny Lusch

    as long as any trap is allowed, nobody wins. good arguments on both sides.

  • Bob H

    NICK, YOU IGNORANT SLUT! Ohhh…wait…wrong thread…

  • Bob H

    NICK, YOU IGNORANT SLUT! Ohhh…wait…wrong thread…

  • Bob H

    NICK, YOU IGNORANT SLUT! Ohhh…wait…wrong thread…