Out Of The Red With Wes Walz
They used to be called “cherry pickers.” They’re the forwards who linger outside of the defensive zone in hopes that a teammate will come up with a defensive turnover, send a long lead pass out of the zone and spring said floater on a one-on-none breakaway.
Prior to this season, “cherry pickers” was a dead term in the National Hockey League, seeing as how it was nearly impossible to “float” when a pass was forbidden to cross two lines in the neutral zone. But now, with the new rules set forth by the NHL, “cherry pickers” are alive and well, although they might become known by a new name, “game breakers.”
The “elimination of the red line” rule is expected to have two impacts. First, it should allow for more scoring chances with players able to start a “fast break” the other way. Second, it will cut down on the amount of whistles that are blown by referees when a seemingly innocent pass crossed the blue line and the red line.
Wild center Wes Walz is in a unique position in terms of dealing with the new rule. As the fastest player on the club, he could be the guy often instructed to be ready to “break” towards the neutral zone if the Wild are in need of a goal. On the flip side, Walz is known for his defense, and the elimination of the red line may also mean his duties, as a defensive stopper just got even tougher.
“I think (the new rule) could be a factor late in the game,” said Walz. “With not having the red line, I really think the defensemen have to be much more aware. I know European defensemen grew up playing with that rule so I think they are probably more apt to look behind them all of the time. It might take a little bit of an adjustment time for the defensemen who grew up in North America.”
Though Walz’ scoring chances could be increased, he’s more concerned with helping out on defense and preventing a scoring chance for the other squad.
“Guys just need to be aware of who’s hanging out behind them,” he said. “Trust me, there’s going to be certain guys in the league who like hanging out behind the defensemen. It used to be frowned upon, but now it’s a good play.”
Ultimately, Walz is pretty sure that the rule will increase flow, but shouldn’t lead to an inordinate amount of fast breaks the other way. The larger offensive zones and crackdown on obstruction should be more than enough to increase scoring chances.
“I honestly haven’t noticed a huge difference in the preseason with the red line out,” he explained. “I played with the red line out in Europe for four years, and I played with it in here, and I never noticed a big difference. I never thought it was going to play a big difference other than once in awhile, you can catch a defenseman sleeping and a guy will get a breakaway. Honestly, when that guy gets beat once, it will probably never happen to him again the rest of the year.”