AP Hockey Story of the Day: December 16 – Might four-man defensive units work?

The NBA’s Sacramento Kings, who recently fired their head coach despite a not-horrific start by their standards, are rumored to be looking to try a new system that, were it successful, could completely change the sport’s dynamic. You can read about it here, but essentially the Kings are looking to play a four-man zone-style defense, which would involve one player consistently focusing on offense – a cherry-picker, if you will. Now as the article points out, the reality of the situation may mean a 5-man defensive unit but one man designated as a breakout player who immediately sprints up court whenever the opposition takes a shot. It’s a very interesting idea and it should be noted that this isn’t the first time the Kings have done something innovative.

So how does this apply to hockey? And what are my thoughts on this? Well my first impression would be that a set-up like this would involve a four-on-four at the defensive end (since surely the opposition would adjust to stick a player on the cherry-picker) and a five-on-five at the offensive end. At least in hockey (and I would imagine in basketball as well), offense is easier to generate with more room at four-on-four, so it would seem like all the team is doing is making is easier for the opposition to score while the only advantage would be potentially getting some one-on-ones up-court on the breakout. We can’t know for sure without seeing it though, in either sport.

The big question this presents though is, why don’t NHL teams use farm clubs more to test set-ups like this and see what works? Whether it’s a four-man defense, or playing with 3 D, 2F, or playing with “midfielders”, or whatever else, we can’t know what might change the game until we try it. Somebody’s gotta be the first mover. That’s what Sacramento is trying be, as they look for any possible advantage after years of poor performance. After all, they can’t be much worse.

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