Fox's take on new NHL rules
- How will new rules impact the game?
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Shawn P. Roarke / Special to FOXSports.com
Posted: 16 hours ago
Not only does the new collective bargaining agreement — formally
ratified by the owners Friday, a day after the players accepted the
terms of the deal — provide the necessary economic reforms owners
insisted were necessary to move the game forward, it also delivers the
framework for an exciting new on-ice product.
Using the lockout-imposed 10-month respite, the league's recently formed
competition committee — a body consisting of four general managers, four
players and an owner -— revamped the league's rulebook. The result was
the presentation of innovative, "out-of-the-box" ideas that promise to
set the conservative hockey establishment on its ear.
Unfortunately, that is not the intent of the sweeping changes brought
into being with Friday's ratification of the Collective Bargaining
Agreement. Rather, the majority of the rule changes were designed to
open the game up. A very conscious effort was made to allow the game's
skill players to reclaim the limelight lost in the onslaught of
defensive schemes and dominating goaltenders.
"We are going to let our offensive players, our skilled players do what
they do best," says Gary Bettman, the league's commissioner.
But, will that happen?
Many hope the new rules will allow skilled players like Tampa Bay's
Martin St. Louis to have more room to work. (Jeff Gross / FOXSports.com)
Will the game's marquee talents — dynamic players like Jaromir Jagr,
Sergei Fedorov, Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, and, to a lesser
extent, the incoming Sidney Crosby — be able to offensively dominate
games in the way the league envisions with its bold master plan?
That remains to be seen. And, unfortunately, the answers will not come
"I do think that a lot of these things will take time to develop," said
Brendan Shanahan, one of the players on the competition committee.
"Certainly some of the changes will be immediate to the eye and exciting
to the eye, but realistically there will be a time period. All of the
benefits of these rules won't happen on Day 1. They have to develop."
But, with the excitement generated by Friday's "Game On" pronouncement
out of New York, who can wait to see how these new rules will develop?
Here is one set of opinions on the major revisions introduced to the
NHL's on-ice product. Remember, however, that these rules are a package
deal, with one change reliant upon several other alterations to succeed.
"The changes all run into one another," explained Lou Lamoriello, the
general manager of the New Jersey Devils. "They are all interdependent
on each other."
So, in the end, the package will be judged on its merits as a whole.
Until then, however, here is a look at some of the major components of
hockey's new look.
Larger attacking zones
NHL's take: By adding four feet to each attacking zone, the NHL believes
it can open up some ice in the offensive zone to allow for more fluid
puck possession, especially on the power play.
Likely result: This idea is spot on. The more ice, the better for the
league's creative players. Give them time and space and the game's
leading lights can make defenses and goalies look silly. The added room,
combined with some of the anti-icing measures discussed below, also
suggests that sustained offensive-zone pressure will be easier to maintain.
Deeper goal lines
NHL's take: Moving the goal lines two feet closer to the end boards will
eliminate many of the opportunities to play the puck as it will travel
more quickly around the boards -- especially with goalies now limited
severely in where they can handle the puck. Conceivably, it will also
cut down on some of the multi-player scrums for puck possession that
often develop behind the net as space will be taken away.
Likely result: Wayne Gretzky's "office" is no longer. The goal lines
were initially moved away from the end boards to give players more
opportunities to initiate offense from behind the net, something Gretzky
was a master at throughout his career. That, however, rarely came to
pass with other players because of the disciplined defensive systems
prevalent in the NHL today. Now, that creativity zone has been condensed
in order to open ice elsewhere in the offensive zone.
Smaller neutral zone
NHL's take: Less room means less play. In recent years, play has been
confined to center ice for long stretches of time as teams tried to hold
their defensive blue line, especially when protecting a lead. Now, with
less room, as well as the threat of the two-line pass, less time should
be spent in this bottleneck area.
Likely result: A smaller neutral zone was successful in opening up play
a bit in the American Hockey League, so it should also work here. But,
on those rare occasions when the puck is in the neutral zone, the game
could quickly deteriorate into a rugby match as players attempt to find
space in what will be a very limited area. Hopefully, the tag-up offside
rule (discussed below) will help alleviate this problem.
Allowing the two-line pass
NHL's take: This is one of the centerpieces of the NHL's game plan to
re-introduce offense. By allowing "home-run" passes from inside the
defensive zone to the attacking blue line, it is believed that more
teams will attempt to spring players on the attack and take advantage of
the transition game. And, there is no arguing that the well-executed
pass to set up a breakaway is among the most exciting plays in hockey.
Likely result: Those hoped-for home runs will be few and far between.
Today's NHL players are too defensively cognizant to allow players,
especially marquee offensive players, to wander free up the ice. Also,
for those teams intent on playing a "trap" system, the introduction of
the two-line pass is not a deterrent. It simply moves the line of
resistance back to the defensive blue line. Let's not forget the
completely cynical game the Germans played during the 2002 Olympics — a
tournament played on a larger international-sized ice surface and with
the two-line pass.
NHL's take: A return to the standard in place before the previous round
of tinkering. By allowing offensive players entering the attacking zone
before the puck to re-establish themselves as legal participants in the
play, the NHL believes it will increase the flow and continuity of the game.
Likely result: This was among the no-brainer decisions on the docket.
There was no good reason to move away from touch-up offsides in the
first place. The idea that this practice encourages defenders to dump
the puck in without regard to the position of his teammates was
misinformed. The practice remained even after the change to automatic
icing, resulting in repeated whistles and neutral-zone faceoffs. While
tag-up offsides will certainly lead to more dump-and-chase hockey, that
option will likely be tempered by the opportunities to play possession
hockey provided by the new system.
NHL's take: There are several tweaks to the icing rule that will make
the game move faster. Tantamount among them is the stipulation that the
team committing the icing can not perform a line change before the
ensuing face-off. Also, linesmen have been given greater discretion to
wave off apparent icing infractions deemed to be an attempted pass. With
"touch" icing still in effect, these modifications will reduce the
number of situations in which a race for the puck might result in an
injury to a player.
Likely result: This is a perfect compromise between the status quo and
some of the more radical ideas proposed. Perhaps, the most important
part of this package is the discretionary powers given to the linesmen.
It is a long overdue concession that will make a huge difference in the
game's flow. A more radical approach to enforce icing on the shorthanded
team during man-advantage situations fortunately did not pass muster,
allowing defenses a minor tool to blunt the offensive onslaught being
NHL's take: The NHL has instituted a suspension scale for those players
that receive instigator penalties in the last five minutes of a game.
Coaches will also be fined, starting at $10,000 for the first offense
and doubling for each incident by his team afterward. This, the NHL
believes, will eliminate a good portion of the ugliness that often
ensues at the end of lopsided games.
Likely result: More instigator chaos. The instigator rule, by its very
nature, is an arbitrary designation. A fight judged to be "instigated"
by one referee, will be seen differently by another. That means that
teams will be losing the services of players that commit the same act as
other non-penalized players. Maybe someday the NHL will get rid of the
instigator rule, which is a useless attempt to control an aspect of the
game that, for the most part, remains self-regulated by the players.
Smaller goaltender equipment
NHL's take: The NHL knocked a little more than 10 percent off of the
legal size of most goaltending equipment, including leg pads, the
blocking glove, upper-body protector, pants and jersey. The argument
here being that smaller equipment will translate into a smaller mass,
opening up more of the net for shooters to enjoy.
Under the new rules, goalie equipment, which kept getting bigger and
bigger in size, will not be 10 percent smaller than the legal
requirement. (Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images)
Likely result: Another long overdue move. Nobody can blame the goalies
for pushing the limits in the quest for a competitive advantage, but
things were approaching the absurd in recent years as many goalies
looked more like the Michelin Man than a professional athlete. It will
be interesting to see if the goalies' insistence that these moves will
allow for more serious injuries to the goaltending fraternity becomes a
Puck play by goaltenders
NHL's take: Basically, the NHL is suggesting that puck-handling goalies
are helping to drag the game into its defensive shell. So, they have
severely limited the powers of the "third defenseman." No longer can a
goalie wander free to chase down a dump-in and trigger the transition
the other way. Now, they will be limited to a small puck-handling zone
behind their own net.
Any puck touching by the goalie outside of his trapezoidal prison will
result in a delay of game penalty.
Likely result: Who knows, but boo to the NHL. After stressing the need
for offense, the NHL goes out and negates a skill set developed over the
years by goaltenders to help create offense. A puck-moving goalie has
been a prized possession for teams trying to generate transition
opportunities. Now, those creative keepers have been silenced. What a
shame. Watching a goalie like Martin Brodeur handle the puck is a treat,
not a crime.
NHL's take: There will be zero tolerance for all forms of hooking,
holding and other forms of clutching and grabbing. Everyone apparently
has embraced this, throwing around words like "ownership" to show their
seriousness. In a perfect world, allowing the skill players a path to
the puck that is free from clutching and grabbing will allow the game to
flower into the beautiful spectacle it can be.
Likely result: A march to the penalty box. First of all, the disparity
in talent will be even more pronounced under the new economic system
than it was before as lower-paid and lower-skilled players flood the
market to fill out the cap space left after the stars have been paid.
So, clutching and grabbing will be the only recourse for many of these
players. Secondly, how many times have we heard the mantra that a
penalty in October will be a penalty in June. Until they prove it, this
one falls on deaf ears.
NHL's take: The fans have spoken and the league has listened. That's
their stance and they are sticking to it. So, the controversial shootout
becomes the law of the land to decide regular-season games still tied
after five minutes of 4-on-4 OT play. Three shooters per side and then a
"sudden-death" portion if the score remains tied. Winning team gets two
points, loser gets one. Again, this is designed to force teams to open
it up and go for the win in regulation.
Likely result: Let's see. Are no points better than one point? Not last
time we looked. Therefore, teams without the prime offensive power will
sit back and and accept ties or refuse to attempt to put a team away —
same as the pre-lockout NHL. Why give up a point in the bank for the
meager prospect of an additional point? There is no doubt however that
the shootout will be exciting, as well as translate better to television
— an always important concern.
NHL's take: That's it. No more will hockey resemble soccer with players
writhing around on the ice after the most incidental of contact, looking
to draw a penalty and then popping back to life after the application of
the magic sponge. Fines for such behavior, escalating with each offense,
are now the norm for players convicted of diving or feigning injury.
Such a determination can even be made by the hockey operations staff
after the fact. In this way, the game now will be played in a fair and
honorable way without fakers besmirching its integrity.
Likely result: See the instigator rule mentioned above. The potential of
opening Pandora's box is just too great for the small amount of positive
this will bring to the game. The idea of supplemental justice being
delivered from a videotape — even on plays that incurred no penalty in
real time — is a troublesome path to head down and should be avoided at