With less than a month to go until the start of a new season, the NHL announced 10 rule changes Thursday that cover a variety of areas. We'll go through the changes as they
appear on the NHL's site and I'll give my take on each.
Rule 1.8 – Rink - Goalkeeper's Restricted Area
The trapezoid will be expanded by two feet from the goal post on both sides of the net. This will give the goalie a little more room to freeze the puck and play with it around the net or as it comes off the boards. But c'mon - can we just get rid of the damn trapezoid altogether? More goalies struggle with handling the puck than help their teams by ejecting it to the neutral zone. And besides,
Martin Brodeur isn't long for this league and the rule was brought in because of him.
Rule 23 – Game Misconduct Penalties
A new Game Misconduct category will be created. Clipping, charging, elbowing, interference, kneeing, head-butting and butt-ending move from the general category into the same category as boarding and checking from behind ("Physical Fouls"), whereby a player who incurs two such game misconducts in this category would now be automatically suspended for one game.
This is a good one. The NHL continues a crackdown on dumb-dumb penalties, the kind that never have and never will have a place in any level of the sport. Prior to these changes, if you received two game misconducts (five-minute majors) for either boarding or hitting from behind, you received an automatic one-game suspension and the possibility of further supplemental discipline. Now, that rule has been expanded to include these seven other infractions. You might look at this and wonder why interference is included among the more heinous transgressions, but remember, the game misconduct only comes in to play for five-minute majors. Basically, the league is attacking the needless "intent to injure" infractions by locking in an automatic one-game suspension, with the possibility for more. This rule isn't coming after the accidental penalty, but the dangerous ones. And to get suspended for it, you'd have to do it twice over the span of 41 games. Prior to this change, there were no specified fines or suspensions for some of these penalties (like head-butting), while others (like elbowing) had an automatic fine of, get this, $100. The only downside I see here is if the automatic one-game suspension makes the league less inclined to suspend a player for even longer.
Rule 24 – Penalty Shot
The 'Spin-O-Rama' move, as described in Section 24.2 of the 2013-14 NHL Rule Book, will no longer be permitted either in Penalty Shot situations or in the Shootout. Some people erroneously thought this already was an illegal move because the puck wasn't always moving forward. But the NHL rulebook specifically named "spin-o-ramas" and declared them legal because the puck was in a "continuous motion." Spin-o-ramas became illegal if the puck ever stopped. But that's all changed and it's kind of ridiculous. Think about it: you decide regular season games on a skills competition and then you limit the type of skills a player can use? The spin-o-ramas were fun and made highlight reels, even if they were unfair to goalies. But who cares about playing fair with goalies? As long as they weren't being injured and bowled over, this was a fine move. Most rules these days are made in the mindset of creating as much offensive opportunity as possible - yet this one takes away one of the more exciting moves in the most boring part of a regular season game. Can't support this decision. Just get rid of the darn shootout and introduce a 3-2-1 points system already.
Rule 38 – Video Goal Judge
Video review will be expanded in the following areas:
* Rule 38.4 (viii) has been modified to allow broader discretion to Hockey Operations to assist the referees in determining the legitimacy of all potential goals (e.g., to ensure they are "good hockey goals"). The revised Rule will allow Hockey Operations to correct a broader array of situations where video review clearly establishes that a "goal" or "no goal" call on the ice has been made in error. The new expanded rule will also allow Hockey Operations to provide guidance to referees on goal and potential goal plays where the referee has blown his whistle (or intended to blow his whistle) after having lost sight of the puck.
* In reviewing "Kicked in Goals," Hockey Operations will require more demonstrable video evidence of a "distinct kicking motion" in order to overrule a "goal" call on the ice, or to uphold a "no goal" call on the ice. This looks like a pretty good rule - after all, it's vitally important to get the right call on a goal or non-goal. Where it's going to get tricky is on the second bullet point with kicked-in goals. The rules states that a goal must be disallowed if a distinct kicking motion propels the puck into the net. As we know, this isn't always as clear as it sounds. Is a distinct kicking motion
any forward movement of the foot when it makes contact with the puck? Because if a player angles his skate to direct the puck towards the net, it sometimes does move toward the goal and certainly propels it. It's a murky rule that will go on as such, but now it seems the league will only rule a kicked-in goal illegal if it's an obvious back-and-forth kick. This might turn into one of those "when you see it, you know it" rules.
Rule 57 – Tripping
The rule relating to "Tripping" will be revised to specifically provide that a two minute minor penalty will be assessed when a defending player "dives" and trips an attacking player with his body/arm/shoulder, regardless of whether the defending player is able to make initial contact with the puck.
But, in situations where a penalty shot might otherwise be appropriate, if the defending player "dives" and touches the puck first (before the trip), no penalty shot will be awarded. (In such cases, the resulting penalty will be limited to a two-minute minor penalty for tripping.) I always liked the rule that allowed you to (inadvertently or not) trip a player who was coming in on your goalie as long as you hit the puck first. This gave the defensive team one, last desperate attempt to defend the net and if you were able to time it right, it was a good and exciting defensive play. But, alas, we live in an era where sports hate defense and re-write rules that are more favorable to offenses. In the end, this isn't a huge deal - you might argue that if a defense was beaten so badly that it has to dive at the puck, then it has no business getting back into the play anyway. Fair enough.
Rule 64 – Diving / Embellishment
The supplementary discipline penalties associated with Rule 64.3 (Diving/Embellishment) will be revised to bring attention to and more seriously penalize players (and teams) who repeatedly dive and embellish in an attempt to draw penalties. Fines will be assessed to players and head coaches on a graduated scale outlined below.
This is as potentially great as it is potentially awful. Whether or not a referee calls a player for diving or embellishment, it's completely independent from a later NHL ruling, so the effectiveness of this rule change is completely dependent on the supplemental discipline committee. If the league is serious, we should see a pile of fines - especially early on - because we all know diving is becoming a very real problem for the NHL. It's so obvious. On the other hand, how often did players get suspended for it before? How eager is the league actually going to be to fine the legitimate offenders
and their coach? What if it's a star player like, say, Ryan Kesler? This is one that sounds great on paper, but in practice, but not accomplish much of anything at all. According to Pierre LeBrun, the
NHL will announce these fines once a week. The jury is still out on this rule change.
Rule 76 – Face-offs
To curb delay tactics on face-offs after icing infractions, in situations where the defending team is guilty of a face-off violation, following an icing, the defending player who is initially lined up for the face-off will be given a warning, but will be required to remain in the circle to take the face-off. A second face-off violation by the defending team in such situation will result in a two minute minor bench penalty. This is another one I like in theory. The idea is the team that just iced the puck can't delay play from resuming by "accidentally" getting thrown out of the face-off dot and giving his team a few more seconds to recover. Now, the player gets one warning, stays at the dot, and if he lines up illegally again, a penalty will ensue. But teams cheat all the time in the draw anyway and you never, ever see a team penalized for encroachment. This rule should at least make the game start back up a little quicker, though, which is a win for fans.
Rule 84 – Overtime
* Teams will switch ends prior to the start of overtime in the regular season.
* The entire ice surface will undergo a "dry scrape" prior to the start of overtime in the regular season.
* The procedure requiring the head coach to submit a list of the first three shooters in the shoot-out has been eliminated. These rules are also designed to speed up the game a little more. These are relatively minor changes to current rules, but the most noticeable one here is that the coach no longer has to submit a list of the first three players he's going to use in the shootout. The next step should be to use international shootout rules and allow any player to shoot as many times as the coach wants after the first three shooters go. Call it the
T.J. Oshie rule. If you're going to make us sit through a shootout, let's see the best players go against each other round after round until the game is decided. It is, after all, a skills competition.
Rule 85 – Puck Out of Bounds
There have been further rule changes made relating to face-off location to avoid penalizing teams for plays intended to create bona fide scoring opportunities. Specifically, the following are "categories of plays" where face-offs will remain in the attacking zone despite the fact that the attacking team was technically responsible for the stoppage in play: Shots at the net by a player on the attacking team where: (i) the shot breaks the glass; (ii) the shot goes off the side of the net and deflects out of play; (iii) the shot goes off the dasher boards or glass and deflects out of play; (iv) the shot is tipped or deflected out of play by a teammate; and (v) the shot becomes wedged in or on the exterior of the goal net. Remember how I mentioned that almost every rule change is made with more offense in mind? Here's another one. Now, as long as the offensive player doesn't directly shoot the puck up into the stands or netting, his team will still get an offensive zone draw even if they were the last ones to touch the puck. All of the examples listed above are accidental puck ejections that penalized a team for trying to play offense. I can get behind this change, too, because under the old rules, the defensive team was getting a helpful bonus without actually doing anything to earn it. Just like a winger fighting for possession with a pinching defenseman along the boards, you have to earn your way out of the defensive zone. This rule re-enforces that tradition by making the defensive team get the puck out of the zone on its own.
In addition, the following rule change will be enacted for the 2014 preseason and may be continued for the 2014/15 regular season if approved by the League and the NHLPA.
Rule 1.9 – Rink – Face-off Spots and Circles – Ice Markings/Hash Marks
The hash marks at the end zone circles will be moved from three feet apart to five feet, seven inches apart (international markings). This potential rule change takes a page out of the Olympic rule book and applies it to NHL ice. It separates the wingers a little bit more - will be interesting to see the impact it has in the pre-season.
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