The International Ice Hockey Federation has always been a step ahead of the NHL when it comes to rules changes. Unlike the NHL, the IIHF doesn’t use nebulous notions of “tradition” as speed bumps to put a drag on the pace at which the game evolves. And the IIHF’s just-revealed proposals for new rules changes for their 2014-18 rulebook provides another example of the governing body’s admirable willingness to consider alterations to keep the sport as vibrant as possible.
The IIHF’s annual congress takes place Friday in Belarus, and five committees and national federations have come up with 86 proposals connected to 57 rules. The most important include:
*the goal line moved closer to the end of the ice (from four meters to 3.3);
*the reinstatement of the red-line offside;
*the introduction of touch icing;
*removing the “cheater” portion of goalies’ catching gloves;
*standardizing and moving in the blue line to increase offensive zones;
*doubling the penalty for goalie interference to four minutes in total;
*giving a major penalty to any player who grabs, holds or twists an opponent’s head;
*forbidding goalies from freezing the puck if it’s been shot in from outside the blueline.
Many of the IIHF’s proposals have been discussed in NHL circles for some time, but most have been pushed to the sidelines in the name of “further study’. For instance, the “cheater” piece of goalie equipment has been a source of complaints from NHL GMs, players and coaches for years, but the structural legwork that is necessary to effect change in the NHL – namely, the collaborative effort between the league, NHL Players’ Association and the equipment manufacturers – has prevented any meaningful change from taking place in that regard.
There are other rules changes that are less contentious, including: a rule to ban bass drums at arenas – the drums would join a list of banned noise-pollution items that includes air horns and whistles – and a rule that would establish the definition of an ice surface as a “surface made of frozen water” (are member countries trying to save money by making ice from frozen yogurt?). There’s no guarantee any new suggestions will be implemented, but the IIHF is considered one of the game’s most progressive bodies precisely because it remains open-minded to change and understands the hockey product is an organic one that requires constant tinkering.
The NHL has made some changes over the years, but they always pale in comparison to what the IIHF does. You don’t have to reinvent the game every year, but you do have to acknowledge how staid the game can get if you don’t stay ahead of coaches and players always looking to bend the rules to their advantage.