The National Hockey League announced a series of rules changes Thursday for the 2014-15 season, after getting approval for them earlier this summer by the league's Board of Governors and the NHL Players' Association. Some of them should have a clear and positive impact on the way the game is played. Others ... not so much. Here's the wording of the guidelines along with our quick take on each:
Rule 1.8 – Rink—Goalkeeper's Restricted Area
The trapezoid will be expanded by two feet from the goal post on each side of the net.
Our take: I'll admit that I've changed my thinking on this one ... a bit, anyway. It's obvious that forwards can't be held up while entering the zone like they could prior to the introduction of the trapezoid in 2005, so the reality is that few goalies have the time, let alone the hands, to make the plays behind the net that they used to. Maybe the real impact of the trapezoid is that it prevented a few keepers from becoming roadkill as they fumbled around with the puck. Still, it's tough to get behind any rule that limits the impact of skill, even if there were just two or three goalies capable of making hay with their puck skills. Those skills should be encouraged rather than throttled, so give this modification credit for giving keepers a bit more room to work with the biscuit.
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 one ("Physical Fouls") as boarding and checking from behind. A player who incurs two such game misconducts in this category would now be automatically suspended for one game.
Our take: Great. These fouls are either dangerous or reckless and all are capable of inflicting significant damage. Upping the consequences for repeat offenders makes good sense for the game and for the league's legal exposure down the road if/when the vigor of its pursuit of safety is called into question in court.
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 the shootout.
Our take: I don't think I can say it any better than my 10-year-old did when I broke the news to him: "What, they already have enough sick goals or something?" Clearly the move needed to be addressed in some fashion. The rules clearly stated that forward momentum must be maintained in the process of taking the shot, and a Spin-O-Rama, by definition, includes some backward motion. The solution then should have been obvious: Change the wording to read "momentum must be maintained." That would prevent shooters from stopping and delaying but allow for the continued use one of the most creative moves in the game ... and one that was certain to make the highlights on outlets other than the NHL Network.
Even a grade schooler understands that the game is supposed to be entertaining first and foremost. Setting up obstacles like this is bad for the product.
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.
Our take: So now it has to be "an even more distinct kicking motion?" That won't be confusing, right? Anyway, the bottom line for the guys on the ice and the guys upstairs or in Toronto is getting the call right. It only makes sense to take full advantage of the technology at hand to ensure that the correct result is recorded, even if it creates the likelihood of more controversial secondary decisions.
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.)
Our take: Not a fan of the first part, if only because it will diminish the number of spectacular defensive plays. That said, we can't argue with the logic. A player who is upright isn't allowed to strip the puck and then upend an opponent, so it's tough to argue that leaving his feet makes him exempt from the rules.
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:
We say: "No really, we're totally serious about cracking down on diving this time, you guys!" We're skeptical, but any specific effort geared toward minimizing diving is all right in our books. But you know what would really have teeth? Requiring officials to call only the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty instead of allowing them to penalize both the initial foul and the embellishment.
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.
Our take: They should have just called this one "The Vernon Fiddler Rule." No team has exercised this stall tactic as often or as effectively as the Dallas Stars, who would routinely dispatch a winger into the circle to create a delay before sending in Fiddler, their best face-off man, to take a defensive draw. Some smart coaching there, but that was a loophole that's been crying out to be closed for three years now.
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.
Our take: On the surface, this makes so much sense that you wonder what took 'em so long. By forcing teams to change ends, you put the second period "long change" into effect. Tougher changes creates more room for mistakes and mistakes lead to goals ... at least, in theory. In practice, teams are more likely to lock it down defensively and take fewer chances in OT to prevent the sort of sloppiness this rule hopes to instigate. We'll see how it plays out, but don't be surprised if this leads directly to three-on-three next year to open up the ice and create some real scoring chances.