Smaller Goalie Gear
CHANGE The maximum width of leg pads is now 11 inches, down from 12. Stick-hand blockers are one inch shorter (down to 15 inches) and the circumference of gloves has been shrunk by three inches, to 45 inches. Goalies also have to wear jerseys that are more formfitting.
INTENDED IMPACT To give shooters a better chance of scoring and increase the chance of a rebound.
EXPERT'S TAKE Tomas Vokoun, Predators goalie "The main problem is the small glove, not from the perspective of catching the puck but holding on to it. Unless you catch the puck in the [webbing], it tends to bounce out."
More Intradivisional Play
CHANGE Division rivals will play each other eight times a season instead of six. Teams will still play four games against conference opponents outside their division. The number of interconference games drops from 18 to 10.
INTENDED IMPACT To ratchet up rivalries.
EXPERT'S TAKE Bryan Murray, Senators coach "Good for the game. You'll have a lot of conflict on the ice. As a coach you'll have more time to evaluate the performance of certain players so you can see if you need to make an adjustment in the way you forecheck or the way you play in your own end."
CHANGE A player who precedes the puck into the opposing team's defensive zone will not be ruled offsides if he returns to the blue line and makes skate contact with the line before touching the puck. Previously a player in ahead of the puck was not allowed to "tag up."
INTENDED IMPACT To give the game more continuity by decreasing whistles for offsides.
EXPERTS' TAKES Scott Niedermayer, Ducks defenseman "It's not a big thing one way or the other. A lot of what they've done [in terms of rules changes] is bigger than this. But this will keep the game moving, keep the energy." Bobby Clarke, Flyers G.M. (left) "You won't see defensemen backpedaling as much to open up the ice."
The Money Factor
CHANGE Teams are forbidden to have a payroll that exceeds $39 million, except to replace an injured player who will be sidelined for 10 games or more. Nor can a team dip below $21.5 million in salary.
INTENDED IMPACT To maintain competitive balance and restrain some teams' profligate spending.
EXPERT'S TAKE Brian Burke, Ducks G.M. "The biggest impact is on flexibility. You'll see a difference at the trade deadline because it was moved up [14 days]. Now, you pay a guy for 40 days [based on a 184-day pay schedule]. If you want to add a $5 million guy at the deadline, it will cost you [$1.1 million]. You won't see 30 deadline trades anymore."
CHANGE OLN will air at least 58 regular-season games as well as a number of postseason games. OLN reaches 64 million U.S. homes, down from the 89 million reached by ESPN2, which carried 50 of the NHL's 70 televised games in '03--04. (The others were on ESPN.) Beginning on Jan. 14, NBC will air games on some Saturdays through the end of the season, as well as at least two games of the finals.
INTENDED IMPACT To reach as many homes as possible.
EXPERT'S TAKE Dean Bonham of the Bonham Group, a sports and entertainment marketing firm "The league is getting a reasonable price [$135 million for two years]. Most important, this gives the NHL flexibility because it is not long term. In five years the league will be positioned to get a much higher rights fee. The product will be more fun to watch, and we'll have a much higher saturation of high-definition TV technology. An HD format completely changes the game--it allows viewers to see a play develop. And it is much easier to follow the puck."
CHANGE The tie is dead! If games are deadlocked after regulation, teams will play five minutes of four-on-four sudden-death overtime. If the game is still tied, a shootout begins in which three skaters on each team take alternating penalty shots. Still tied? The teams trade penalty shots until there's a winner. (A losing team will get a point if the loss comes in overtime or in the shootout.)
INTENDED IMPACT To entertain fans.
EXPERTS' TAKES Luc Robitaille, Kings forward (left) "The goalie has the advantage because by the time the shootout happens, the ice will be real bad. The puck starts bouncing. It eliminates some of the moves you make normally." Martin Biron, Sabres goalie "You have to focus hard on the first shooter, because what happens there will give you an edge, or put you behind, the rest of the way."
CHANGE The 200-by-85-foot ice sheet has not been altered, but the neutral zone has gotten four feet shorter, the offensive zones four feet longer and the area behind each net two feet shorter (see measurements above).
INTENDED IMPACT That the larger attacking zone will lead to more goals.
EXPERT'S TAKE Wayne Gretzky, Coyotes coach "The net being moved back allows an offensive player to move from the end boards to the front of the net quicker, and that's going to create more opportunities. Faster guys are really going to have success. Slower guys can still play, but they're going to have to be smarter. A [big, slow] guy like Flyers defenseman Derian Hatcher is going to be successful, because he's smart enough to find angles and he can reach."
CHANGE Players can now pass from behind their own blue line to a teammate who is beyond the red line at center ice. (The two-line pass was previously illegal.) The red line will remain on the ice but only to determine when an offensive player has iced the puck.
INTENDED IMPACT To encourage long breakout passes and transition opportunities.
EXPERT'S TAKE Jack Parker, Boston University coach (NCAA rules have long allowed the two-line pass) "The absence of the red line will make for more play in both offensive zones. Without the red line, it's difficult to trap. Attacking players can make indirect passes or long lead passes, and the D will be concerned about people behind them. Sooner or later the defense will figure out that you have to attack the puck carrier."
Restricted Goalie Area
CHANGE Goalies can no longer play the puck anywhere. Behind the net they are limited to a trapezoid-shaped area that begins six feet outside each goalpost and is 28 feet wide at the end boards. A goalie who touches the puck behind the goal line outside that area will draw a two-minute penalty.
INTENDED IMPACT To stop goalies from corralling the puck before a play can develop and to encourage attackers to follow the puck and forecheck.
EXPERT'S TAKE Sudsie Maharaj, Islanders goalie coach "It's not going to have a huge impact. Goalies who are really skilled will play pucks in front of the goal line. And goalies who are less confident in their puckhandling will only play it in that safe area anyway."
Read more about the upcoming NHL season at SI.com/nhl.