If you look at any sport, you realise that over time, they become an evolving game. Hockey is no different. Players are bigger and faster than ever and the training regimen they are putting themselves though all year around makes for a much faster and physical game.
PENTICTON, BC. – In order to keep up to the ever changing game and address some of what seems to be needed, the NHL has changed rules over time in hope to better the product on the ice. In some aspects, it has paid off. In some others, it has not and in other instances we have people wondering if those changes are good or not.
Getting rid of the centre line for two-line passes seems to have had a positive effect on speeding up the game, adding the threat of stretch passes as an added arsenal to teams’ play books. By the same token, those who remember the old rule can attest that there are not as many stoppages in play due to the constant two-line passes. Linesmen will also attest that it allows them to position themselves better to watch for tipped passes and make more accurate decisions about icing calls.
Although not perfect, the NHL took a step in the right direction by going to the hybrid icing calls as we have not seen as many dangerous races towards the boards and severe injuries to those racing to get or avoid an icing call. We have seen some inconsistencies in the way it is being called however and it is my opinion that the league should take the next step and make it a full no-touch icing rule, as we see in the IIHF. This would avoid doubtful calls and it would save time on the clock at the end of games when teams try to protect a one-goal lead.
My personal favourite rule change in the modern day era has been the one which says that a defensive team cannot change players when icing the puck. Prior to that rule being implemented, we saw teams using the icing to make line changes, knowing that they could get fresh troops on the ice. It slowed down the game a great deal and there would be no repercussion to using that strategy. We now see coaches having to make a decision for using their time-out during key points in the game, and tired players and/or wrong line matching having to defend in their own zone as a punishment for icing the puck.
The shootout has always been a gimmick to try to bring more non-traditional fans to the game of hockey and while it might have had mixed positive results for the first while, it has grown old in a hurry and it’s certainly not a way to keep those fans coming to the games. Just like baseball doesn’t use a homerun derby to end their games, a skills competition between two players goes against the principle of a team concept game and much anticipated three-on-three overtime will convince the naysayers that it is a much better alternative, there is no doubt. The shootout should disappear as it should have never been implemented to start with.
We can all understand why the league felt like the two-referee system was needed as many plays were being missed behind the referees’ back and with the speed of the game increasing, two more eyes should catch more infractions. What they didn’t take into account is that you are also bringing two different judgements, two different ways to see and call a game and that created huge inconsistencies during the same game. Also, this meant doubling the number of referees needed which created another important issue: many of the new referees are not good enough or not ready to call games at that level, making for more bad calls, infuriating teams and fans alike. And that’s not counting that players are bigger, the play is faster and adding one more referee puts one more person in the way of the play, as we too often see. The NHL must find a solution to this problem and go back to the one referee system.
When the instigator rule was adopted by the NHL for the start of the 1992-93 season, it made non-fighting, cheap-shot artists rejoice with glee. It added a two-minute minor and game misconduct to a five-minute fighting penalty if game officials felt one player had deliberately started the fight. The game misconduct was changed to a 10-minute misconduct starting in the 1996-97 season. Also, after a certain amount of instigator penalties, the player would be suspended. Agitators, back-stabbers and cheap-shot artists, whose acts wouldn’t have lasted two games prior to that date, are still celebrating the day their league legislated an end to accountability. The league wanted to avoid seeing a John Scott going after a Sidney Crosby, which has never been an issue in the past as players would police themselves. Since the league has clearly shown over the years not being consistent and fair with their suspensions, it should revert back and allow players to bring back accountability to the game. The best quote comes from former Blues tough guy and current team radio analyst Kelly Chase: “When I played, I didn’t have to call (NHL commissioner) Gary Bettman to find out what the punishment was for running a guy from behind in Detroit,” Chase said. “The punishment was Bob Probert and Joe Kocur.”
Perhaps the single worst idea the NHL has had in recent memory was to put both benches on the same side of the ice. While the fact that they wanted to make it fair to both teams having to cross the ice when they have a penalized player in the penalty box, they have created constant traffic and unnecessary pushing and shoving, even fights in doing so. For those too young to remember, the home team had the advantage of having the penalty box right beside their bench and the visitors’ bench was across the ice. As the NHL is playing a balanced schedule with 41 home games and 41 games on the road, what is wrong with having an advantage being the home team? The league is trying hard to find creative ways to add more offense so why not revert back to the way it used to be and let the home team with that advantage? This would also solve the nonsense at the players’ bench.
ON THE FENCE
We don’t have to look far to realise that many fans in today’s NHL are upset at the rule stating that an automatic penalty is being issued to the player who flips the puck over the glass in the defensive zone as we read it on Twitter constantly when it happens. Having said that, if you recall the old rule, only the goaltender would receive an automatic penalty when shooting the puck into the crowd and while goaltenders today are much better at handling the puck as opposed to their predecessors, anyone who has played the game will tell you that defensemen and forwards have a much better handling and control of the puck. So why would a goalie receive a penalty and not a player? The problem is not with the penalty in my opinion but with the players who insist on flipping the puck high on the glass to get it out of the zone, out of arms way. While in some occasions, they are dealing with a puck on edge, most times they know they did wrong when they shoot it in the stands. All they have to do is shoot it lower on the glass and they will avoid the penalty.
The former goaltenders on the All Habs team would love to see the trapezoid behind the nets eliminated completely. It is one of the few rules that penalizes skill: that is, the best puck-handling goalies in the league, such as Carey Price, are restricted from playing the puck in a significantly large area on either side of the net behind the goal line. They could be a further help to defenseman in moving the puck. The trapezoid was expanded by two feet from the goal post on both sides of the net coming into the 2014-15 season. GMs with goaltenders who are less skilled with the puck are generally opposed to any further changes. After retiring from the game Martin Brodeur said, “The trapezoid has to go. I think the goalies have to help their players a little bit more, but a lot of the hits come because there’s no interference.”
There are a few things that should still be address in my opinion, some more important than others. Many including yours truly feel like the goalie equipment, while more regulated than just a few years ago, is still much more than for protection and should be reduced further. Yes, the composite sticks (when they don’t break) add a bit of velocity to the shots but the equipment is not proportional to that factor. Al MacInnis was shooting the puck at over 100 mph and Al Iafrate shot at over 105 mph (same as Zdeno Chara today), all with wooden sticks! Yet if you look at the goaltenders’ equipment back in those days, it was not comparable to todays, not even close. The “cheater” on the glove and the added length to cover the five-hole when a goalie is on his knees are to keep the puck out, not to protect the goalie.
Watch at the 2:40 mark
Speaking of equipment, like him or hate him, Don Cherry is absolutely right when he says that player’s equipment has gone way too far. Players today are trying to play goal and shot blockers are seen as semi-gods for putting their body at risk. And that’s not counting on countless injuries due to the make-up of today’s equipment! The NHL wants more offense and more goals? They want less head injuries? It’s a rather simple remedy folks! Simple regulate the equipment worn by the players. Why were there more goals scored when Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy playing? Yes, goalie equipment is one but do you honestly think that players will keep blocking as many shots with equipment worn by Gretzky or Bossy? Think again!
Lastly, I would personally like to see the league go back to white uniforms on home ice. They had changed this back when the trend came out for teams deciding that in order to boost jersey sales, they came out with third jerseys and for whatever reason, they were all dark. Which brings me to another point: I can’t be the only one who wishes teams would create their own legacy and stuck with one logo and one jersey design, am I? The best-selling jerseys are the ones of the original-six so why are teams always looking at changing their logos and/or jerseys? How are fans going to identify to your team? Yes, you may sell a few new jerseys but what teams might not realize is that they are also upsetting fans who saved and spent money on a jersey, only to have it obsolete a year or two later. Some won’t make the same mistake twice…
Happy NHL folks!