When the NHL shows off its new product in roughly ten weeks, those who stumble across the game while channel surfing probably won't notice that anything is different in the 3 second span before they hit the Channel Up button again. However, those of us who have been die-hard hockey fans might notice that a few rules have changed. Many of the new rules are things which some friends and I, not to mention Don Cherry, have been advocating for years. Forget Brendan Shanahan, put us on the NHL Competition Committee!
* Finally, the two-line offside pass is gone. Feel free to pass the puck from your zone out to anywhere in the neutral zone. It works in college hockey, it works in international hockey, and it's about bloody time the NHL adopted it.
* Smaller Goalie Gear. Goalies will be wearing smaller pads and tighter-fitting jerseys. Michelin Tire Man's stint as an NHL netminder is over! Thank you very much.
* Tag-up offsides is back, and intentional offsides calls are out. This was a huge drag on offensive-minded teams. If your defense is slow and tired, and the other team is forechecking you to death, you deserve to get scored on. This is a good way to keep the offensive pressure up.
* A shootout will be used to decide tie games. It is cute and it is sorely needed, but the point system for the standings needs another tweak to adequately accomodate this. I'll explain later.
* Delay of game penalty for any player shooting the puck over the glass in his defensive zone. This is a case of someone trying to fix something that isn't broken. If a team started doing this all the time, I guarantee you, the opponent's enforcer would be very busy handing out beatdowns the rest of the game.
* Still skirting no-touch icing. There is some debate about whether no-touch icing is good for the game, but there is no doubt that it would be good for the players. There's absolutely no need to get yourself injured over an icing call. The league hopes that by giving the linesmen more discretion to waive off icing calls that were attempted passes, there will be fewer dangerous races to the puck. It's a half-way point, but it's better than no change at all.
* Restricted goalie movement. This season, there will be lines extending from the goalposts back to the end boards, creating a zone behind the net where the goalie will not be allowed to play the puck. This is silly for two reasons. Firstly, if you're going to allow 2-line passes and waive icing calls that were attempted passes, then you ought to let the goalie play the puck behind his net. Secondly, this rule complicates the game. Complication is something that the NHL would do well to avoid for a while.
* No change to point system to accomodate shootout. Sadly, the point system has not been changed. Teams are still being awarded a point for surviving regulation, which does nothing to encourage good third period play. The best option (IMHO, of course) would be to adopt a three-point system with the following structure:
3 points for winning the game in regulation.
2 points for winning the game in 4 on 4 overtime.
1 point for winng the game in a shootout.
Thou shalt not be rewarded with a point in the standings for being tied at the end of regulation. Thou shalt not be rewarded with a point in the standings for forcing a shootout. The best result for a team is to win in regulation. With very rare exception, there would be no incentive to wait for overtime or shootout. In fact, you'd get docked for it. I'm sure Don would agree with me 100% on this one.
* No defensive line change after an icing call. I'm going to reserve judgement on this one until after I see it in action, but I am leaning toward "Bad". In a nutshell, if a team is tired and scrambling in its own zone, there is less incentive to ice the puck because they still won't be allowed to get fresh legs on the ice. I can forsee trouble when a tired team tries to make a pass across the red line, misses, and the linesman neglects to waive the icing call.
With two line passes and tag-up offsides allowed, that ought to be enough to tip the scales in favor of offense. A faceoff in your defensive zone is enough consequence for icing.
* We'll call obstruction penalties! This time we really mean it. Scout's Honor! Ask me about this one in January.
Regardless of whether these rules are good or bad, the fact that the NHL has taken real steps to purge the game of boredom is positive. Let's hope it doesn't take another lockout to continue sprucing up the game.