NHL Rules New to the Past Decade: Should They Stay or Should They Go?

Al DanielCorrespondent IIOctober 3, 2012

NHL Rules New to the Past Decade: Should They Stay or Should They Go?

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    Regardless of the length of the NHL lockout, the eventual arrival of a new CBA might accompany more than a handful of head-turning rule changes, as it was in the summer of 2005.

    If the last prolonged work stoppage paved the entrance for that many policies at once, the next one could result in the repeal of a few. After all, nearly every rule unique to the post-lockout era has been subject to seven years of scrutiny, and a bigger block of time away from authentic game action equals more discussion time.

    In determining whether they are worth revisiting or best left alone, the five most significant and arguably most polarizing new rules from the 2005-06 season are assessed as follows. Stay tuned after those five slides for a bonus rule change that came immediately before the 2004-05 lockout.

Delay of Game Penalties

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    As the NHL’s official release from July of 2005 read, “Goaltenders will be penalized for delaying the game if they ‘freeze’ the puck unnecessarily.” It went on to add, “Any player who shoots the puck directly over the glass in his defending zone will be penalize for delay of game.”

    Such offenses are not much different than a beat back-checker tripping, hooking or grabbing a speedy puck-carrier. The offending party is somehow unable to handle a sudden onset of pressure and thus resorts to unfairly stealing the opponent’s hard-earned advantage.

    All of this is hard to dispute, therefore at least two of the three bullet points that cover “delay of game” under the “officiating points of emphasis” should stay. However, there is another rule in the same category that is much more difficult to defend.

The Trapezoid

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    Although playing the puck outside of the trapezoid also officially counts as a “delay of game” in the words of the NHL, the concept is bereft of logic.

    Naturally, a goalie hauling in the puck or any player spooning the puck into the seats is taking the game’s single most decisive object out of action. However, an opposing forward is perfectly capable of reaching around a netminder and stripping him of the puck anywhere on the ice surface.

    When this mass influx of rule tweaks occurred after the 2004-05 lockout, the main point of emphasis was allowing for better "flow" to the game. The trapezoid rule is one of the few that takes the opposite effect as whistles blow every time a goaltender reaches over that diagonal red line the wrong way.

    When a goaltender does play the puck in his forbidden zone, the only individuals delaying the game are the referee and the higher-ups who told him to penalize the goalie.

No Red Line

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    Factoring out the center line when it comes to forward, end-to-end passes serves the same purpose as deleting the trapezoid would. It results in fewer whistles and allows the linesmen to relax their eyes as they need not make the delicate determination of whether the recipient of a pass was over the line upon importing a feed from his own end.

    Granted, there has been recent concern that this post-lockout rule has factored into the rise in concussions. The rationale is that having the freedom to streak across neutral ice amidst absorbing the puck leads to more opportunity for high-speed, injurious collisions.

    But how long have the IIHF, NCAA and just about every amateur governing body permitted two-line passes? And how often have those institutions had mass concussion problems?

    Reinstating the red line will do nothing to resolve the concussion crisis. Following the lead of these other organizations en route to stiffer contact-to-the-head penalties is the way to go and can be universally agreed upon.

    For the purpose of avoiding pointless stoppages, both the elimination of “offside passes” in neutral territory and the allowance of “tag-up offsides” should stay.

The Shootout

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    Unless you want to go back to letting regular-season games end in ties, which would not be the worst idea, the shootout is the best policy.

    The purists will likely gripe that a one-on-one lightning round should not settle who gets the extra point after a multifaceted, 65-minute stalemate.

    However, if a regular-season game cannot be decided in a normal fashion, then each team has rightly earned a point in the standings and can settle the score through the sport’s fundamental objective. That is, by seeing who can put the most pucks in the opposing net.

    Continuous sudden-death overtime is just right for the playoffs, when the points system goes on vacation. From October to early April, however, a surefire swift decision is in order. The NHL does not need to make like baseball and pretend that five-hour games are compelling outside of the postseason.

    If one team cannot beat another despite either club’s superior skill, size, physicality or finesse, they might as well call it even. That is, in a way, what the NHL does by awarding a single point to all teams who spill a game into overtime.

    If, however, there is to be a winner every night, it should boil down to a clash between shooters and stoppers. Do not spoil anyone’s appetite for multi-overtime marathons come springtime.

    To the NHL’s credit, a fair compromise was made two years ago by counting a team’s cumulative regulation and overtime victories as a tiebreaker in the standings. That at least incentivizes everybody to find ways to put their opponents away within the standard 60- or 65-minute time frame.

No Changes After Icing

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    As it is with the shootout/tiebreaking debate, there really is no perfect policy in this department. Safety is implicitly the reason why, at all levels of the game, this rule is keeping intact the puzzling idea of allowing shorthanded teams to get away with icing.

    But for the majority of the game, i.e. during even-strength action, this rule serves the same basic function as the two aforementioned delay-of-game penalties.

    Forcing the five players involved in an icing to stay in action for the next draw is the right way to punish those who seek an easy way out of trouble in their zone. Furthermore, allowing the offensive team to put on a fresh five-set of legs against their physically and psychologically shagged-out opponents could potentially reward their persistence on the forecheck.

    When and if a goal is scored shortly after an icing, it simply teaches the victimized team to wake up and shore up on defense.

Dark Jerseys At Home

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    This policy change, made one year before the last lockout, has had nearly a decade to sink in. Speaking for himself, this author can say that has been enough to twist his opinion of it a full 180 degrees.

    This author’s turning point came in the 2007-08 season during a trip to the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston. Sitting amongst a sea of yellow-gold seats and scanning the ice surface to see a dense distribution of black and gold lettering and logos made it obvious that the Bruins blend in best with their home environs when wearing black jerseys, black helmets, gold trim and gold socks.

    The same goes for Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. That building is laden with red, therefore the Red Wings look better in red at home.

    Ditto the heavily blue atmosphere at St. Louis’ Scottrade Center. Ditto the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, where Flyers fans have creatively made a habit of, as it were, an “orange-out” during the postseason.

    In short, having the home party wear its dark uniforms allows the team in question to flaunt its personality to the fullest in its own mansion. Few concepts make more sense than that.

    This rule is a keeper for the NHL and should be considered by all minor pro, junior and collegiate leagues.