The new hockey rules that were instituted in the NHL after the lockout of 2004-05 have given the league a shot in the arm and allowed the talented players to showcase their talents more effectively. Still, many problems exist when it comes to the officiating during National Hockey League games.
I’m not saying that it is at the level of ridiculousness that the NBA is currently stuck with, but there are a few things that need to be sorted out league wide in the NHL. I’ll take a look at the rule changes and finally how the officials have dealt with them.
Getting rid of the two-line pass was probably the best and simplest rule change and was about 97 years too late in its repeal. Someday, we’ll be talking to our grandchildren about the two line pass and they’ll think we are crazy that it was ever a rule.
The tag-up rule was another great move, but one that shouldn’t have been needed to be overturned in the first place. How annoying was it to watch dozens more offside calls each game all in an effort to try and get defenseman to skate more with the puck?
Increasing the size of the offensive zone, shortening the size of the neutral zone, and pushing the nets back to the boards two feet were all good moves that have definitely helped teams on the powerplay. Can’t really argue with these changes, but I will say the dimensions of the NHL hockey rink have changed so much in the last 20 years that I can’t remember what was considered standard in the first place.
Moving faceoffs into the penalized team’s zone after an infraction call is one of those that I’m not too crazy about, but it doesn’t bother me to the point where it is a problem to get worked up about. Also, not allowing the team that iced the puck to change is one I’m ambivalent towards. It brings more attention to matchups on the ice, which is somewhat unique to hockey, but I’d rather they bring in no-touch icing as well.
Ruling on goaltenders' equipment was a no-brainer because these guys are getting way too good for the game as it is. And I don’t want to hear any complaints about how goaltending injuries will increase. They do know goalies didn’t used to wear helmets at all, right?
The trapezoid “no-touch” area in the corners was something I didn’t like at first if only because the lines looked so out of place and I thought goalies would work around it, anyway. Well, to a certain extent they have and I barely notice the lines anymore, but I do like how it creates more opportunities when a goalie who appears to have never stick handled in his life tries to knock a puck down and play it in under three seconds.
As far as the shootout goes, it’s a necessary evil. I like to think of myself as a traditionalist, but the shootouts are still fun to watch. I just don’t like that it compares the sport to soccer and winning or losing half a dozen shootouts means missing the playoffs for a number of teams.
Shooting the puck over the boards is one that I just can’t buy into. I’ve noticed that players are getting much better at not doing it as much and I guess that was the point of the rule. Yet, whenever I see it called, I cringe a little bit and feel bad for the player heading to the box.
Now to the officiating: We were supposed to have zero tolerance on hooking, holding, and interference. For about 35 games into the new season after the lockout, the referee’s called everything. Today we have reverted to a mixture of a pre-lockout hockey mixed with random calls associated with the new rule changes. And that’s my biggest problem: the lack of consistency.
Out of the new rules on the interference is the most obvious one to call and has worked out the best. I don’t think defenseman should be able to step in front of players when they dump the puck, but teams like the Red Wings are still sneaky at pulling off moving picks. However, the officiating on this has been solid and it’s helped the game.
As far as hooking and holding are concerned, they need to do a better job. If a guy is not moving his feet and clearly ripping his opponent with his stick from behind, that is a hooking penalty. All of this business about the stick being parallel is crazy. Players should be able to dig with their sticks and fight for the puck, especially in close quarters.
If a player is being chased from behind and his opponent is working hard to get at his stick, then that should be permissible. There are just too many calls where a player barely touches another player and is called for a penalty. Too frequently, a player simply falls down and the opponent nearest to him is sent to the box.
Holding calls are not as egregious as the hooking penalties, but I think they should ease up a bit on the free hand idea. A defenseman should be allowed to pin a player to the boards like they have been taught for a century without being whistled.
We all know players with the puck can use their free hand to a greater extent without being called, so why can’t defenseman? If a player is not clearly grabbing someone or using his hand because he got beat, then leave it alone.
Another thing that bothers me is how players are allowed to sit in front of the net without defenseman allowed to do much about it. This kind of reminds me of the fouls that are called in the NBA where the refs refuse to allow big men to battle underneath the basket. They need to bring back the gritty battles between players for that sacred real estate in front of the net.
The one penalty I absolutely despise the most is the slashing call because someone's stick broke. First of all, these one piece sticks are so weak and unreliable that it doesn’t take much to snap them.
(Side note: How long until we see a resurgence of wooden sticks? Preferring a wooden stick, I would love nothing more than to see a huge playoff game decided because a player’s one-piece snapped on a slap shot, or, even better, on a simple passing play, thus giving up a game winning breakaway goal.)
The other aspect I can’t stand is that these slashing calls are turning the players into most NBA players who have a foul called on them. Immediately, the hands go up and they scream for a penalty. This needs to stop. If a player clearly goes Paul Bunyan on someone, then call a slash; don’t call it simply because a stick is broken.
I’d like to see the NHL tweak the rules to my suggestions first, but I’d much rather see better consistency from the officials. There wasn’t as much talk this past season about the rules, but for the past few years there’s a reaffirmation to start the season of these new rules. They are enforced for the first 35 percent of the games and then they slowly let more things slide.
But then one night in February you’ll see 16 powerplays for both teams on what should have only been a total of five or six penalties. They just can’t seem to make up their mind, can they?
The last game of the Stanley Cup Finals was one where the referees kept their whistles on their fingers when, according to the new rules, they could have easily whistled numerous infractions. But they didn’t, and it was one of the best games in playoff history.
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