NHL: A Fan's Perspective on Possible Rule Changes

James SheehyCorrespondent INovember 5, 2008

There has been a lot of talk recently, by both the league and the fans, that has centered around recent rule changes and possible ones to come. Whether met with adulation or condemnation, these changes allow our game to grow. So whether you're a purist or a reformist, feel free to throw in your two cents.

Some rules already implemented have achieved overwhelming success. The elimination of the Red Line has opened up the game to longer passes and speed, while the cracking down on obstruction penalties such holding, hooking, and interference has allowed for increased flow and greatly benefits the skill players.

Considering the success of such changes, the NHL has continued to throw out some new ideas. Here's my take on a select few. 


Shot Blocking

Very recently, the possibility of limiting shot blocking has entered public discourse. Because of the willingness of players to block shots, fewer pucks are reaching the net. To remedy this, players would be prohibited from lying down in front of a shot, though players would still be able to drop to one knee or tighten the skates.

I have one major problem with this proposal. Having the fortitude to lay down in front of a 90 mph shot is one of the greatest attributes a player can have in my mind. It's representative of the sacrifice, selflessness, and determination that makes hockey the best sport in the world.

I get almost as excited about a great shot block on a penalty kill as I do with a great scoring chance. I don't see how prohibiting this mindset makes our sport better. 

Additionally, I think the rule change would in fact have an adverse affect than desired. To begin with, most shots that are blocked aren't done so by a sprawling player, but rather a player in great position who uses his body well.

While lying down is admirable, it is also reckless. A defender can just as easily take themselves out of the play as stop a shot. If the rule were to take affect, players would adapt to going down to one knee and using their stick to make themselves large while remaining in position. 



I'm only going to speak briefly on this subject because I don't think there is much to argue. Following the lockout, diving was more rampant than ever before. However, it has decreased—both in the amount it's being called and occurring—as each year progresses.

That being said, there are few things that can ruin a sport's reputation more so than diving. As a result, I think the penalty for diving should be more severe, especially if it is painfully obvious. The player should be given a game misconduct and fined by the league upon repeat offenses, while the other team should not be penalized at all. 

Diving is a serious problem that needs to be dealt with immediately and severely. 



I have two suggestions here. The first is to extend the overtime period to 10 minutes. Many players and coaches have argued that while the shoot-out is exciting and the game needs a limit in length to attract TV audiences and keep players rested, it is still a skills competition.

If the four-on-four OT period was extended by five minutes, then more games would be decided by the team, not just the goalie or one or two shooters. This would also make games more exciting as four on four is terrific end to end hockey, and increasing the rarity of the shootout would only add to its spectacle.

On a related topic, I think the league needs to do away with the three-point game. The winner of every game should receive two points while the loser should receive none, regardless of whether the game ended in regulation or OT. My reasoning for this isn't primarily for the fact that rewarding the loser makes little sense—though that is a valid argument—but rather to prevent teams from "locking down" in the closing minutes of a tie game.

Coaches, aware that one point is better than none, will often go into a defensive shell when tied with three or four minutes left in the game to ensure overtime. If they eliminated the conciliatory extra point, they would also eliminate the motivation to "survive" until OT, which would cause teams to go hard after that game-winning goal.


Decreased Goalie Equipment/Larger Nets

Creating offense was and remains one of the primary goals of the new rules. The first year after the lockout did see a spike in goals, but the Goals-Per-Game average has decreased every season since (though the current average for this season is up if I am not mistaken).

This has caused the league to turn to the two obvious targets, decreasing goalie equipment or increasing net size.

The arguments for both are similar: Goalies are not only bigger, faster, and better than in the past, but their equipment has also increased drastically. Compare pictures of Ron Hextall or Patrick Roy to Roberto Luongo or Carey Price.

Goalies today look enormous. Even Ryan Miller, who is a lanky 6'2" 165 pounds, looks intimidating in net. As a result, there is so much less net for shooters to find. To counter this, either the nets could be increased by an inch or two on either side, or goalie equipment could be further reduced, thus giving shooters more net to shoot at.

While I have no problem with making goalie equipment slightly more form fitting—I understand the goalies still need to be protected—I'm not sold on bigger nets. Smaller acrobatic goalies like Manny Legace and Tim Thomas would become all but extinct.

In addition, players would be able to redirect higher shots—due to the crossbar-redirect rule—which would increase the risks of stick to face injuries.  

Furthermore, one component that the larger net supporters are ignoring is that shooters are also bigger, faster, and better than in the past. With their ability to pick the corners, imagine how many goals players like Ilya Kovalchuk, Alex Ovechkin, or Dany Heatley would get with an extra inch or two.

It is true that goals are exciting, but one of the reasons they are so is because of their difficulty. Whether it be due to a great save or a deflection off the post, it is the missed opportunities that make the successful ones so great. 


Well that's it for now, there are other rules worth discussing but I have a sandwich and NHL '09 calling my name. Please feel free to enter the discussion on any rules that you hold an opinion on.  



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