The most prominent rule change involves the use of a coach's challenge on an offside play. If a coach challenges a goal that is not deemed offside, the challenging team will be assessed a two-minute penalty.
In the past, coaches would regularly hold onto their challenge until the third period of a close game. If a late goal went against a team, a coach could challenge with nothing to lose. Now, a coach will not only see his team go down by a goal, but it will have to kill off an immediate penalty if the challenge is not successful.
The upshot may be that coaches will not save their challenge and will use it earlier in the game. In addition to trying to overturn the goal, the challenge slows momentum down and keeps the scoring team from surging. That may no longer be an issue.
The NHL has also given referees more authority to call slashing penalties when opponents chop at the upper shaft of the stick or near the hands.
They have called the slash near the blade of the stick for years, but players who try to prevent opponents from stickhandling by slashing at their hands high will now find themselves at risk. The impetus for this strengthening of the rule was a slash made by Sidney Crosby against Marc Methot of the Ottawa Senators that broke the defenseman's finger and nearly severed it from his hand.
This rule is outstanding in theory, but some slashes are much worse than others. A hard slash should always be called, but what about a tap that is near the hands but does not do any damage?
Another rule change was invoked involving player positioning on faceoffs. Players are supposed to be facing the opposite end of the rink while standing clear of the ice markings.
This is done to prevent cheating on faceoffs and to keep a player from using their head to butt or ram their opponents.
The latter should be beneficial to all centers and keep them from incurring a concussion. The head should never be used batter an opponent, and players that do will get thrown out of the faceoff circle.
The so-called cheating aspect of faceoffs is another story. Players who have been sharp enough to use their skates to give themselves an advantage are well-schooled at taking faceoffs. This may be quite difficult to enforce after the first part of the season.
The league has eliminated timeout calls by teams that ice the puck. When a team has the puck in a late-game scenario and is mounting shot after shot and putting heavy pressure on its opponent, that opponent will do anything to gain possession and then ice the puck.
There's nothing to prevent that, but teams will not be able to call a timeout in that scenario. That's a big advantage for the pressing team and good for a league that wants to upgrade offensive opportunities.
The final rule change involves a team on a power play that high-sticks the puck will no longer be forced to take the ensuing faceoff in its own zone.
Raising a stick to go after a puck is instinctive, and there's no reason to penalize the team. The faceoff will take place in the zone that the high-stick infraction occurred and not shipped back to the defensive zone. This has nothing to do with a high-sticking penalty, which involves the use of a high stick to impede a player.