Last season, the NHL implemented a handful of small but impactful rule changes that seemed to increase offense around the league.
The average goals per game of 5.94 was the highest since 1995-96 (not counting 2005-06, which was inflated by excessive power plays). That was thanks to, at least partially, some new rules and stricter enforcement of existing ones such as slashing.
With the dust still settling after the shifts that took place in the 2017-18 campaign, there aren't many fresh alterations to brush up on as we prepare for opening night.
The most impactful and important change concerns goaltending equipment.
In January, the NHL began the process of streamlining the pads and protective gear that netminders wear. The goal has been to continue to protect the masked men while also preventing them from adding inches to their frame with oversized pads.
A half-inch extra here or there might not sound like much on paper, but in a game as fast as hockey, shooters need to be able to identify small holes in a goaltender's coverage in the blink of an eye.
When a netminder's shoulder pads or leg pads extend a bit further than they should, then scorers are losing out on valuable real estate.
Changes to Goaltending Gear
Last year, goalies were forced to shrink their leg pads and pants. In 2018-19, the league has turned its focus to arm and chest protectors. Here, the NHL wants netminders making saves with their skill and athleticism, as opposed to simply shrugging their pad into the right place.
The updated Rule 11.3, which handles chest and arm pads, focuses on making sure pads are fitted specifically for each netminder and not excessively large.
"The chest and arm protector worn by each goalkeeper must be anatomically proportional and size-specific based on the individual physical characteristics of that goalkeeper," the rule states.
It then goes into specifics on how arm, elbow, shoulder and clavicle should be sized:
"Elbow floaters have been reduced from 7 inches to 6 across the front. Bicep and forearm pads must taper—5.5 inches to 4.5, then 4.5 to 4. Clavicle floaters cannot extend more than 2 inches above the shoulder at the lateral edge, 1.5 inches at midpoint and 0.5 inches at the medial edge. Shoulder caps cannot project laterally beyond shoulders more than 1.5 inches."
The reality is, unless you're a goalie yourself or paying close attention, these changes probably won't pop out to you on the television screen.
Naturally, there are concerns that reducing protective padding for the men who make their living stopping frozen vulcanized rubber discs will lead to injuries. There appears to be significantly less protection around the neck and shoulder areas, for example, and with pucks zipping around between 80 and 100 miles per hour, a piece of gear just being a quarter of an inch off could lead to problems for goalies.
There haven't been any issues as netminders have tested the new gear over the last two months, though, and hopefully that will remain the same as the season unfolds.
NHL Adds Four New In-Ice Ads
While it isn't a rule change per se, fans have been quick to notice the league has begun selling on-ice ads in each of the four corners of the rink at NHL arenas.
This was tested during the All-Star Game and Chinese preseason games last offseason, so perhaps the ads shouldn't be too surprising.
Still, anytime the NHL tries to leverage open space into revenue, it's sure to receive plenty of backlash from traditionalists who don't want to see hockey mucked up by excessive advertising. It seems this is the way we're heading, though.
The NBA recently started utilizing space on jerseys to sell ads, and while we're probably still a ways off from seeing the same thing in the NHL, you can bet hockey owners see their basketball counterparts raking in millions of extra dollars per year simply by selling a 2.5-by-2.5 inch shoulder patch.
Starting this season, all 31 NHL teams will have the ability to sell these four patches of ice for every regular-season game, while the league will take over selling the ad space during the playoffs.
NHL chief revenue officer Keith Wachtel explained the choice to sell these areas such as this, per SportsBusiness Journal: "With the success that our clubs are seeing in their local markets, they've run out of valuable inventory. We see this as some of the most valuable real estate in all of sports."
With the league estimating each of these ads will receive between 20 and 30 minutes of airtime per game, it's not difficult to see where Watchel is coming from with his statements.
Anytime ads are introduced, fans are going to be upset about having to take in new "eyesores." The reality is the NHL is a business first, though, and this is a unique and low-impact opportunity to generate more money for the game (and players) you know and love.