Time For Change in the New NHL

Some recent events have prompted talk of some rule changes needed to not only improve the game itself but the safety of the players.

The decline in scoring has been of concern to the league. The big boost in offence soon after the lockout has gone by the wayside and a lack of goals and offence continues to succumb to air tight defence.

Also of concern is the rash of serious head injuries. Hitting from behind, dangerous headshots and just an overall lack of respect is something that the league seems resistant to solve to avoid, as Mike Milbury puts it, “pansyfication” of the game.

But there are 5 aesthetic and 5 rule changes that could make a world of difference for the NHL. If the NHL can loosen their archaic feelings on the game, we could finally see some great improvements made in terms of quality and safety.

Aesthetic Changes

1. Goalie Equipment

If there has been changes to the goalie equipment, making it smaller, it has been difficult to tell. Removing extra straps, extra flaps and shaving millimetres off of pads and gloves is just not going to cut it. Significant inroads have to be made in this regard in order to separate the stoppers from the sieves.

The rave of the NHL has been the butterfly goalie. But while Patrick Roy wore massively oversized equipment towards the end of his career, he still seemed to excel in that style when he first start, while wearing small, thin, pads and gloves. The NHL needs to revert back to those ways.

The body armour the goalies wear now has taken away a bit of the fear factor that was part of the position. Only the insane were willing to take shots from rock hard pieces of rubber. Now, goalies could probably withstand a blow from a Patriot missile. Its a joke really.

With the way technology is today, its impossible to fathom that they cant make equipment that is safe for goalies but small in size. Reverting back to Patrick Roy sized equipment, circa 1986 is the way to go.

2. Player’s Equipment

What’s fair is fair. If goalies are going to shrink, so should the players. Some players look like they could like up in the backfield for the Dallas Cowboys with the size of pads they wear. Its time for that to change.

Do players really need to look like a riot squad with all that gear? Thats arguable considering that some players still insist on wearing short cuff gloves leaving their wrists exposed and no skateguards. If safety is such a major issue, then why dont players don proper safety equipment for their hands and feet as they do for their chest and shins?

One player that the league should model after is Brendan Shanahan. He is perhaps the only player who seems like he isnt wearing padding underneath his jersey. The league needs to force all players to wear those thin shoulder pads.

For one thing, it will probably slow down the head hunters and predators out there looking to hurt people if wearing limited padding. The pads they wear now are like weapons. They’ve made some changes but its far from enough. It should also get players to think twice about blocking shots so willingly as they do now. Players are fearless with thick padding worn underneath. Even the league’s softest players are blocking shots nowadays. Time to make shot blocking a courageous art once again.

3. Streamline the Boards and Glass

The different shapes and sizes of the glass and how pucks react off boards will be unique for every arena. But what should be the same is how flexible they are when a player is hit into them. Every arena should have the same amount of give for both the boards and glass. This should be a necessary change for all 30 arenas in the league and no one should dispute this.

With the game and its players bigger, faster, stronger than ever, the league needs to provide the safest environment possible. Its mind boggling how some arenas have boards and glass equivalent to a solid brick wall. What is more mind boggling is how the league has not forced teams to make wholesale changes. Changes to the glass isnt enough. The boards need to equally be as flexible and forgiveable in the name of safety for the players. If a player like Ryan Hollweg is going to be allowed to run people in from behind with little repercussions, then the league should at least protect its big investments with proper safety measures.

4. Wooden Sticks

The league for the time being anyways, needs to go back to wooden sticks for all players. They need to do this until at the very least, they solve this plague of broken sticks that are the norm league wide. The composite/2 piece sticks used today are terrible. Its the equivalent of forcing a baseball player to use a tree branch for a bat or having NFL quarterbacks throwing a deflated football.

While wood sticks are not fallible, they will break far less than these two piece ones. If the league and players are going to invest so heavily in this new type of equipment, they should at least be satisfied that it will be sturdy enough for regular use through the season. Until this problem can be solved, the league needs to step in and ensure the sticks used are not going to be breaking every shift.

5. Madatory Visors

After seeing Bryan Berard get hurt, that was bad enough. But of late, with Yzerman, Koivu, among several others suffering serious eye injuries as well, its perhaps time to grandfather in visors and make them mandatory.

The long argument has been that it impacts performance. Try telling that to 12 of the top 13 scorers currently who all wear visors. Most of the game’s biggest stars, Malkin, Crosby, Ovechkin, Phaneuf, iginla, they all wear visors. If their production was impacted, there is no evidence to prove that theory.

Despite strong proponents against, until the respect factor somewhat returns, there is just no reason why players shouldnt wear visors. Again it goes back to the argument of oversized chest and shin pads. If safety first and foremost is why players need to look like NFL linebackers, then in the name of safety they can agree to wear shields no?

Rule Changes

1. Teams must clear their zone on delayed penalties

An idea put forth by Blues GM Larry Pleau, on a delayed penalty, the defending team must not only gain possession of the puck, but also clear the puck out of the zone. This should help maintain the attack and create more chances.

its foolish that touching the puck is enough to stop a siege in their zone. When a penalty is called that team should pay for it immediately. So many rallies are killed with the current rule in place. But by forcing the team to clear the zone, it will put more pressure on them to not only gain control but get it out and that could cause further penalties and further confusion.

2. No line changes for team that takes a penalty

If players want to take penalties, they should not only be the ones to pay for it. Their team as a whole should suffer as well. When a penalty is called, the player in question should go to the box, but whomever is left on the ice for his team should be forced to stay on.

So say for example these 5 Maple Leaf players are on the ice: Finger, Stralman, Grabovski, Blake, Kulemin. Finger takes a penalty. This quintet have been on the ice for almost a minute and are tired. Instead of the Leafs getting a chance to get their top PK unit on the ice, the team has to stick to the group of 4 that were on the ice when the penalty occurs. It would force the Leafs to not only use 4 guys who dont kill penalties regularly, but also be stuck with 3 forwards and 1 D to at least start the PK.

The hope is that it creates greater confusion defensively leading to more chances and ultimately more goals. Its win win for the team on the PP. They could immediately give the puck away to force the other team to keep the p
layers on the ice, or gain the zone, create havoc and tire out their opponents for the PK while they get to put out fresh troops for the man advantage. This would truly make teams shorthanded.

Penalty killing is far too strong nowadays. The coaching is too good that there has to be a real advantage being on the PP. This, coupled with the Larry Pleau rule is a start.

3. Icing on Powerplays

As a continuation of the first 2 rules, a third rule, icing on powerplays makes sense. This would continue the trend of really handicapping a team on the PK. Coupling a tired group of skaters who couldnt get the puck out immediately on a delayed penalty, with these same skaters being forced to start the PK, and them then not being able to ice the puck when killing the penalty, it could mean an increase in chances and maybe goals on the PP.

The icing rules would stay the same. Teams who ice cannot change.

These 3 rules together would really make taking penalties a killer and that could perhaps lead to players being more disciplined. Maybe then, with such a huge disadvantage to your team, a player will think twice about using their free hand to grab and obstruct their opponent or think twice about taking a selfish, dangerous retaliation penalty.

4. Automatic 5 minute penalties for hitting from behind

There are some dangers to taking away all headshots and with the players nowadays bigger and faster than ever, its almost impossible to completely police split second reactions. But a hit from behind is clear as day and should be penalized severely.

Automatically giving 5 minutes should definitely lessen a player’s desire to kill someone from behind. The discretion for referees would be whether or not the penalty warrants a game misconduct.

And dont think the game misconducts dont matter. If a player accumulates 3, the player gets suspended. Like it is right now, if a player continues to get misconducts for hitting from behind, they get suspended even more. The big kicker though will be the hefty fines. Nothing hurts worse than taking money out of the player’s pockets. a $100,000 dollar fine would really set a high bar and be a pretty big detriment to a player looking to play a bit on the dirty side.

The other key thing for refs is to watch for those players who willingly turn towards the boards to get hit from behind to give their team a PP. But if guidelines are put in place to define what a hit from behind is, then that would make things crystal clear for the refs.

5. Full Time Referee Crews

In baseball, the 4 umpires who work games stay together year round. In hockey, this idea would make perfect sense. The confusion shared by players, coaches, managers and fans alike over some penalty calls has much to do with the fact refs change partners and the people they work with constantly.

Having a crew together a full year will build chemistry. It will also help teams have a better understanding of how each crew works. Lots of times you will see an experience ref, let them play if paired with another experienced ref but call everything the next game with a rookie ref. Players are often left dumbfounded. Working together for a full year will allow officals to get use to eachother and start to understand eachother’s styles and tendencies.

Now its more than likely that all these changes will be brushed off by many for their own selfish needs. Its a shame the NHL is that narrowminded. However all these changes still keep the essence of the game intact. We’re not making the nets bigger here or eliminating shot blocking or changing the size of the rinks or going to full time 4 on 4. All the changes listed above are not radical by any means. Whether or not the old guard NHL agrees is left up to debate.