NHL Competition Committee Rule Change: Some Thoughts

On June 9, the NHL Competition Committee – a coalition of players and executives charged with tweaking rules and thereby (hopefully) making the game better. Players on the committee are Mike Cammalleri of the Calgary Flames, Daniel Winnik of the Anaheim Ducks, the St. Louis Blues’ Kevin Shattenkirk, Carolina Hurricanes’ Ron Hainsey and Devils goaltender Cory Schneider. Executives include Flyers’ chairman Ed Snider and four general managers: the Phoenix Coyotes’ Don Maloney, David Poile of the Nashville Predators, Ken Holland from the Detroit Red Wings and the Boston Bruins’ Peter Chiarelli. The changes recommended by the Competition Committee are passed on to the NHL Board of Governors and the NHLPA’s Executive Board for approval and would go into effect for the 2014-15 season.

While the Committee did recommend changes that were, in some cases, long overdue; one change that was not included has surprised some people. That change was to video replay expansion (especially topical in light of the Los Angeles Kings’ Dwight King’s goal late in game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final against Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist). This expansion would allow video review on potential goaltender interference plays that result in goals. On King’s goal in the third period of game 2, referee Dan O’Halloran’s initial call on the ice was that it was a good goal. Lundqvist argued that he had been interfered with, but O’Halloran’s call stood due to lack of video review on these types of plays. That goal made the game 4-3, with L.A. eventually tying it. The Kings would win in the second overtime. Schneider mentioned to Dan Rosen of NHL.com exactly why making changes here would be a problem:

“I think [NHL Commissioner] Gary [Bettman] said it best in the meeting when he said, ‘Once we go to video review there’s an expectation that we’re going to get these calls right all the time,’” Schneider said. “You can have two reasonable people sitting in a room watching the same video and have two very different opinions on that video. It becomes, like Gary said, very complex. The feeling is right now we’re not at the point where we could get a meaningful video review that would have a 100 percent outcome.”

NHL Senior Executive President of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell said after this meeting that the matter would be further discussed that Wednesday during the NHL general manager meetings. He said that another idea could include a coach’s challenge (similar to that used in football and baseball).

Other ideas coming out of the Competition Committee’s meeting (these will actually be under review to be adopted) include: changing ends in overtime – this move would allow the overtime period to mimic the long-change second period (where team benches are farther from their defending zone necessitating more strategic line changes). This would also affect overtime because, historically, according to Rosen at NHL.com, there have been more goals scored each season in the second period due to  “defensive breakdowns and difficulty getting tired players off the ice because of the distance they need to travel to make a line change on the fly.” Another change to overtime would be arena ice crews being required to do a dry ice scrape prior to overtime instead of just prior to a shootout as is done now.

Another move with more offense in mind is moving the hash marks on the outside of the faceoff circles from 3 ½ feet to 5 feet apart. Schneider told Rosen and NHL.com that it would give forwards more time and room to make plays after they win a faceoff in the defensive zone. It would also cut down on the amount of scrums on a faceoff. Currently, the International Ice Hockey Federation uses 5 feet between the hash marks; however the IIHF generally uses a larger ice surface than the NHL for international tournaments.

One of the more interesting rule change recommendations to come out of these meetings is allowing only one player to be eligible to take a faceoff on an icing call. This player would be allowed one faceoff violation but, instead of being chased out of the faceoff circle, a second violation would result in a two-minute bench minor penalty for delay of game. This penalty is already on the books (Rule 76.6), but the Competition Committee is recommending that it be enforced to keep a winger from trying to create a faceoff violation to give the center an extra ten seconds of rest, thus delaying the game an extra few seconds.

A change to the “Brodeur Rule” would also look to create more offense during the course of a game. The trapezoid behind the goal cage, meant to keep puck-playing goalies like Martin Brodeur from having too much room to move the puck. The trapezoid is currently 18 feet along the goal line and would be increased to 22 feet. The dimensions along the end boards would remain at 28 feet. An extra two feet would allow the goalies to act, not necessarily as a third defenseman helping to create breakouts (as Brodeur was often lauded as during his heyday pre-trapezoid), but to give their defensemen a little more help.

A crackdown on embellishment is the Competition Committee’s final recommendation.

As a fan, I understand and appreciate that these changes are trying to create more offense in a game some feel might be lacking in that particular area. However, I feel too often the NHL is actively trying to go back to the free-wheeling, firewagon days of the 1980s. That era happened organically when players like Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux took the game by storm and changed its essence. They were so much better than the rest of their competition that they (and their teams) were able to put up the gaudy numbers that they did. The rest of the league followed suit and defense went by the wayside. I feel that the NHL has found its balance; this is how the game has been played throughout the majority of its history. In other words, the decade from the early 80s to the early 90s was an aberration. Hockey is a defensive based game (the phrase “offense wins games, defense wins championships” comes to mind) and, while I definitely agree with a lot of the changes the Competition Committee wants to implement, I cannot help but feel that some of it is just a half way attempt to bring more offense (and, thus, hook the “casual fans” who like the ESPN-like highlights and do not appreciate the finer points of a defensive duel) to the game and really, fix what is not broken.

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