Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Rules of the Game

Over the past decade the quality of play in the NHL has degraded significantly. The NHL has tried to make changes to "open up the game" but so far they have failed miserably. Will the rules to be announced on Friday bring back the glory days, or will the NHL continue to make the same mistakes...

One thing the NHL has failed to realize is that any rule change can have a significant, and often unexpected, impact on the game. When you change numerous rules at once it becomes extremely difficult to predict their impact. In the 90's the NHL made numerous rule changes all of which failed to various degrees:

  • The league began experimenting with the two-referee system. Whether this has had a positive or negative effect on the game is debatable. I'll give them a pass on this one, there could be some improvements but it hasn't really had a negative effect on the game. Of course it has done little to address the "obstruction" problems plaguing the game.
  • The league decided to change the overtime format and the points system. While the idea of 4 on 4 has been a complete success the change of the point system has not. Why did someone at the NHL not realize that by awarding a point for losing in overtime you are encouraging teams not to try and win in regulation time? If you are a "low talent" team entering the third period of a close game why would you risk losing by taking chances to score, when you could simply try and hang on and get your point for reaching overtime and then take your chances on getting the bonus point in overtime?
  • In an effort to "open up the game" the league also decided to increase the size of the offensive zones by moving the nets out and decreasing the size of the neutral zone from 58 to 54 feet.
  • They also, at the urging of Glen Sather, revoked the "tag-up offsides" rule in order to improve the skill level of defensemen. No longer could defensemen dump the puck in while their was a delayed offside call. They would be forced to handle the puck.

The combination of a smaller neutral zone, no tag-up offsides, and the "OTL" was, for lack of a better term, a terrible idea. If you didn't know better you would think that the NHL was trying to encourage the trap. The elimination of the tag-up rule forced more play into the now smaller neutral zone. The OTL point discouraged teams from taking chances in the third period. The result was the exact opposite of what the NHL was trying to accomplish with their changes.

Has the NHL learned from these mistake? Maybe, maybe not. On one hand they've re-instituted the tag-up rule and they've moved the nets back to where they should be. However, they are also considering a number of rule changes all at once. Every rule change will have an effect on the game, the NHL must be careful not to change too much at once...

For instance, let's take the reduction of goalie equipment. Great idea, more pucks should go into the net. However that might not be the only effect. Remember the days of wingers coming down the wing and unleashing a slap shot ala Geoff Courtnall in the '94 playoffs? When was the last time you saw that in the NHL? Nowadays rather than unleashing that slap shot the winger will instead choose not to shoot(since they can't see any net) and instead will go behind the net or into the corner in order to setup a cycle/forecheck play. A change in goalie equipment could see the return of this classic play. That is an example of what might be an unexpected, albeit positive, effect of a rule change. Removing the red-line on the other hand...

So what am I getting at here? The NHL needs to really consider all the possible effects of rule changes and they should realize from past mistakes that there will be unexpected results. The game of hockey isn't as bad as what some would have you believe. The simple change of re-instating the tag-up offsides, changing the goalie equipment and some improvements on how obstruction is called, will all do wonders for the quality of play. There is no reason to go overboard on the rule changes.

Canuck tidbit of the day...

Stan McCammond was on mojo radio this morning and confirmed what was probably obvious to most Canuck fans: The Canucks will be spending up close to the cap level.

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