Every year, NHL General Managers meet to discuss certain rules, trying to be proactive and keeping up with the ever changing dynamics of a game based on size, speed and high level of execution. Not only are they trying to keep fans interested and drawing new fans to the game, they are trying to “get it right”, and to better the game in which they make a living from. While most rules have been there since the very beginning, others have evolved and were changed over time. Some for the best, others need to be revisited as they didn’t bring the anticipated results.
Let’s have a look at what I consider to be the Top-5 rules that the NHL needs to revisit. In this case, those happen to be all rules that have been amended at one point, or at least applied a different way over time, and none of them have brought the total anticipated results at the time they were changed. Without further ado, in order:
The NHL did the right thing when they (finally) decided to amend the icing rule. The League had been using the touch-icing system since 1937 but with the game getting faster than ever, players being better than never before, the league went to the Hybrid-icing system back in 2013-14. While this is an improvement to avoid serious injuries, protecting somewhat players racing full speed towards the boards, it hasn’t gone far enough and leaves too much grey space for linesmen. It is my humble opinion that the NHL should adopt the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) way of calling icings, which is an automatic icing when the puck crosses the goal line.
The NHL added a rule stating that the defensive team cannot change when icing the puck, a good rule, and they tried enforcing a quicker faceoff thereafter. But to save time in a game, to give teams trailing from behind at the end of games to have more time to attack, implementing the automatic-icing system would be a great change and linesmen wouldn’t have to worry about who’s ahead at the faceoffs’ circle.
4- Video review
Ah the video review. This one is clearly in the optic of “getting the calls right”. As an old school hockey fan, I understood that human error is part of any sport but with the tech-savvy fan base and the influence of the millenials mindsets, they prefer getting it right, a defendable opinion.
However, when the NHL decided to discern a penalty to the challenging team if and when they “lose” the appeal instead of losing their timeout, they didn’t think everything through, in my opinion at least. I’m not opposed to giving a penalty if the challenge is on a rule application, like an offside or if the puck crossed the line for a good goal. The play was either offside or it wasn’t, the puck must cross the line for goals, and there must be clear evidence to overturn the call on the ice.
Where I disagree with the penalty is on judgment calls like goalie interference. This is not black or white and referees, while trying to remain fair, are human and they have pride. They made the call and are more likely to “stick with it” when it’s their judgment that’s questioned. Also, what one person thinks doesn’t mean it’s right as there’s so much room for interpretation. Penalizing a team for a judgment call isn’t right. Perhaps put the faceoff in the challenging team’s zone of they lose the challenge?
3- High sticking
Here’s what’s perhaps the weirdest rule in the NHL: the way they determine if a high sticking penalty should be for two or four minutes. As it stands, if it’s a high sticking penalty without blood, it’s two minutes. If it draws blood, it’s an automatic four minutes. But are we really surprised? In a league where they render a decision based on whether or not the victim of the action is injured to determine the severity of the penalty and/or suspension, the appearance of blood is the determining factor?
Anyone who has played the game will tell you that you can fracture someone’s jaw by hitting him with the flat part of the blame and not drawing blood, and nick someone with the side of the blade and draw a bit of blood from a minor scratch. Ask paramedics and they’ll tell you that facial cuts will often look worse than anywhere else because the face bleeds a lot. As much as I hate doing this (and you’ll see why further in this article), the league must let the referees make the determination of the severity of the act, as they do for checking from behind, boarding, charging and other penalties. Blood does not equal seriousness of a high stick, not one bit.
2- Broken sticks
When I was playing hockey, sticks were made out of wood. I remember, living in Sherbrooke, Quebec, using Guy Lafleur‘s Sherwood 5030. The bottom of the blade would wear off before the stick broke… most times. And back in those days, our coach would skate behind us at any time in practice and try to knock our stick off our hands. If it fell to the ice, they would give you a hard time for not holding onto your stick. It was called something called “accountability”.
In today’s NHL, referees are giving automatic penalties if a player breaks an opponent’s stick, or even knock it out of their hands! Those are the sticks, folks, that break when players are trying to make a simple pass, let alone take a shot. It’s like today, they’ve never heard of “stick check” and put the onus on the checking players for their opponents’ defective or weak sticks… that’s ridiculous and it has to change. If players choose to use composite or graphite sticks that break easily, the other players should not be penalized for it. Stopping calling those “infractions” would do two things: 1- Force manufacturers to find a solution, and/or; 2- Force players to make a decision on the kind of stick they use, and live with the consequences by taking the risk of using weaker materials. Al MacInnis and Al Iafrate shot at over 100 mph… with wooden sticks!
And for goodness sake, don’t penalize someone else for those who can’t hang onto their own sticks! If you get the stick knocked out of your hands from a stick check, it’s on YOU and YOU alone. I will admit that those two types of stick incidents and so-called “infractions” – or the way penalties are called around them – are one of my biggest pet peeves in today’s NHL.
1- Instigator rule
Those who have been following me for a while will know that this is not the first time that I write about the Instigator rule and it’s negative effects on the game of hockey. I have pretty much lost faith in the NHL doing anything about it, whether it’d be because of their willingness and/or their ability to do so. Willingness as it seems like they’re unfortunately and mistakenly trying to phase out fighting in the game, and ability in the legal impact of things. Imagine them reverting back to the old rule and a player gets injured or concussed on a fight… the legal ramifications could potentially be enormous.
I do wonder, however, if the NHLPA was to agree and sign off on it, with a clause where players are taking full responsibility for their own actions when it comes to fighting, if it would hold in court? One thing I do know for sure, and it’s supported by many in the hockey world: the Instigator rule as it stands is creating the perfect haven for rats in the NHL, guys feeling protected by the NHL and getting free reigns to act like idiots without fear of repercussion from their peers. Whether you like fighting in hockey or not, you owe it to yourself to watch the movie “The Last Gladiators“, featuring, amongst others, former Montreal Canadiens Chris Nilan.
BONUS – Referees
Here’s another huge pet peeve of mine: the quality (or lack of thereof) in the NHL since the last lockout, when the league decided to go with the two referees system. By doing so, they created a two-headed monster.
- They brought a second judgment to the ice. How many times have we seen the closest referee, with the play right in front of him, judging that an action wasn’t worthy of an infraction, only to see the other Bozo, 70 feet away, raise his arm to call a penalty on the play. For one, they are not in a good position to make that call but also, their judgment differs from the other referee’s. Who’s right in that case?
- By doubling the number of referees at the NHL level, they brought up guys who are either not NHL ready or are simply over their head with the level of play… and that’s an issue in itself. And that’s just at the NHL level… the league’s decision has compounded the problem at lower levels too. Simply by taking the best referees from the AHL level, who then took the best from Junior and College hockey, all the way down the ranks. And that compound got worse when lower level leagues felt the need to follow suit to the NHL by also doubling the number of referees…
When you stop and truly think about it, it’s no wonder fans, coaches and players at every level of hockey – NHL included – are confused and don’t know where they stand or what to expect not only from game to game, but within the same hockey game!
The two-referee system MUST be stopped and revert back to one man running a game. At least then, you have some sort of consistency within the same game. And that way, you only have the most qualified officials calling games at the highest level of hockey in the world, instead of having incompetent guys, for whom the play is way over their head make calls! People who are old enough to remember clearly the one-referee system will tell you that it wasn’t perfect, but they’ll also say that today’s is no better, or even worse. At least back then, you knew the type of games Andy Van Hellemond, Kerry Fraser, Terry Gregson, Ron Hoggarth or Ron MacLean would call and players knew what to expect. Further, they would call the same type of infractions within the same game.
Last but not least, there needs to be more accountability for NHL referees. Some suggest that they should be made available for comments after games. I’m not sure this would be the solution, personally. I’d rather see the NHL implement a better and more extensive way of analysing referees’ performances each and every game.
As it stands today, referees are being evaluated from time to time. There is, to my knowledge, no or very little done to reprimand officials for being… bad. What there is, I will admit, is a reward for those who are deemed to be the best, or as I would qualify as “the best of the worst”. What the NHL should put in place is a system similar to what players go through. If a player isn’t doing the job, he’s sent down to the AHL and from time to time, based on injuries or merritt, players are called up to the NHL. It the same for referees. All based on performances.
There you have it folks. Those are my Top-5. Yours might differ a bit (or a lot). I’ve read many who want to get rid of the automatic delay of game for defensive players send the puck over the glass. I disagree. Goalies were punished for doing so and if you’ve played hockey and tried shooting with goalie gloves and sticks, you’ll know that it’s a lot easier to do so with a forward or defenseman’s stick. Also, the glass is higher than ever in NHL rinks. The main reason why pucks go flying over the glass by defensive players, it because they’re trying to clear their zone by shooting as high as possible so it’s not intercepted. That’s a CHOICE they make and sometimes, they shoot too high. So I say leave this one as is.