(Originally published at Sports Radio Service)
Many of the rule changes announced by the NHL this week could improve player safety. A couple of changes are unrelated to safety but could improve fairness. Others look like half-measures and one seems entirely nonsensical.
The changes around the face off dot will certainly have the most immediate impact. Putting more distance between the players taking a faceoff will make even the most skilled NHL center adjust his routine. The only advantage would be to players transitioning from international leagues, since the new 5’7″ distance matches international rules.
That change has not been confirmed yet, so players can’t properly prepare for it until the season starts. The new hash marks will be tested in preseason before a decision is made. It could cause some ice surface problems if the changes is not made and everyone has to repaint at the last minute.
The change to the tripping rule is the one I find the most symbolically significant. Those heroic last-ditch efforts where a player dives for the puck after he loses the race? That extreme no-quit stretch and slide? No more will those be forgiven. Instead they will be called a minor penalty, and in some cases cause for a penalty shot.
Like some of the other changes, the tripping rule change gives officials greater latitude to penalize dangerous plays. Rule 23 has been expanded to include elbowing, clipping, kneeing, and other physical fouls. Where Rule 23 game misconducts used to apply only to hits from behind and boarding, almost anything that is likely to cause a head injury can now be penalized under Rule 23. If applied properly, this may reduce serious injuries, but as with all rules, the proper application is a big if.
To counter abuse of these safety rules, the NHL has increased penalties and fines for embellishment. The fines increase according to the number of recorded infractions. The first infraction gets a warning, the next a $2000 fine, up to the fifth through eight infractions which each merit a $5000 fine. The fourth infraction introduces a fine for the head coach as well as the player, and these fines keep going up to the eighth.
One rule change eliminates some penalties. The change to the out of bounds rule means that-in some cases- a team will not be pushed out of the attacking zone even if they caused the puck to go out of bounds. The situations listed that allow the faceoff to remain in the attack zone include flukey situations like broken glass, pucks off the side of the net and pucks wedged under the net. The list also includes pretty common situations like pucks deflecting out of play off the boards, the glass, or even a teammate. Short of an attacking player shooting the puck right over the glass, it looks like a team will rarely lose ground for putting the puck out of play while in the offensive zone.
The goalkeeper’s restricted area has been increased so that it now looks more like a rectangle that a trapezoid. If you pretend it is a rectangle, you could say the trapezoid has been eliminated, without eliminating the limits on where the goalie is allowed to play the puck. The new area does give the goalie two additional feet on either side of the goal posts. This will provide more options for goalies to play the puck, so that is something.
The change to rule 24, banning spin-o-rama moves in penalty shots and shootouts seems petty. Where many of the 2014 rule changes can be said to improve player safety, this change does nothing but eliminate the occasionally silly spin move. Most spin-o-ramas fail anyway, it seemed unnecessary for the NHL to remove a sometimes entertaining shot option.