Hockey fans rejoice! The lockout is over! On Friday, July 22, 2005, in the morning the players ratified - almost unanimously - the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. In the afternoon the owners ratified it, effectively ending the ten-month lockout that had wiped out the entire 2004-2005 season which made the NHL be the first major North American sports league to lose an entire season due to a labor dispute.
So the NHL is coming back with the regular season slated to begin on October 5, 2005 (for the first time ever all 30 teams will play their first game on that night). But it will not be the same. In addition to mass roster changes that we'll see made necessary by the salary cap, new rules will also be showcased. Changes, they are afoot, my hockey friends! We'll be seeing a slightly different kind of game come October, or in September in the preseason for the most rabid of hockey fans. The following is a breakdown of them:
We need a line change, let's ice the puck! How about NOoooo?!: ICING will be a bit different, the most significant change being that if your team ices the puck, you will not be able to make a line change before the next faceoff. The touch icing will remain (they had toyed with the idea of having no-touch icing like they have in the Olympics), but the linesmen will be given more discretion to wave off icing if they deem the icing to be a result of a missed long pass.
Can't we all just get along?: INSTIGATION PENALTIES: The strategy of starting a bunch of fights at the end of the game if you're losing badly is no longer a good idea. If a player instigates a fight in the final five minutes of a game (be sure to start it at 14:59 of the third!) he (or she...hey, ya never know) will be slapped with a game misconduct and a one-game suspension which would double for each additional incident. The coach of the player would also be fined $10,000 which would also double for each fight!
- Ties? GONE!! In the most surprising rule change, ties are completely eliminated. After the game ends in regulation with the score knotted up, as before, for a five minute overtime period the teams will play with four skaters aside (instead of the usual five). If the game is still tied, there will be a shoot-out. Each team takes three shots (like a penalty shot). The team with the most goals will win. If still tied, there will be a sudden death shootout. The winning team will be assessed one more goal than the other team. As far as points go, as before, both teams get a point if it is tied at the end of regulation and the winner will receive an additional point.
- Ignore that big red line in the middle: Two-line passes will now be legal because the center red line will be ignored for offsides purposes. OTHER LINES CHANGES:
- Smaller Neutral Zone: the blue lines will be shrunk from 54 to 50 feet, making the offensive zones each two feet bigger.
- Goal Lines: They will be moved two feet, to 11 feet from the endboards. This will facilitate more room to create offense from behind the net.
- Tag up offsides: this rule makes a triumphant return. Play will be allowed to continue if offensive players who had preceded the puck into the zone return to the blue line and tag it. Flow of the game will be less interrupted.
- Uh-Oh, GOALIES! Goalies, in the least surprising rule change, will have their equipment reduced about 11%. As well as the one-inch reduction (to 11 inches) in the width of the leg pads, the blocking glove, upper body protector, jersey and pants will also be reduced in size.
- Goalies caught using oversized equipment will be suspended for two games. The team will also be fined 25gs and the trainer will be fined a thousand dollars.
- Goalies can only play the puck behind the goal line only in a trapezoid-shaped area defined by lines that begin six feet from either goal post and extend diagonally to points 28 feet apart at the end boards.
Even though I see the logic in it this new rule seems the most absurd. Hard core hockey fans love the fisticuffs, especially the craziness that can ensue at the end of a game! Leave it alone for crying out loud!
AW, BLOW ME! OFFICIATING: There will be a zero tolerance on hooking and obstructionblah diddy blah blah (aren't they always saying this lately??)
Lookout, DIVING TEAM! UNSPORTSMANLIKE CONDUCT will be given more attention. The League will review and hand out fines to players who dive or embellish falls or fake injuries attempting to draw penalties. The first incident will be a warning, the second will be a $1,000 fine, the third will be a $2,000 fine, and the fourth will be a one-game suspension. Public complaints or derogatory comments toward the game will also result in a suspension.
Whoo-Hoo, a Committee: A new COMPETITION COMMITTEE comprised of four NHL players, four General Managers, and one owner will be formed. It will be supervised by Colin Campbell, NHL director of hockey operations.
- Goalies who play the puck behind the goal line but beyond their new trapezoid puck-handling area will be called for a delay of game. They will also be penalized for delay of game if they freeze the puck unnecessarily. WHAT? What constitutes unnecessary?? Gee, I'm glad they're not being vague or anything!
- Any player who shoots the puck over the glass in his defending zone will be assessed a delay of game, not just the goaltender.
Even though ties are, as former St. Louis Blues television announcer Ken Wilson used to say, like "kissing your sister," they had been a tradition in the NHL. Sometimes there's nothing wrong with a good draw; it means that between those two particular teams on that particular night, neither team was better. A shootout does not, in my opinion, say which team is better, maybe only which players are better at penalty shots. So I'm not entirely sure if I agree that eliminating ties completely is a good thing. However, it will be certainly interesting to see how different the NHL looks with these new rules when it makes its triumphant return to the ice in a few months. Hopefully the coolest sport in the world will not have been hurt too badly by the lockout and it can get back to business.