NHL 2014-15 Rule Changes: A House of Cards on a Foundation of Sand

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I have said it before and will say it again: The NHL Rule Book is a house of cards built on a foundation of sand.

The document is mess that is in desperate need of a thorough cleanup for the good of the game. Unfortunately, with each passing year, the changes the League makes only further muddy the waters rather than creating greater clarity.

The changes for 2014-15 are no exception. There is lip service given to “improving” the game and being proactive, yet many of the changes are half-baked versions of good ideas or are hopelessly ill-conceived in the first place. It doesn’t help matter that many of the changes are written with all the eloquence and clarity of Elmer Fudd.

The process by which new rules are enacted is broken. On-ice officials are given the responsibility of studying and enforcing the rulebook yet have no seat at the table in the creation and clarification of the rules. Meanwhile, there are replay officials, some supervisors and the ultimate boss of officiating atop the NHL Hockey Operations who have zero on-ice officiating experience.

At the very top of the Hockey Ops hierarchy, there is a lack of understanding of what referees and linesmen actually need at their disposal in order to succeed on the ice. This inevitably results in more and more judgment being taken away from the crews on the ice in the name of “assisting” them in doing their jobs. The mistrust is palpable.

From a League standpoint, there is also a public relations agenda at work: The NHL wants to present an image to the public that it is cracking down on issues such as dangerous hits and diving/embellishment. In reality, there is very little actually being done on these issues.

Furthermore, since on-ice officials make for a convenient scapegoat, the has tried to create a cookie-cutter rules that remove more and more decision-making power from its referees and linesmen.

Let’s look at each of the changes that are being enacted for the 2014-15 season: Rule 1.8 – Rink – Goalkeeper’s Restricted Area The trapezoid will be expanded by two feet from the goal post on both sides of the net.

I personally would not mind if the League eliminated the trapezoid entirely. It is a questionable rule that has not helped to increased scoring. If anything, the trapezoid has reduced turnovers that lead directly to scoring chances with goaltenders caught out of position. However, I don’t mind this rule change, which is a compromise between eliminating the trapezoid and keeping the old trapezoid dimensions. Goalies who are skilled puck handlers should have a little added ability to use that skill.

However, if the League really wants to change ice markings in a meaningful way, there should be markings for too many men on the ice penalties.

I would like to see a line added to the ice markings and placed five feet (or, under Russian rules, two meters) from the bench areas. If the sixth player is entering or retreating to the bench and he is inside the box, there would be no call. If the sixth player steps out of the safety of the box to enter play and is now more than five feet out with six players outside the area excluding the goalie, then the call would be too many men.

This would gives the linesmen a clear and definite visual and verbal description of what should be called and eliminates the vaguely worded aspects of the rule: If there are six men outside the box, it’s a penalty. If the sixth enters play but another player steps into the safety box, no penalty.

In the KHL arenas that I have been able to inspect, I have found that what may be thought of as a luxury actually is a major contributing factor to the Too Many Men situations including the one that recently flew across the airways in the KHL.

The standard length of NHL and most North American rink bench areas has the coach standing behind the players at about 2 feet. The length of the bench with a door at either end is 24 feet. Usually,the trainer and the equipment men handle the doors. The coaches stand at the ends for D and for Forwards with the head coach pacing between them.

Players going on the ice jump over the dasher, players coming back to the bench usually go through he two doors. The D sits at the end closest to their goalie. The Forwards sit closer to the end that they are attacking.

These players are so jumpy, and they don’t pay attention. They jump up and down, blocking the coaches view of the ice and the number of players who are going on and coming off the ice.

For the on-ice officials, the linesmen and referees who must weave their way on the ice through the bench areas that combined measure nearly the half length of the one side of the rink, it become a challenge to not get knocked about by players who never seem to see us.

To be able to track players, watch the puck, call their lines or get to the end zone or up to the red line becomes a nightmare.

The solution for the officials is that the linesman on the opposite side of the benches must be the responsible party to keep track of the numbers of players on the ice. If the Referee is on the bench side,he is likely not getting a good view. The deep referee is concentrating on end zone play and action around the net and the crease,he won’t be much help as the benches are 60 feet away and out of his area of action and concentration.

There MUST be a more realistic approach as to what is too many men, yet this continues to be ignored by the NHL rule-makers. If the extra player gets a chance to take the puck and go while the player he is replacing is well over the line, then make the call. If the extra man stops a break by the opponent who has a chance to move with the puck that too should be a penalty.

The only aspect that we in officiating must strongly instruct is that the linesman on the side opposite the benches or the back referee must quickly count the players on the ice almost as often as they take a breath. It should become a sixth sense for the officials to make the count by a quick perusal. Rule 23 – Game Misconduct Penalties A new Game Misconduct category will be created. Clipping, charging, elbowing, interference, kneeing, head-butting and butt-ending move from the general category into the same category as boarding and checking from behind (“Physical Fouls”), whereby a player who incurs two such game misconducts in this category would now be automatically suspended for one game.

I am certainly fine with a protocol for automatic suspensions for dangerous plays that carry majors and game misconducts. However, I can’t help but wonder how much this new rule is designed more to take some supplementary discipline heat off the Department of Player Safety than to actually crack down. Rule 24 – Penalty Shot The ‘Spin-O-Rama’ move, as described in Section 24.2 of the 2013-14 NHL Rule Book, will no longer be permitted either in Penalty Shot situations or in the Shootout.

There is a longstanding rule about not a shooter being allowed to move the puck backwards in such situations. As such, there is a justification for declaring the spin-o-rama illegal in penalty shots and shootouts.

From a broader perspective, however, isn’t the supposed purpose of the shootout for added entertainment value to decide regular season games in lieu of ties? There’s a slippery slope here in banning a certain move.

My question is this: How many people were actually clamoring for this new rule in the first place, apart from some goaltenders and coaches of teams that scored upon on a penalty shot or shootout? I know plenty of traditionalists who argue to this day that the shootout itself should be scrapped. By comparison, what’s the population of shootout enthusiasts who were pushing for a spin-o-rama ban? Rule 38 – Video Goal Judge Video review will be expanded in the following areas:

* Rule 38.4 (viii) has been modified to allow broader discretion to Hockey Operations to assist the referees in determining the legitimacy of all potential goals (e.g., to ensure they are “good hockey goals”). The revised Rule will allow Hockey Operations to correct a broader array of

situations where video review clearly establishes that a “goal” or “no goal” call on the ice has been made in error. The new expanded rule will also allow Hockey Operations to provide guidance to referees on goal and potential goal plays where the referee has blown his whistle (or intended to blow his whistle) after having lost sight of the puck.

* In reviewing “Kicked in Goals,” Hockey Operations will require more demonstrable video evidence of a “distinct kicking motion” in order to overrule a “goal” call on the ice, or to uphold a “no goal” call on the ice.

Oh, boy, here we go. First of all, there had better be plenty of clarification given about what is and isn’t reviewable. Could this so-called explanation of how Hockey Ops plans to “assist” on-ice referees possibly be any more vaguely worded? There was already widespread confusion about what is and isn’t reviewable. This directive is bound to increase that confusion.

Secondly, I already have major problems with the way the NHL’s video review system operates.

In ECAC hockey, we include the on-ice officials’ input in the final decision on video reviews. I think it works better that way.

One of the key reasons why I dislike the NHL’s current off-site video review “War Room” system is that the on-ice official who is right there to see the play is not part of the final decision. There are times when replay angles are deceptive.

To me, a referee making the call on the ice is more credible than vesting all the discretion and decision-making power in eight unseen guys eating Chinese takeout 500 miles away in Toronto.

But, hey, what do I know?

Under the older in-house replay system, there was better communication between the officials on the ice and the replay folks about what actually happened on the play. Let me give you a prime — and painful — example.

My friend and linesman teammate official Pat Dapuzzo used to say that no one on our staff worked the net as closely as I did. That was a lesson learned after my first game in the NHL when my positioning, while good, could have been better. I would then have seen the puck and NOT disallowed the Bruins winning goal vs Canadiens.

It was a lesson that I took on the ice with me for the rest of my career.

One night at Madison Square Garden, officiating supervisor Matt Pavelich and the Replay Judge phoned down to me after a whistle to tell me I had missed a goal. The puck that had just been shot at the Ranger goal and then bounced crazily out toward center ice, in fact, had hit the twine.

“It’s a goal,” they said.

I told them that I couldn’t agree but it was their call to make. I asked them, prior to actually stamping the shot a goal, to rewind the tape again, to look and see exactly where I was standing.

They did and said,” You are right next to the post with your hand on the crossbar.”

I then asked them why they thoughT it was a goal. They responded by saying that the puck was shot with speed and it must have hit underneath the cross bar because it came out dead and took a funny bounce as a puck would, had it hit the twine.

“Did you clearly see the puck go in the net?” I asked.

“No, your arm and hand were in the way.”

I did not argue that point but then added, ” All that’s true, but it didn’t hit the net or the pipe.”

“How do you know? It must have,” they surmised.

“Well, I know because the puck hit my hand and broke my right index finger. It’s no goal, trust me!”

The no-goal call on the ice stood. My right index finger is crooked. Come play a round of golf with me and I’ll show you.

At any rate, it seems like the War Room or Situation Room or whatever they are calling it these days will be getting a lot more work this year, including debates on whether the play in question is subject for review under the new rules. Pass the wonton soup and egg rolls. Rule 57 – Tripping The rule relating to “Tripping” will be revised to specifically provide that a two minute minor penalty will be assessed when a defending player “dives” and trips an attacking player with his body/arm/shoulder, regardless of whether the defending player is able to make initial contact

with the puck.

But, in situations where a penalty shot might otherwise be appropriate, if the defending player “dives” and touches the puck first (before the trip), no penalty shot will be awarded. In such cases, the resulting penalty will be limited to a two-minute minor penalty for tripping.

This highly questionable new rule is a good example of what’s wrong with cookie-cutter rule making. The intent appears to be once again to take judgment away from referees. The first portion of the new rule is particularly odious. It takes a situation that is often a legitimate defensive tactic — albeit a last-ditch desperation move — to break up an offensive play and replaces it with an automatic penalty.

Basically, it means the League does not trust its referees to judge whether the defender legitimately touched the puck first and the attacker was incidentally tripped up in the follow-through or if the attacker lost the puck as a result of being tripped. Now there’s a “catch-all” rule in its place that could actually serve to increase embellishment and make life tougher on the on-ice official.

Here’s a thought: Rather than rules like these, how about we do a better job in coaching our referees on their skating and positioning to have the best possible chance at the correct call? How about instead of mistrusting our officials and punishing defenders, we have constructive dialogue on using judgment and feel on what is and isn’t a tripping penalty? Rule 64 – Diving / Embellishment The supplementary discipline penalties associated with Rule 64.3 (Diving/Embellishment) will be revised to bring attention to and more seriously penalize players (and teams) who repeatedly dive and embellish in an attempt to draw penalties. Fines will be assessed to players and head coaches on a graduated scale outlined below.

Incident # Player Fine(s) Head Coach Fine(s)

1 Warning N/A

2 $2,000 N/A

3 $3,000 N/A

4 $4,000 $2,000

5 $5,000 $3,000

6 $5,000 $4,000

7 $5,000 $5,000

8 $5,000 $5,000

So let me get this straight. In the name of “cracking down” on diving and embellishment, the NHL is scrapping its unenforced diving suspension rule and replacing it with a weaker rule of joke fines that top out at $5,000 for numerous repeated offenses.

Wow, a $5K fine for an eight-time offender. Is this a powerful deterrent or what?! I am skeptical the League will even issue these slap-on-the wrist fines, because no one ever saw the “diver list” that Hockey Operations pledged to publish years ago to publicly embarrass serial divers and embellishment artists.

The one and only part of the new rule that I think is a step in the right direction in principle is to hold coaches accountable for what players due and to censure them as well as the player for repeated violations. The problem here, though, is the unlikelihood of the fines to coaches ever being levied under the rule and the nominal amounts involved even if they are.

Folks, when you are complaining all season and during the playoffs about all the diving and embellishment that goes on, just remember that the League once again refused to do anything of consequence when it had the chance. This “crackdown” is an unfunny joke.

Side note: The NCAA has left diving/embellishment rules up to each conference. In the ECAC, we are taking it on a case-by-case basis. Other conferences, including Hockey East, are going with a system of automatic suspensions on a repeated offense. Hockey East will start automatically suspending on a second offense. Rule 76 – Face-offs To curb delay tactics on face-offs after icing infractions, in situations where the defending team is guilty of a face-off violation, following an icing, the defending player who is initially lined up for the face-off will be given a warning, but will be required to remain in the circle to take the face-off. A second face-off violation by the defending team in such situation will result in a two minute minor bench penalty.

A linesman would have a more thorough opinion on this new rule but I fail to see how giving a team a “freebie” faceoff violation to stall for a little extra time — without the center even being tossed from the circle — is going to dissuade a delay tactic following an icing after a long shift. I am fine with the minor penalty for a second violation after an icing. Rule 84 – Overtime * Teams will switch ends prior to the start of overtime in the regular

season.

* The entire ice surface will undergo a “dry scrape” prior to the start of

overtime in the regular season.

* The procedure requiring the head coach to submit a list of the first

three shooters in the shoot-out has been eliminated.

None of these minor changes are objectionable. Changing sides in the overtime may marginally increase game-winning goals scored when teams get caught on the “long change” and an odd-man rush results. Doing some cursory clean-up of the ice surface could marginally reduce the “tired ice” effect. Rule 85 – Puck Out of Bounds There have been further rule changes made relating to face-off location to avoid penalizing teams for plays intended to create bona fide scoring opportunities. Specifically, the following are “categories of plays” where face-offs will remain in the attacking zone despite the fact that the attacking team was technically responsible for the stoppage in play: Shots at the net by a player on the attacking team where: (i) the shot breaks the glass; (ii) the shot goes off the side of the net and deflects out of play; (iii) the shot goes off the dasher boards or glass and deflects out of play; (iv) the shot is tipped or deflected out of play by a teammate;

and (v) the shot becomes wedged in or on the exterior of the goal net.

I am fine with these faceoff-location rule tweaks. Also, from an enforcement standoint, the wording in this case points exactly to which additional situations to keep the faceoff in the attacking zone. Rule 1.9 – Rink – Face-off Spots and Circles – Ice Markings/Hash Marks The hash marks at the end zone circles will be moved from three feet apart to five feet, seven inches apart (international markings).

NOTE: This rule change will be enacted for the 2014 NHL preseason and may be continued for the 2014/15 regular season if approved by the League and the NHLPA.

There are all sorts of shenanigans that go one when opposing players are lined up closer to each other around the faceoff circle. I would not have a problem with going with the international markings if the rule is adopted but, again, seasoned linesmen could offer the most thoroughly informed analysis.

****** Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.

Today, Stewart is an officiating and league discipline consultant for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and serves as director of hockey officiating for the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC).

The longtime referee heads Officiating by Stewart, a consulting, training and evaluation service for officials. Stewart also maintains a busy schedule as a public speaker, fund raiser and master-of-ceremonies for a host of private, corporate and public events. As a non-hockey venture, he is the owner of Lest We Forget.

In addition to his blogs for HockeyBuzz every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, Stewart writes a column every Wednesday for the Huffington Post.This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.

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