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Save This Game! An Index of Ideas for NHL Rule Changes

Page Two: Change the ice? Change the players?

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Establish a "Passing Line"

The "passing line" would be drawn across the tops of the circles in each offensive zone. After reaching this line, a player could make a legal pass to the far blue line.

This is a compromise on eliminating the red line. It opens up the long pass, but also encourages forechecking. As long as the puck is below the passing line, the attacking team can be aggressive and not worry about a long pass going the other way.

This idea is credited to Scotty Bowman, who is taken seriously by everyone in the league. It's sure to get a look.

Eliminate the Blue Lines

As far as I know, this one was first proposed by Mike Modano of the Dallas Stars.

The red line remains, but used only for icing calls. But there is no neutral zone, no offsides, and passes are legal anywhere on the ice. A modified version would use the red line to call offsides – players could not precede the puck over the red line.

A more radical version: once a defender reaches the passing line in his zone, he can make a legal pass anywhere.

Sounds like a lot of fun, but it will never fly.

Widen The Red and Blue Lines

Already used by the AHL, where lines are painted three feet thick, instead of the traditional one foot. The painted ice is part of both the offensive zone and the neutral zone.

The zones of the ice don't change size and the two-line pass remains illegal. A puck-carrier must reach his own blue line before making a pass to the far blue line. But he now has four extra feet to make that pass – the four feet covered by the extra paint.

Considered useful in the AHL, though some say the effect has been minimal.

Widen The Ice Surface

NHL rinks are 85 feet wide, compared to 100 feet in most of Europe. Most NHL people say 100 feet is too big: it cuts down on hitting and helps the defense, because attackers forced to the outside are a long, long way from the net.

But some say the NHL should go halfway towards the international standard. On Hockey Night in Canada, John Davidson suggested a 94-foot width. Pierre McGuire of TSN says a 90-foot surface would be enough to open the game.

There’s a lot of momentum behind this one. But it requires a major refit of each arena, and wipes out a row of the most expensive seats. So it's not likely to happen. But future arenas might be built with the flexibility to expand the surface.

Eliminate One Skater

Four-on-four overtime is the most exciting part of many NHL games. So why play four-on-four all night? It's too radical for most, and the NHLPA would fight the job losses. Also, there is a suspicion that the excitement and pace of 4-on-4 would wane if teams played it for 60 minutes instead of five. It would probably eliminate hitting as well.

Outlaw The Neutral Zone Trap

The argument is that if you prohibit forwards from skating backwards in the neutral zone, you've effectively disabled the trap. Teams could be called for illegal defense, and handed a two-minute penalty.

Hockey is already the hardest game to officate, without handing referees another judgment-call-on-the-fly. And more rules? More penalties? Is that what the game needs? Maybe the NHL should focus on improving enforcement of its existing rules.

Strengthen the Rules Against Interference

In the wake of so many failed "crackdowns" on obstruction and interference, maybe it's time to simplify the rulebook. Decide where players will be permitted to battle each other physically - the front of the net, in the corners, wherever. Then make it illegal to touch an opponent anywhere else on the ice unless he has the puck.

But will clearer rules be any easier to enforce?

Reinstate Delayed Offsides (adopted by NHL for 2005-06)

They call it the "tag-up" rule. Players trapped offside in the attacking zone can return to the blue line, "tag up" and go back on the attack. This keeps the play going and cuts down on offside whisltes.

This is the rule in most leagues, and it was the NHL rule until 1986. The league will almost certainly return to it.

Restrict Player Changes

The idea is to speed up the flow of the game and prevent some of the "line matching" that is so important defensive systems.

No player substitutions would be allowed during stoppages in play; all changes must be made "on the fly." A variation would be to forbid player changes in select situations, i.e., no substitutions before a faceoff in the neutral zone.

Some version of this would definitely work. But it hasn't been talked about much.

Call One-Minute Penalties in Overtime

This idea originates with Brendan Shanahan's hockey think tank, which met in December of 2004. The feeling is that a two-minute, 4-on-3 advantage during a short overtime period is too big an huge advantage, making referees reluctant to make calls.

See Also:
Page 1: Open season on the NHL rule book
Page 3: Penalty killers, point counters and goal scorers.

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