NHL rule change opens ice


first_imgCheck the NHL out these days and you’ll find a drastically different game from the pre-lockout days. Although I must admit bringing this up at the end of the second season since the rules changed is a touch belated, it’s still important enough to take a look at the evolution after the fact.After the entire 2004-05 season was cancelled, the NHL, similar MLB after the 2002 All-Star game resulted in a 7-7 tie, demanded a change. To recover its fan base, who may have taken flight, professional hockey made a number of modifications to the laws of the sport with the intent of making the game more offensively oriented. To allow more freedom for the skilled speed players to work, grabbing, holding, hooking, slashing, tripping, cross checking and interference now warrant an automatic penalty. Another rule affecting the pace of the game was the legalization of the two-line pass. This alteration gives these finesse players a chance to receive passes from their own zone in transition and, consequently, more scoring opportunities. Shootouts, goalie movement and equipment restrictions, increased fines for fighters, smaller neutral zones and varying icing restrictions are some of the other differences found in the post-lockout NHL game. Two Fridays ago, Pittsburgh center Sidney Crosby, 19, became the youngest player in NHL history to record 200 points, breaking Wayne Gretzky’s 27-year-old record. Crosby, who doesn’t turn 20 until Aug. 7, beat out the Great One by more than four months, as Gretzky didn’t do the same until just before his 20th birthday. Whether Crosby’s success is wholly due to the recent rule changes and more open-style hockey seen in the game today or just a miraculous talent not seen since Gretzky himself was a second-year player, or a combination of both, isn’t transparent. But for the rest of the league and the smaller, quicker players like Crosby, the new rules almost undoubtedly play to their advantage. “I think it suits me a lot better with the new rule changes,” former Badger Joe Pavelski, who is a rookie with the San Jose Sharks, said in a phone interview. “Not being as big of a guy (5-foot-11, 195 pounds), I’m able to get around, find my way around the rink a little bit more easily, and then I think I would have been able to with all the clutching and grabbing; so I mean, I might not be in the NHL right now with the old rules, you never know.”Every player has kind of benefited in his own standpoint, and it has brought a lot of new fans and a lot more excitement to the game.”The fans seem to be enjoying the modifications as well. Compared to 2003-04, the last year before the lockout, the fan base has increased more than 300 fans per game (16,847 versus 16,533). It’s not a huge difference, but the fact that more people are showing up to the rink despite enduring an unnecessary year without hockey bodes well.And there’s no question that the rule changes have paid off in terms of what the NHL was trying to do: The game is faster-paced, higher scoring and even penalties are down. Teams take 29.6 shots per game on average, 1.6 more than in 2003-04; combined scores have increased from five goals per contest to just fewer than six goals per contest, and penalty minutes per game have declined more than three minutes for each side. While the shift to a higher scoring game and more freedom on offense has been beneficial in keeping the NHL a successful business, blue liners and goaltenders face a lot more pressure. Overall, though, they also agree with the tweaks and alterations. “If you’re a defenseman, it’s not very good when the other team knocks the puck in and your forwards can’t hold the guys up so they just come full speed at you,” Edmonton Oilers rookie defenseman Tom Gilbert said. “But I think for the most part, the new rules have benefited me.”So even if my call to order is a tad late, the NHL’s board of governors deserves a congratulatory applause for redeeming itself and saving the league.Kevin is a junior double majoring in journalism and economics. If you or someone you know wants to discuss the talent phenom Sidney Crosby possesses, he can be reached at [email protected]last_img

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