NHL plots radical rule changes
To boost scoring, general managers propose moving bluelines and restricting goalies
By DAVID SHOALTS
Wednesday, February 11, 2004
HENDERSON, NEV. -- Aiming to restore offence and excitement to a game stifled by defence, National Hockey League general managers put forward a list of proposals yesterday that would result in the most radical changes in the league's modern history.
The following proposals are subject to further discussion and refinement but are likely to be adopted next season:
A reduction in the size of goaltenders' leg pads from 12 inches to 10.
Banning goaltenders from handling the puck behind the goal line.
Moving the nets and bluelines three feet closer to the end boards to simultaneously shrink the area behind the net and increase the size of the neutral zone. Doing so will restore the dimensions to what they were before the nets were moved out prior to the 1990-91 season. The space from the end board to the goal line would shrink to 10 feet from 13.
Restoring the tag-up offside rule, which was dropped prior to the 1986-87 season.
It allows the play to continue if attacking players who are offside when the puck enters the offensive zone skate out of the zone and back in again. "The trends have been obvious to us," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. "We'd like to see the trends start going the other way, particularly to offence and how the game is played."
Goal scoring has been in decline since the early 1990s, and complaints about dull, defensive hockey are on the rise. By last weekend's all-star break, scoring in the NHL had sunk to an average of 5.04 goals per game by both teams, the lowest point since the 1953-54 season, when it was 4.80.
Mr. Bettman and the general managers said the proposals are not aimed at producing more goals, just more scoring chances, which should make games more exciting.
"This is all serious stuff," said Edmonton Oilers GM Kevin Lowe, who was a player on the great Oiler scoring machines of the 1980s. "Does everybody want to see more goals? Not necessarily. I've said quite often that one of the most exciting games in Oiler history was a 1-0 game. We want to see more offence. We want to see more shots. If it happens to be great goaltending, so be it, but it's plays on the net. That's our focus."
The proposals -- the most sweeping since the introduction of the centre redline in 1943-44, which is considered the beginning of the game's modern era -- will be refined in the next several weeks after more discussion among the GMs and NHL officials. They will then be examined this summer by a blue-ribbon committee this summer of NHL general managers, players, former players, coaches and even some media members. From there, the proposals will go to the NHL governors for approval for next season.
The decision to put the changes for consideration to the as-yet-unnamed committee is an extra step in the usual rule-change process, but given the tradition of the governors to rubber-stamp any suggestions from the GMs, the feeling around the meetings yesterday was that the proposals will be accepted. They also have the added weight of endorsement from the NHL Players' Association, which has three representatives at the GMs' meetings. Two more proposals will be tried in the American Hockey League next season for at least one year before they may be adopted by the NHL.
One is to award three points for a win earned in regulation time, up from two, and two points for a win in the five-minute overtime period. The one point for an overtime loss would remain, while a shootout will be introduced to eliminate ties.
The AHL will also be asked to increase the width of the bluelines and the centre redline from one foot to two feet. This also increases the size of the neutral zone in hopes of creating more offensive flow.
Two measures, which Mr. Bettman called a clarification of existing rules, will go into effect in the next four or five days, as soon as referees and video goal judges are informed. Referees will now be able to award a penalty shot when a player is pulled down on a breakaway even if he does not have control of the puck. If the referee believes the player was likely to gain control, the call can be made.
The other measure will be to allow a goal that is scored when a net is teetering on its mooring pegs but is not completely knocked off. At present, goals are disallowed as soon as the net begins to tilt.
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