Rule Changes Not Improving the Game


Rule Changes Not Improving the NHL Product

As the NHL looks to increase their fan base, rule changes are being, or have been implemented which are supposed to make the game ‘more exciting’. The National Hockey League is looking to widen their viewership across all of North America and even Europe. The NHL board of governors are meeting on a consistent basis to discuss ways in which they can change the game, to increase interest surrounding the league. The easiest way to increase viewership is to increase scoring. Some of the rule changes that were put in to place in the past couple of years include 3 on 3 overtime as opposed to 4 on 4, the coach’s challenge, limiting goalies’ pad sizes, and expanded video review. This article will discuss why these new rule changes are actually taking away from the game, despite the fact that they may make it ‘more exciting’.

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Firstly, it is important to separate the coach’s challenge and expanded video review from the other rules that will be discussed. These rules were by no means implemented to increase excitement in the league. In fact, these rules, slow down the game significantly. In principle, the two aforementioned rules are good to have, as they increase officiating accuracy. However, in practice, they are taking away from the game in an unintended way.

Nov 3, 2015; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; referee Chris Lee (28) confirms the no goal call after a coaches challenge from the Ottawa Senators during the third period against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

There are many controversies surrounding the coach’s challenge. Lots of hockey fans dislike the coach’s challenge, and their reasoning for feeling this way is completely understandable. The NHL rule book has many grey areas, where circumstantial calls need to be made. Unfortunately for the NHL, the same group of referees can’t officiate every game. Some argue that referees have different levels of severity in certain grey areas, which leads to inconsistency among calls.

Specifically, goaltender interference calls are being brought in to question. They have always been hard to call, and they will always be hard to call. However, there should be some level of consistency throughout the league with reference to these calls. Implementing the coach’s challenge rule is a good idea, but there needs to be consistency when it comes to the controversial goaltender interference calls, especially when the playoffs roll around. For example, check out the link that follows. This goal was disallowed due to goaltender interference, whereas goals with more contact between skater and goalie have been allowed in certain cases this season.

The NHL changed their overtime format from 4 on 4 to 3 on 3 prior to this season, and there are many fans who like the rule change. The 3 on 3 overtime period is said to allow the players to display their true skill in such open ice. The reason for the rule change, though, is not only to make games more exciting, it is also to make games less likely to go into a shootout. Though there are some fans that are embracing the 3 on 3 overtime, others believe that it is not hockey. There is little strategy involved. With so much room on the ice, the best thing to do is chip the puck out and hope for a breakaway or a 2 on 1. 3 on 3 is definitely exciting, but it doesn’t involve any sort of team strategy or real team talent. It is reminiscent of ‘shinny’ hockey played out on the pond, not NHL caliber, quality hockey.

Sep 20, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Nashville Predators and Florida Panthers players line up for a 3 on 3 overtime period at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Some people are extremely in favour of this rule change, but why? Most NHL fans are people who understand the game and appreciate all of its intricacies. Sure, it is fun to watch the NHL’s best show off their skills in open ice, but isn’t that what the shootout is for? 3 on 3 overtime is actually meant to reduce the amount of shootouts per year. Now in my opinion, a perfect NHL would include a 4 on 4 overtime until somebody scores. No 3 on 3, no shootout. However, the NHL seems to suggest that they want their game to be more exciting. Rather than allowing their best players go one on one with the best goalies in a shootout, they want to play fast-paced 3 on 3 overtime. In this case, I believe that the NHL is sacrificing the quality of their game for entertainment.

Rule changes are implemented to increase viewership. If viewers want to see goals, the NHL needs to find ways to make more goals happen. 3 on 3 is one way of doing so, the smaller NHL goalie pads is another. Now, a new idea is starting to swirl.

Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock has proposed that the NHL needs to make their nets bigger. Babcock suggests that nets are too small, and that goalies are too big. Some fans would appreciate 8 goals per game, but other fans, true fans, appreciate the game for what it is. The true NHL fan appreciates a good defensive play or blocked shot just the same as a goal. Leafs coach, Mike Babcock, makes reference to the 80’s, when goalies were small and nets were big. He says that it is just too hard to score in the modern-day NHL.

Nov 17, 2015; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; New Jersey Devils goalie Cory Schneider (35) guards his net against the Calgary Flames during the first period at Scotiabank Saddledome. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL implemented a rule limiting the size of goalies’ pads a few years ago. A goalie’s pad size now depends on the size of the goalie. Babcock suggests that this rule should change once again, as goalie pads should be made smaller. Babcock’s requests bring forth an interesting issue. The NHL obviously wants to show off their players’ talent. Going by this, it makes sense to force the goaltenders to wear smaller pads, as it would allow them to display their unique abilities without help from bulky equipment.

However, the NHL also wants to show off their players’ skill. Making the goalie pads smaller around the league actually discredits the NHL scorers, who are said to be the best in the world. The NHL scorers should be able to find ways to score on these top-tier goaltenders, no matter how big their equipment is. If the NHL is dead set on increasing scoring in the league, reducing goalie pad size is the move that makes the most sense.

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The fact is, any true hockey fan would tell you that they would prefer to watch a 3-2 game, rather than watching a 7-6 game. The league commissioner, Gary Bettman, and the NHL board of governors are going to have to make a few decisions when it comes to new NHL rule changes in the near future. It is unclear whether or not they will implement further rule changes that will limit the size of goalie equipment, clarify goalie interference calls or make nets bigger. Though that lies ahead, the NHL rule changes from the recent past haven’t added anything of value to the game just yet. Once the kinks get ironed out, the coach’s challenge rule will be great for the league as a whole, as it will improve officiating accuracy. That said, the other rules may very well be taking away from the quality of play in the NHL as a whole. Let’s hope the NHL doesn’t sacrifice what has made their game this popular for this long, in order to increase viewership in the future.