For all that is wrong with the NHL — which is a deeply flawed, but entertaining league — one need not look any further than the noise being generated/ink being spilled over the goalie interference rule.
So many goals that are scored in tight on the net and the netminder are reviewed, yet no two rulings are ever the same. It’s to the point where some players aren’t even raising their arms in celebration anymore, knowing full well the opposing coach is going to challenge it and that it can be overturned.
This is madness, we say, that is draining the fun out of hockey — which has real flow and speed — by slowing it down for video reviews that subject those watching games on TV to constant and sometimes moronic chatter from “analysts.”
Unfortunately, the goalie interference rule isn’t the only thing that is wrong with the NHL and its night-to-night product on the ice.
There are a host of rules and league mandates that need changing and/or revision. Now, we’re not saying they should all be revisited and changed/modified immediately, that would be chaotic. But there are 15 things that should/could be done to save the NHL from itself, while providing a better quality product.
15. Take Out The Trapezoid And Allow Goalies To Play The Puck Behind The Goal Line
Very few goaltenders are that adept at handling a puck anyway, so this rule should be rescinded. We say take the darn thing out and let the chips fall where they may. With so few good puckhandling goalies, it might create more offensive opportunities from their ineptitude, not less. It was implemented after the 2004-05 lockout and was directly aimed at future Hall of Famer Martin Brodeur. Well, it was put into place because of how well he could play the puck, which created a talent disparity with his opponents. And in the new parity-enforced NHL with a salary cap, we couldn’t have that.
Brian Burke, who never met a microphone he didn’t like, once said, “The game was turning into a tennis match. You’d dump it in and the goalie would throw it out and now with the soft chip into the corner it turns into a puck battle and a forecheck opportunity, which is what we wanted.” No, it wasn’t wanted by teams that employed goaltenders who had puck-moving skills like a third defenceman, only those who had goalies with marginal ability, like Burkie’s teams.
14. Ban Fighting But Also Penalize Headhunters Severely
There really is no need now for NHL teams to employ marginally skilled thugs, who all too often engage in staged fights. Now, we’re not advocates of taking out contact or anything like that, but the NHL is the only league where fighting is basically allowed (spend five minutes in the box, feel shame, move on). If two guys want to square up and duke it out, then they should know that an ejection is following. What we also know, however, is that a lot of fights result from dirty, suspect hits on skilled players. They are too often perpetrated by marginal fourth-line players looking to make a name for themselves — think former player Matt Cooke — who then have to stand up for their actions and scrap.
So, in order to ban fighting, the NHL needs to punish injury-inducing checks of any kind severely — even if the perp is a “star” player. By that, we mean the first instance of a chippy hit on an opponent should mean a minimum 10 to 20 game ban, or whatever the league deems appropriate. Next infraction for the same player, double it and so on, and so on until they are basically forced out. Taking out the thuggish hits will then help rule out fighting sooner, rather than later.
13. No More Trade Deadline But Allow Teams To Expand Rosters
The artificiality of the trade deadline has got to end. Endless blather about the odd “blockbuster” move isn’t doing anything for hockey any more. Also, it doesn’t promote team cohesion, nor player development. It really is just a roll of the dice that rarely results in bringing in a guy who wins the Conn Smythe. What the NHL needs to tell its teams is that trading is for the off-season only, if for no other reason than guys with families won’t have to Face Time their kids until the end of the season and/or playoffs.
The key to eliminating a trade deadline that gets more boring and less impactful year over year is to allow clubs to expand their rosters late in the season, just like baseball. The rules say teams can have 23 on the roster (not counting those on injured reserve) and dress 20 for any given game. We say, let them call up a goalie and three extra skaters late in the season from their farm club(s). This way, teams who have clinched can rest key individuals during the stretch drive. For the “bubble” teams, it might allow them to switch more — and fresher — players in and out to gain an edge. And for mathematically eliminated clubs, they can preview prospects, as well as rest their own star players should they choose to do so.
12. Take Away Icing For Shorthanded Teams
Being able to ice the puck while shorthanded is a reward that flies right in the face of why a team was penalized in the first place. Not only does it give the manpower challenged club a chance to change its PK players, but also slows the other team’s powerplay down and eliminate scoring chances. In a modern NHL where shot-blocking is an art — ugh — and scoring is down, this is the easiest fix out there.
Icing the puck while shorthanded should have the same consequences as 5-on-5. No player changes and yet another face-off in their own zone should be a deterrent to taking penalties in the first place. Now, we’re not saying scoring on the PP will increase by leaps and bounds, but at least the squad on the powerplay will have more offensive zone time, instead of skating back, regrouping and trying again and again to break the wall of PK defenders at the opposition blue line. Easy, easy fix here.
11. Send The NHL’s Best To The Olympics Every Four Years
The NHL did not do itself any favors in the image department this year by not having its best and brightest showcased at the Olympics. That is, by allowing them to compete on five previous occasions, then pulling the plug, they aren’t creating any new fans for sure. Whatever the league’s reasons, most are shallow and self serving. Want to drum up interest and get new fans? Then having Connor McDavid face off against Auston Matthews in a Canada vs USA match is the way to do it, for Pete’s Sake. And talk is the league isn’t going to Beijing in 2022.
Thus, if the high foreheads in the league offices were to relent in 2026, McDavid would 29 and Matthews 28. Hardly past their prime, but current superstars like Russia’s Nikita Kucherov would be 32 and Sweden’s Victor Hedman 35. Established superstars such as Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Drew Doughty and Tuukka Rask will most likely be retired. Send them to Beijing, Gary.
10. Visiting Teams Wear Dark Uniforms, Period
We’re not Luddites or that old-fashioned that we want to send the NHL back to the dark ages when video replay wasn’t available or they were using organ music only on stoppages and not Bruno Mars “That’s What I Like.” What we would like to see is the trend reversed where home teams where whites and visiting teams wear their darks. On that note, the NHL should also stop the idiotic practice of using “third”, “alternate” or “throwback” jerseys.
Marketing is one thing, but let fans decide they want to get nostalgic with a trip to the gear outlet in the arena concourse rather than force feeding it on ice. Exhibit ‘A’ to marketing promotion gone stupid were the highlighter white uniforms the Toronto Maple Leafs wore during the Stadium Series game earlier this year. Those pearly white togs were just plain hard to look at, not to mention ugly.
9. Allow Linesmen To Call Penalties Too
Hockey is a fast game. And even with two referees, cheap stuff still gets missed when their backs are turned. Thus, for that reason, the guys without the orange arm bands should be able to raise their arm and blow the whistle on an offender. Harkening back to point 14 above (fighting and dirty hits), allowing a linesman to flag a foul might help get rid of the chippy crap that leads to retaliation and retributive justice.
Getting the linesmen involved in penalty calling should also be accompanied with an edict that says a referee can make a determination on offsides and icing, if he thinks it is warranted. For more on the offside calling, see below. What can, and would happen, is that the four-man officials units would work more closely as a team and help eliminate mistakes and omissions.
8. Eliminate The “Puck Over Glass” Penalty And Allow Safety Net Pucks To Be Live
If we were to go over each and every penalty assessed to a defending team who cleared the puck over the glass, we would probably find that a majority were accidental (i.e. puck on edge before the clearing attempt is made). Therefore, the NHL should just take out that silly rule and treat the typically unintended play like an icing. That means, no change of players and a face off in the offending team’s zone.
Speaking of pucks over the glass, the artificiality of whistling a play dead when a puck goes into the netting is counter-intuitive. The game hardly needs more stoppages in play. Plus, there are so many professional shot blockers that the number of pucks jetting into the protective barrier has increased exponentially. Keeping the puck live would probably have the effect of increasing scoring chances and introduce a new wrinkle to game planning.
7. The NHL Needs To Contract Teams, Not Expand
All the talk of a new team in Seattle (or Quebec?) really doesn’t make us dizzy with anticipation for yet another expansion draft. The Vegas Golden Knights and their miracle run aside, the NHL is already too thick with teams in a league that doesn’t monetize itself as well as the NFL, NBA or MLB. The fact that the NHL wants to expand to 32 teams — the same number as the NFL — isn’t good from so many perspectives, financial being a big one. And hockey still isn’t anywhere near popular in many of the lower 48 states.
The viability of the NHL will depend on strong markets with strong teams, not a watered down shadow of a league that it has become. The fact that a hard salary cap had to be introduced (see yet another of our points below), basically to prop up low-drawing teams like Florida, is reason enough to contract. Contracting the Panthers, and then clubs like Ottawa, Arizona and Carolina (sorry Senators, Coyotes and Hurricanes fans, all five of you) would be a good start.
6. No More Offside Challenges, Let Officials Make The Calls
Good or bad, the call on the ice on offsides should stand — with no sleep-inducing video reviews to follow. What the NHL has done with this challenge is take responsibility away from on-ice officials, who should all have a say in offside calls (see our point above). With the infinite challenges we are seeing, ostensibly for a guys toe being a smidge over the line, sometimes long before a goal is scored, is just plain bad for business.
Again, we’ll say hockey is a fast game, but allowing constant challenges and reviews of offside calls is just drudgery. From what we have seen, too, some big goals have been erased for that toe over the line. If the NHL wants to listen to all the learned I.T. experts about how video review revolutionizes the game, why not take it a step further and have robots officiate? Just a thought.
5. No More Draft – Free Agency Only
In a perfect NHL world where new employees don’t have to give three years of indentured servitude followed by restricted “free” agency, these new employees would sign as free agents with the highest — or best — bidder right out of the junior/collegiate chute. The draft system, with its insipid lottery, just rewards failure and “the tank” — sometimes at limitless rates (right Edmonton?).
Now, in tandem with a draft free NHL, there have to be changes to the salary cap, significant ones. That we will speak to later in this piece. The draft, which is also a boring spectacle for any team (and its fans) that doesn’t have a top five pick, should just be wiped out all together and replaced by a free agent system. The top prospects can talk to whatever team or teams they like — just like the NCAA — and those that have the most attractive package (i.e. money under a soft cap with luxury tax, spoiler alert) get a decent shot. Loyalty in the game is gone, might as well let players choose right off the bat, with the caveat that teams have a set number of prospects they can negotiate with.
4. Eliminate The Shootout, Please
Sorting out the winner of a great or meaningful hockey game should never happen via a shinny-like breakaway contest. Ever. It is a team game, so here’s our solution. The 3-on-3 overtime, while a little more exciting than the old 4-on-4 system, still has a way to find itself inconsequential to the outcome. Therefore, should the NHL want to continue down the regular season overtime road (whatever was wrong with hard fought tie games, anyway?), it should introduce a countdown.
That is, play 3-to-5 minutes 3-on-3, then 3-to-5 minutes at 2-on-2 and finally 3-to-5 more minutes 1-on-1 if a winner isn’t determined. In addition to the countdown, no changes can be made on whistles, only on the fly. Teams could get mighty creative if they pulled the goalie, too. The only other way to revolutionize the overtime system is to reward regulation winners with more points. See below.
3. Award More Points For Regulation Wins
The system whereby a team gets a charity point for taking a game to overtime needs an overhaul. The NHL now has a three-point game, why not make it six? That is, a team winning a game in regulation time should be rewarded with an extra point (3). Rewarding teams for playing dull systems based hockey designed to avoid losing is ludicrous.
Taking it one step further, the old two-point win is awarded to a team winning in our recommended new overtime format, in either OT or the shootout. At least then one or both of the teams is trying to win, rather than sidestep losing. If the two teams battle hard and have to go to the dreaded individual skills contest, then the single point is awarded to the vanquished and the two points to the victor. We still don’t like a great team game being won by individuals with good breakaway skills, but our point-award proposition could be a good start.
2. Bring Back The Best vs. Worst Playoff Format
The artificial divisional playoff format with two wild card teams has got to go. Designed to create forced rivalries, all this new set up has done is penalize some teams for having a good season, only to play another really good team and lose. For instance, if the NHL playoffs began today, Boston and Toronto would play off in the first round. Boston has the second most points in the Eastern Conference and the Maple Leafs the third (more points than anyone in the Metropolitan Division and the wild cards).
If that wasn’t bad enough, the Tampa Bay Lightning lead the NHL in points, but would face one of either Boston or Toronto in the second round. Just an asinine set-up, in our humble opinion. Like we need to say it, the conferences need to go back to the 1-8, 2-7, 3-6, 4-5 system. While it is conceivable that an eighth seed can win it all (and it has, right Los Angeles?) — and we do like the prospect of that — we hate the forced divisional rivalry system foisted on the teams and the fans.
1. Ditch The Hard Salary Cap And Bring In A Soft One With Luxury Tax
If the Torontos, Montreals, Chicagos and New Yorks of the NHL are forced to support money losing teams in Florida and Arizona, the NHL should consider giving some of those well-to-do teams a bit of a break. Again, the league has been rewarding questionably supported hockey clubs that don’t generate much in the way of money, by handicapping successful clubs with the welfare system better known as the salary cap and revenue sharing.
The NHL could have a player salary threshold much like the MLB — but not near as high, we know — and introduce a luxury tax to those that can afford to go over the limit. This luxury tax could then be disbursed to the “have not” teams to level the financial playing field, so to speak. In a NHL with a salary cap like that of the NBA, teams like the Islanders wouldn’t necessarily have to lose players like John Tavares to free agency this year, because they could exceed the cap for a player already on their team. Sounds like a win-win to us.