Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Breaking Down the NHL’s New Rules

If you were hoping for an NHL season free of headshot confusion, it doesn’t look like you’re going to get your wish this year.

The NHL put out a video this week, starring VP of Player Safety and Hockey Operations Brendan Shanahan, to help explain the changes to the rule that governs headshots and the rule that takes care of boarding. They both seem pretty straightforward…that is, until they get into the examples of what is legal and what isn’t!

Let’s start with the rule changes themselves:

The NHL has decided to take the ‘direction’ out of the wording of Rule 48 – meaning that we won’t be looking for North/South vs. East/West this season. Instead, any hit where the head is targeted in “an intentional and/or reckless way,” and is the principal point of contact, is now a minor penalty.

It’s now also up to the referee to take into consideration whether or not the player being hit put himself in a vulnerable position just before or just as contact was made. Rather than dishing out major penalties for headshots, refs will now hand out minors where they see fit.

As for Rule 41 – boarding will now be called anytime a player “checks or pushes a defenseless player” in a way that makes him collide dangerously with the boards. So, the onus is on the player laying the hit to avoid or minimize contact in these situations.

Once again though, if a player turns right before contact is made, the referee can decide not to call a penalty.

Both of those changes seem pretty easy to follow, right? I thought so too, until I saw what scenarios the league decided to go with to explain them!

For example: Matt Cooke makes his yearly appearance on the “illegal” side of things for this hit on Evander Kane, even though Kane is clearly not helping his cause by reaching for the puck:

It looks to me like if Kane wasn’t stretched out, the principal point of contact wouldn’t be the head on this one. Cooke probably would have found a way to make it the principal point of contact anyway, but still!

For the most part, I can see the subtleties of each example and the point they’re trying to make, but the fact that they have to make their point by showing you each hit in super slow motion lets me know that it’s going to be a long season of indecision.

Hey Brendan, it’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it!

What do you think: Has the NHL done enough ahead of this season to get rid of the league’s headshot problem?

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