"Exciting New Rule Changes" Are Anything But By: Matt Witting 22 Sept 2005

The NHL is trumpeting their new rules. They are showering their decimated fan base with pre-season power plays and penalty shootouts. "Buy a ticket, see the game, we thrown in 10 penalty shots for free! For a limited time only in an NHL arena near you!"

People, these are not new rule changes. They aren't revolutionary, they aren't original, they didn't require thought or effort. The new rules are not an exciting experiment with unknown results. They aren't a brilliant combination of tweaks that will lead to a more exciting, marketable product. Read what Caps Nut has to say if you want a run-down of each change and probable effects, I'll just content myself with explaining what will happen this year. Doubt me? Just ask the Magic 8-Ball, you'll see...

The NHL is essentially adopting International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) style rules. The IIHF is, of course, the world governing body for the sport. Most of the hockey-playing world (Europe) plays by different rules than the NHL and other North American leagues, so the IIHF and International Olympic Committee use the "International" rules for their competitions. Apparently they don't consider the U.S. and Canada to be "international" enough to qualify.

So the NHL wants to increase scoring. We'll set aside the fallacy that more goals means a better product, since arguing with them won't change their "chicks dig the long ball" mentality. These new rules, though, will have virtually no effect on scoring.


End of story.

I guarantee it.

You can quote me on it and come back in two years and say "Matt Witting, you're an idiot and you were wrong." Of course I'm not wrong, so you actually won't be able to do that, but the principal of the thing is what counts.

Caps Nut covers many of the technical reasons for why the new rules won't help and why scoring won't increase. He delves into how shrinking the neutral zone helps trapping teams, regardless of the two-line pass. He examines the pad sizes, the icing, the line changes, and all that. I won't. I love that theoretical argument stuff, believe me (just read my Salary Caps 101 piece from a couple years back), but in this case I don't want or need to go into maybes or potentials. See, I've got actual, physical, observable evidence: it's called the Deutschen Eishockey Liga (the DEL, the 1. Bundesliga, the German premiere hockey league). I live in Germany, I've got season tickets to the Mannheim Adler (lost in the finals to the Eisbären Berlin last year), I've seen these "new, exciting rules" in action, twice a week for three years.

The DEL has touch-up-offsides, they've got no two-line pass restrictions. They have ejections and suspensions for any fighting, not just in the last five minutes. They've got bigger offensive zones relative to North America. They key in on rivalries, though with a shorter season and fewer teams that's not surprising. They have a shootout to decide ties and, to one-up the NHL, they don't even bother with overtime first! The refs are super strict and super inconsistent, always the case when they are forced to make that many judgement calls with an eye towards "it's a penalty."

So, with all this, you'd expect the DEL to be a high-scoring league, right? Well, no, actually, not really. Scoring in the DEL is pretty close to the NHL. It is a teensy bit higher, but that's mostly due to the fact that they play on the big international sized rinks, not small North American ones. The large number of penalties also leads to a few extra goals, but not many all things considered.

So they don't really score more, but they do have a more exciting product, right? No. It's more open in some ways, but cluttered with tons of whistles. You've got whistles for the tight enforcement of obstruction calls and physical play. You've got the constant whistles from the icings when they miss two-line passes. You've get endless neutral zone cycling as the defensemen only come into play in their own zone, afraid to cheat up because of the two-line pass rule. It's a fun game, and the larger ice makes for lots of nice passing and skating, but it's hardly more exciting than the NHL and the Germans freely admit to this.

Folks, I've seen these rule changes in action. They won't help, they'll alienate the purists just when the NHL needs those fans, and I can't see new fans getting excited over smaller goalie pads and touch-up offsides.

Oh, and as for the shootout, the Germans would prefer golden goal overtime. Having seen God knows how many shootouts over the last three seasons, I agree. Penalty shots just aren't as exciting any more. They're a novelty, but not a solution to the problems. It helps that the DEL awards 3 points for a win, 2 points for a shootout win, and 1 point for a shootout loss: the real win is worth much more. Here's an idea on that topic: do like college football. Give each team alternating 1 minute 5-3 power plays after a 5-minute OT. First team to score and hold the opponent scoreless gets the extra point.

Argue all you want, but this is how it will be. The NHL is instituting international rules on North American sized rinks. They could have stuck with the offsides change, which makes sense, and smaller goalie gear. Instead we get this cobbled together mess of lines, changes, and confusion. Get ready for the whistles, and I hope everyone enjoys minor penalties.

For another perspective on the new rules, see the other half of this two-part series.