• Andrew McGuinness

If I Ruled the League... 10 Potential Rule Changes for the NHL

On Tuesday morning, representatives from the NHL and NHLPA (including Flyers winger James van Riemsdyk) met for the Competition Committee meeting to suggest new rules for the 2019-20 season. Not much came from the meeting - most of the proposals were about faceoff locations, with the only exceptions being a rule about leaving the ice once your helmet falls off and changing the first playoff tiebreaker from ROWs to simply regulation wins. Expanding instant replay was also brought up, but the specifics aren't clear just yet.

None of these changes are official - they still need to pass votes from the NHL's Board of Governors and the NHLPA's Executive Board, at which point they can be finalized. But for most fans, the proposals were a bit underwhelming. Hockey is a wonderful game full of high-speed action, incredible goals, breathtaking saves, and jaw-dropping (or, in Zdeno Chara's case, jaw-breaking) hits. But it is far from a perfect sport, at least under the current NHL rules.

Luckily, I just a received a perfectly legitimate email from informing me that I have been hired as the commissioner of the NHL... for one day. During my twenty-four reign, I am free to make whatever changes I want - to the rules of games, the league calendar, playoff seeding, whatever my choosing. But because of the time restriction, I'll only be able to implement a maximum of ten changes before Gary Bettman retakes the throne via bloody coup.

I pull into the league office at midnight on Thursday right after the end of the Stanley Cup Finals. I roll up my sleeves, adjust the Gritty bobblehead on my desk, and start getting down to business.

Change 1: No More Loser Point

"You play to win the game," Herman Edwards once said. That is what sports are all about - the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat...

And the boredom of watching two NHL teams play keep during the final five minutes of a tie game so that both can get a loser point.

Cut it out. This isn't pee-wee soccer where everyone needs a participation trophy to feel good about themselves. The eight teams with the most wins in each conference should make the playoffs. I don't care if someone wins 50 games all in the shootout, if you win, you win. End of story.

Change 2: Conference Based Playoffs

You may or may not have glossed over the line in the last paragraph where I said the eight best teams from each conference should make it. While the current format usually allows that to happen, it messes everything up when the games really start to count. This two wild card system involving division winners is not only confusing, but it nearly let the Central Division's Colorado Avalanche win the Pacific Division playoffs.

That's not to mention the fact that it usually leads to teams in the league's top five matching up within the first two rounds at least once. Seriously, enough is enough. We're going back to a traditional 1-8 seeding per conference. No special treatment for division winners, either. If you win your division but somehow aren't in the top four for your conference, no home ice for you.

Imagine a Stanley Cup Playoffs where the best teams meet each other with the most on the line. This format might actually make it reality more than once in a lockout.

Change 3: 10 Minute 3-on-3

There's only one thing I hate more than the shootout, which is a glorified skills competition that completely ignores basic facets of hockey like passing and defense. For anyone who likes it, ask them if it's a good idea to decide NBA games with a slam dunk contest or MLB games with a home run derby and see what they think.

But back to the one thing I hate more than them - ties. While I would love to eliminate the shootout entirely, there probably isn't a way to do so without reintroducing ties. Imagine spending hundreds of dollars on an expensive seat, parking, and food to see a hockey game without a winner. Doesn't sound fun, does it?

So to compromise, we're going to expand 3-on-3 to ten minutes. A good chunk of games that make it to 3-on-3 end there with a five minute period - at ten minutes, most teams wouldn't have to play more than two shootouts a year, if any at all. A longer period would also add more strategic elements. Do you go for the win early with your stars, or let your opponents fatigue themselves?

If we're still tied after ten minutes, then fine, take your shootout medicine and we'll settle a winner there. A shootout win may be a bit random (or more than a bit), but it's still a somewhat valid way to decide a game's winner, so I'll let it slide. For now.

Change 4: Puck Over the Glass Is No Longer a Penalty

Most of you reading this probably saw Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. It was a thrilling game, with the lovable underdog Blues prevailing 4-1. Part of the reason St. Louis won was because the refs swallowed their whistles, as they usually do in the playoffs.

However, there was one penalty so black-and-white the refs had no choice to call it - a puck over the glass by Colton Parayko. Of course it was.

To be clear, a puck over the glass should absolutely be penalized in some way. Though often accidental, if you were to eliminate any penalty for it, it would be an easy way to relieve pressure and get a line change in for tired players.

That's why my NHL is going to treat it the same as an icing. If you put the puck over the glass from your defensive zone, it's not a penalty. But the faceoff stays inside on the circle nearest to where the player is, and his team cannot change. Seems fair, no?

There really is no difference between the two of them, other than the fact one means the referees have to find a new puck. If you really want to discourage players from doing it, I don't know, tack on a fine with the no line change and defensive zone faceoff for the price of one puck to the guilty player. That'll show 'em.

Change 5: Expand Replay... A Little

With the universal outrage and disappointment from fans on the quality of officiating these playoffs, it's clear something needs to be done. So I'm going to do something.

What I'm not going to do is ruin the sport by making every single penalty, faceoff, and line change reviewable to see if someone's skate was a fraction of an inch off the ice or not. So here's what we'll do. A puck that hits the netting and a hand pass, two types of calls that were missed on the playoffs, are now reviewable, either via coach's challenge or the situation room.

Here's the catch - they have to be directly leading to a goal. We're not calling something back because someone made a hand pass three minutes ago in the neutral zone. I'm going to agree with the below article from Down Goes Brown that leading to a goal means the defensive team does not get possession of the puck between the missed call and the goal going in.

Speaking of reviews involving a skate being a fraction off the ice or not...

Change 6: Timed Video Reviews

Replay is supposed to improve the game by fixing any egregious, obvious missed calls by officials. No one has a problem with replacing an obvious call that the ref somehow missed. That's obvious.

What everyone has a problem with, and I do mean everyone, is when reviews become a period in themselves. The MNHL (McGuinness National Hockey League) will only correct blatant misses by officials. Any anything that can't be certainly determined in under 90 seconds isn't obvious. I'm willing to extend that window a little bit, but two minutes is the absolute max. People want to watch hockey, not watch referees watch the same clip of it for six minutes on an iPad.

Also, this isn't really a rule change but more of a forceful suggestion I'm shoehorning in here, but we need to know what a review is for and why the ruling is what it is. Whenever a coach challenges a play, or the situation room requests a review, the referee must turn on his mic, tell the crowd IN DETAIL what is being reviewed. And then, when the review is finished, the referee must explain the call. What a concept!

Change 7: Extend the Blueline to the Ceiling for Offsides

Last one on replay, I promise. Unlike a lot of people, I actually like the offsides review and think it is an important thing to get right. What is not so important is zooming up an image times ten thousand to tell if someone's skate is still grazing the blue line or is off the ice.

While being ahead of the blueline, even by a little bit, does provide an unfair advantage to the attacking team, I fail to see the advantage that a skate being above the blueline provides. You're not beating the puck in anymore, and any fraction of a second edge gained from being over the blueline instead of on it by a maximum of an inch isn't going to make a very big difference.

So from now on, it's not going to make any difference. If your skate is above the blueline, any part of the blueline, you are still onsides. There will still be a fair share of razor-thin on-or-off calls to make, but our time limit rule from before will take care of the frusturation that comes with them. For the most part.

Change 8: ANY Check to the Head is Illegal

If we're getting rid of one penalty, we might as well add, or in this case, increase the frequency, of another. Even though the NHL continues to deny any link between hockey to CTE, it's a certain that the physicality of the game has, and will continue to have, some very negative side effects on its alumni.

While we can't make hockey a safe sport without losing most of what everybody loves about it, we can make one change. Any hit to the head, intentional or not, is a penalty. It does not have to be a major penalty, and referees can still apply an embelishment penalty if a player begins to seek out head-to-head contact (which no one with a brain should do), but hits to the head need to stop. This is the fastest way to get there, so let's not waste time and wait for a tragic accident to make this rule necessary.

Change 9: Make the Nets Bigger

Of all the changes the NHL has attempted to increase scoring over the years, they have continuously ignored one of the most basic fixes. With how good goalies are now, how precise their movements and positioning are, and how big their equipment is, I don't think making the nets bigger is that big of a deal.

It won't be a major change, mind you - no more than six inches one way or the other. But it would increase goal scoring, if only a little bit, giving goalies more ground to cover and snipers a bit larger corner to pick. Everyone likes to see goals, and this seems like a simple way to get more without fundamentally changing the game.

Change 10: Penalty Time at the End of a Close Game Carries Over

This one is going to take a bit of explaining to do, since everyone reading that title probably interpreted it a different way. The best way to do it is a scenario. It's the 2020 Stanley Cup Finals, or any game for that matter. The Flyers hold a late one-goal lead over the, I don't know, Predators. However, disaster strikes when Travis Konecny takes a minor penalty with one minute to go in the third.

Thankfully, the Flyers improved penalty kill isn't deterred as easily as in years past. Even with Pekka Rinne at the bench for a second extra attacker, the Flyers kill off the Predators power play. The game clock hits zero, the horn sounds, and the players go on the ice to celebrate.

There's just one thing wrong here, in my opinion anyway. There is still a minute left on the penalty clock. The question I ask you is - why should the game end when a team did not fully serve a penalty that the other team could've tied the game on? Why do teams receive less of a disadvantage if they take a penalty late in the game?

My formal proposal is this: if a penalty is taken that would last beyond regulation, and a team could tie the game on that power play, then you have to kill off the full penalty, even if it means the game goes on for more than 60 minutes of regulation.

If the game is tied, the penalty still rolls over to overtime, just like normal. And if the Flyers were to have a four-goal lead in the above scenario with just a single minor penalty on the board, then there's no reason to continue - it's mathematically impossible for the trailing team to tie the game on that power play. But if it's a two-goal lead with a double-minor, or an any-goal lead on a major, then the show goes on until the horn sounds or the game is tied.

There are a lot of specifics and little details that surround this. The short-handed team is still eligible to take penalties, of course. But if the team on the power play takes enough penalties to the point where the game returns to even strength, it ends right then and there. The only exception would be if the trailing team would still have power play time once their penalty expired. If there is 4-on-4 or 3-on-3 at the end of regulation, the game only continues if the trailing team is going to go on the power play at some point, not accounting for hypothetical future infractions.

I could have probably flipped this sport on its head, and for the better, if given say, a week. But before I can start working on the memo that guarantees the Flyers a playoff spot every year, Bettman storms back into his office and smothers me with a Sidney Crosby jersey and sends me back to New Jersey. Well, you know what they say: t'was better to have commissioned and been fired then never to have commissioned at all.