A look at NHL's rule changes

With the ratification of the new collective-bargaining agreement, the NHL gave the game a face-lift. It will be a lot for fans to digest at first, but the league is promising a faster, more exciting product.

Don't remember all of the changes? Still have questions? Well, here's a refresher course for Wednesday's Opening Night:

Rink Dimensions
• Goal lines will be pushed back two feet closer to the end boards, leaving just 11 feet behind the nets. The extra four feet will be added to attacking zones, as the blue lines will be 64 feet from the goal line. This reduces the neutral zone to 50 feet.

Scott Burnside's take: This will provide much-needed room to create offense, especially on the power play. It also should cut down on the mindless cycling of pucks in the corners and behind the net.

• Games no longer will end in a tie. If no winner is determined within 60 minutes, the game will go to a five-minute overtime with teams skating four-on-four. If the score is still tied after overtime, three players from each team will participate in a shootout. If the score remains even, the teams alternate with different shooters until one team has more goals.

Goals and saves do not count toward individual statistics. Regardless of how many goals are scored in the shootout, the winning team will be credited with a one-goal victory and two points. The losing team receives one point.

Scott Burnside's take: This one is a no-brainer. One interesting wrinkle is NHL officials believe it will be possible for ice resurfacers to give a dry scrape between the end of overtime and the start of the shootout. This isn't done in the AHL, and the chewed-up ice prevents many shooters from deking goaltenders.

Two-line passes
• The center-ice red line no longer will be used to prevent teams from making two-line passes. A pass from the defensive zone to the attacking blue line now will be considered legal.

Scott Burnside's take: The center red line will physically appear on NHL rinks. This change came only after terrific debate as critics such as Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella and Ottawa GM John Muckler said teams will merely retreat to their own blue line to set up a defensive trap. But proponents say the threat of the long pass will stretch defenses out and create more odd-man rushes.

"Tag-up" rule
• Players who enter the offensive zone before the puck will be allowed to return to the blue line and re-enter the zone, thus eliminating automatic offsides. This rule previously was used from 1986 to 1996.

Scott Burnside's take: It should help improve flow by reducing the number of stoppages in play. But as for any direct offensive result, that will be limited.

• Although "touch" icing remains in practice, teams that ice
the puck will not be permitted to make line changes for the ensuing faceoff. Players on the ice once the puck leaves the stick of the teammate who ices the puck may not be replaced until play resumes.

Scott Burnside's take: It's a small thing, but should help improve flow. This should lead to more power-play opportunities and more turnovers in the defensive zone, as teams will be cautious about simply slamming the puck high off the protective glass.

Instigator rule
• Any player who instigates a fight beyond the 55-minute mark of a game will receive minor and major penalties, a game misconduct and a one-game suspension. Suspensions will double for each additional occurrence. In addition, the player's coach will receive a $10,000 fine, which also doubles for additional incidents.

Scott Burnside's take: It doesn't quite take fighting out of the game, but this should push the "goon" closer to extinction. It also should help reduce the number of fights that end up reinforcing the game's negative image in much of America.

Limitation of puckhandling by goaltenders
• Goalies no longer will be permitted to roam free and play the puck anywhere behind the goal line. A trapezoid-shaped area, beginning six feet from either goalpost and extending 28 feet diagonally to the end boards, will determine the area in which a goalie can handle the puck. Any instance in which the puck is played by a goalie behind the goal line and beyond the permitted area will result in a minor penalty. Goalies also will receive a penalty for "freezing" the puck unnecessarily.

Scott Burnside's take: A similar rule had little effect in the AHL and is likely to have only a modest effect on creating more offense through a more effective forecheck.

New guidelines for goaltender equipment
• The size of goalies' equipment will be reduced approximately 11 percent. One inch will be taken from the width of leg pads, and blockers, upper-body protectors, pants and jerseys also will be reduced in size.

Scott Burnside's take: Although the pads received most of the media attention, things such as formfitting sweaters and dramatically reduced pant size will be the real factors in giving shooters more net at which to shoot. A violation of the new standards will result in a two-game suspension for the netminder, a $25,000 fine for the team and a $1,000 fine for the equipment manager.

Obstruction crackdown
• Officials have been instructed to take a "zero tolerance" stance at all times on all obstruction penalties, such as interference, holding and hooking.

Scott Burnside's take: The zero tolerance on interference, hooking and holding/obstruction is the granddaddy of all changes, and it's really a regurgitation of previous attempts to give the league's skilled players an opportunity to showcase their talents. The league has tried for years to erase the holding and hooking that passes for legitimate defense in both the neutral and defensive zones. Now, officials are counting on a unified acceptance of stringent calling of the rules to clean up the game at last.

Unsportsmanlike conduct
• When a player embellishes an infraction or injury, he will be given a two-minute penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. In addition, all such instances will be reviewed and additional fines and/or suspensions may be handed out. The first incident will result in a warning letter; second and third incidents warrant $1,000 and $2,000 fines, respectively; and a fourth results in a one-game suspension. Any
public complaints and derogatory comments toward the game also
will result in fines.

Scott Burnside's take: In theory, the public humiliation of a player hearing his name over the public-address system being called for "unsportsmanlike conduct, diving" should eliminate this odorous offense. The reality is that the pocketbook method of discipline is always more effective. Embellishing a hook or slash will always be part of the game. The real teeth to the "unsportsmanlike" element of the rule is the threat of hefty fines that should keep managers, coaches and players from carping about officials to the media.

Information from SportsTicker was used in this story.