August 19, 2010
The NHL is in its second day of its Research and Development Camp, with today's focus on some of the more radical ideas (like having the second referee off the ice, on some kind of riser). After Day 1, it's clear that the hybrid icing concept and overtime variations that could limit -- or, god-willing, remove from our lives -- the shootout are the two most popular items.
What's interesting about the slate of rules being tested is that there are few-to-none that were inspired by specific incidents, teams or players in the NHL. Sure, perhaps you can draw a line from the icing concepts to the injuries suffered by a player like Kurtis Foster, but that was two years ago.
Even then, it's the closest we come to having direct inspiration for these rules changes. There isn't a team that's dominated the shootout every season. There isn't a player whose behavior in the face-off circle has warranted immediate action. We doubt there's a team that inspired doubling the size of the blue line.
Again, this bucks tradition, because the NHL has had a long history of rule changes that were inspired by players, coaches and teams -- from the dramatic to the practical. Here are 10 of the best:
The Marty Brodeur Rule
Essentially, the trapezoid the NHL created behind the net after the lockout was to prevent puck-handling goalies from acting as a third defenseman for their teams. But seeing as how you can't spell "trapezoid" without "trap," one can easily trace its inspiration to Martin Brodeur(notes) and the New Jersey Devils.
It was an attempt to limit one of Brodeur's greatest attributes while, at the same time, encouraging a more aggressive forecheck against teams that stack the blue line defensively.
Did it work? It's debatable, because the rule also limited the abilities of goaltenders who are folly-prone turnover machines to play the puck, too. As of this season, there's a growing sentiment to have the trapezoid abolished, as Ken Campbell explained in a well-reasoned piece in The Hockey News.
Whether or not Fatso was the sole inspiration or not, the trapezoid was forever known as The Brodeur Rule.
Wait, did we just say Fatso?
In Game 3 of the New Jersey Devils' series against the New York Rangers in 2008, this happened:
It was a hilarious highlight that spread on YouTube and was seen on ESPN, and despite its oddity it was legal under the then-current NHL rules.
But it was quickly denounced by the NHL. From TSN:
National Hockey League Senior Executive Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell issued a statement Monday to make the league's position clear going forward. The statement said:
"An unsportsmanlike conduct minor penalty (Rule 75) will be interpreted and applied, effective immediately, to a situation when an offensive player positions himself facing the opposition goaltender and engages in actions such as waving his arms or stick in front of the goaltender's face, for the purpose of improperly interfering with and/or distracting the goaltender as opposed to positioning himself to try to make a play."
So if anyone tried Avery's ploy again, it will be a two-minute penalty.
Response to the rule wasn't overwhelmingly positive, as there were still dissenters that defended Avery's right to taunt and distract opposing goalies. Some of whom may actually own this shirt.
The Bobby Hull Rule
The term "banana blade" is, by far, one of the greatest in hockey history. So great, in fact, that the Hall of Fame as a first-person essay written by a banana blade on its Web site (yes, seriously).
Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull of the Chicago Blackhawks were the catalysts for the banana blade craze in the 1960s, but Hull is usually the one most commonly linked to the rule that eventually banned them. From CBC Sports:
The goalies weren't impressed, but the shooters loved it. The goaltenders weren't wearing masks in this era and were irritated by the danger such wild shots posed. The players loved it because the unpredictability of the puck meant the goalie had to guess where it was going, and that often meant goals.
In response, the NHL began gradually reducing the amount of curve a blade could legally have. Now the curve of a blade is limited at most levels of competitive hockey, generally to an amount between 1/2 and 3/4 of an inch.
Specifically, the blade curvature limit was set at 1/2-inch in 1970. Bye-bye banana.
The Rob Ray Rule
The former Buffalo Sabres enforcer inspired one of the most infamous rule changes because he kept losing his shirt.
Ray's sweater and pads would easily come off during his many NHL fights, giving him an advantage in leverage and grappling with his opponents. So in its official rulebook, the NHL included what's universally accepted as "The Rob Ray Rule" in a paragraph under "Rule 56: Fisticuffs"; one that specifically states that "a player who engages in fisticuffs and whose sweater is not properly 'tied-down' (sweater properly fastened to pants), and who loses his sweater (completely off his torso) in that altercation, shall receive a game misconduct."
The league was horrified at the sight of a half-naked men flailing away at an opponent with roundhouse rights and straight-ahead lefts while crowds roared in delight. It was a scene straight out of the movie "Slap Shot."
But that wasn't Ray's original intent. "At first I was just wearing a loose sweater with the idea that I could get my arm out of it and then the guy I was going against couldn't grab my arm and hold it down," Ray said. "After awhile the sweater started coming off all together, and then it was my shoulder pads and it kind of went on from there."
His own NHL rule and the chance to pummel a fan on the ice? Players would kill for that kind of legacy.
The Sugden-Moriarty Rule
So basically what those guys -- they were both heavyweights in the O -- were doing was asking their trainers to "let out" their jerseys in the underarm area to make it really loose; so that if a guy tried to jersey them, they could just slip out. Sugden told me that if he knew he was going to fight another heavyweight he'd ask the trainer to sew part of his shoulder pad straps on to the jersey so that it would be one piece and he could gear down in a hurry.
The league caught on (those were the good ol' days of legit enforcers) and brought in a rule that jerseys could not be modified in anyway.
Sneaky stuff. Gotta love the mind of the enforcer.
The Bill Barber Rule
Of course Bill is also remembered for perfecting the dive. He had a knack of drawing penalties and frustrating opponents by embellishing infractions. The dive is considered to be a European import in the professional game, but Barber mastered it just as the European invasion began.
But whether or not the NHL's establishment of a rule making a dive a minor penalty can legitimately be called "The Bill Barber Rule" is debatable; as GHL noted, the European invasion also coincided with that rule's acceptance.
The Roger Neilson Rule
Keeping with Flyers alumni for the moment, the late Hockey Hall of Fame coach Roger Neilson was famous for his ... ahem ... "innovative" ways to push the limits of the rulebook. One of them inspired what would be known as the "Roger Neilson Rule."
The coach would instruct his goaltender to leave his stick in the crease after being pulled for an extra attacker, so if the opponent attempted to send the puck into the "empty" net it would deflect off the lumber. The NHL caught on rather quickly, and changed the rules so that a goal would be awarded to the opposition in such a scenario.
Not as crazily innovative as using a defenseman in goal on a penalty shot -- another Neilson idea that was legislated out -- but innovative nonetheless.
The Montreal Canadiens Power-Play Rule
Not player-specific but players specific. In 1956, the Montreal Canadiens were a juggernaut because (a) they were ridiculously stacked offensively and (b) you could score as many goals as you could during a 2-minute power play. So the NHL changed the rules, ending power-play time after the first goal was scored.
Why? In the name of "parity," which would be a theme revisited in subsequent rules changes and crippling labor disputes 50 years later.
The rule was passed by a 5-to-1 vote for the 1956-57 season. One guess who the lone dissenter was. (Hint: Not the Leafs.)
Montreal was humbled by this rule change, managing to only win four consecutive Stanley Cups in its wake.
The Gretzky Rule
In the mid-'80s, the NHL stepped in and made it nearly impossible to see 3-on-3 situations by negating the additional loss of manpower when a second set of minor penalties is whistled.
Regarded as the "Edmonton Rule," the freewheeling Oiler teams of the 1980s used the tactic to great advantage. As soon as players went to the penalty box, the ensuing play invariably would involve an Oiler player jostling an opponent in hopes of goading him into a coincidental minor situation. The thought behind the theory was that with the Oilers' superior skating skill supplied by Paul Coffey, Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, Mark Messier, Glen Anderson, et al, the more open space the better. They correctly calculated that extended stretches of 4-on-4 and 3-on-3 increased the likelihood of offensive annihilation.
So the NHL made a rule-change that made teams play 5-on-5 during offsetting/coincidental penalties -- known informally as "The Gretzky Rule." The rule was reversed in the early 1990s ... just in time for players like Mario and Jagr to exploit it.
Not to be confused with the other "Gretzky Rule," which reads "never coach a team in the desert."
The Cooke/Richards Rule
Matt Cooke(notes) of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Mike Richards(notes) of the Philadelphia Flyers are not the only players to nail opponents with a blow to the noggin. But their respective, injurious hits on Marc Savard(notes) and David Booth(notes) led to an outcry over the "legality" of those hits under current rules, which then led to the NHL's ban on intentional hits to the head, ratified this year.
Any other player-inspired rules you can think of, as far as on-ice changes? Any ones you think should be created to address current players' actions?