The "new" NHL, two months in
by Bloomberg 1130's Chris King
The new rules designed to open up the flow of the game and create more goal scoring and offensive scoring chances have been a major success so far. Here are some thoughts on what has worked well, what hasn't, and what can still be improved upon.
* The shootout has brought a tremendous amount of excitement to the conclusion of what was formerly known as a tie game. It may not be the perfect way to decide a game, but when an entire building stands and cheers every breakaway attempt, the fans are the biggest winners. The Islanders' 9-inning game at the Igloo and the Rangers' 15-round fight at the Garden will long be remembered by everyone who was there, and it really announced that the shootout is here to stay. For those purists who still don't like it, think about this - if a shootout can be used to decide an Olympic gold medal, why can't it decide which team gets an extra point in a regular season NHL game?
* The removal of the red line has allowed for a lot more "home run" passes, which means more breakaway and odd-man rush goals. And the linesman's ability to wave off the icing on a missed pass attempt encourages teams to swing for the fences more often. There also have been a lot less icing calls because of the rule that prohibits a line change following an icing.
* The "zero tolerance" rule on interference and the larger offensive zones have combined to create more offense and less "clutch & grab" hockey. However, sometimes it seems that any contact more than one foot away from a loose puck has been called an interference penalty, and this causes players to walk on eggshells for fear of getting flagged for being over-aggressive. It takes away from some great puck battles and in my opinion needs to be tweaked a bit.
* "Tag-up" offsides has been great in cutting down on whistles and restoring flow - why was it ever taken out to begin with?
* The one rule I really don't like and could do without is the whole "goalie trapezoid area" restriction. Why should a goaltender have to think about where he is on the ice when playing the puck? It's more exciting to watch goalies play pucks below the goal lines in the corners than to keep them in their crease on every dump-in.
* The automatic delay-of-game penalty for ANY player shooting the puck out of play from his own defensive zone also needs to be slightly modified to give the referee some discretion on the call. When a player is clearly trying to bank the puck off the glass to get it out of the zone, the penalty should be waved off.
Not much has been written so far about the format of the new NHL schedule, but now that the Islanders will finally play some Western conference opponents, it's worth taking a closer look at.
For the 2005-06 season, all teams in the Atlantic division will host one game against every Northwest division team, play one away game versus every Central division team, and not play the Pacific division teams at all. This schedule will rotate every year so that eventually all Western conference teams will face the Atlantic division teams home and away. But it takes three years to complete one cycle of the schedule. This means that for Islander fans, they do not get to see their team play against rookie head coach Wayne Gretzky's Phoenix Coyotes at all this season. The same goes for the Dallas Stars and all three California teams - no games at all against the Isles and the Atlantic. Fans of the Kings, Ducks, Sharks, Stars and 'Yotes will not get to see their teams face Sidney Crosby in his rookie season. There has to be a better way to ensure that all teams play each other at least once every season. Here's my take.
The good change to the schedule is the increased rivalries among all division opponents. The Islanders play eight games this year against the Rangers, Devils, Flyers and Penguins. The Isles also face each team in the Northeast and Southeast division four times apiece. Is it really necessary to play four games every season against the Panthers, Thrashers, Sabres, Capitals, etc? There is no great rivalry for the Islanders against any of those teams, so why play them four times every season? If you just faced each of those teams three times a year instead of four, that would free up ten games that could be used to play a home-and-home series against every team in the Pacific division, rather than not playing them at all. Play 62 games within your conference and 20 outside of it, instead of 72 Eastern conference games and just 10 against the West. A simple solution that insures that every NHL team plays at least one game against the entire league each season.
A Big December
What an important month this will be for the Islanders:
* Their first six games are all against Western conference opponents, including the return of former captain Michael Peca to Nassau Coliseum on the 10th.
* Two more cracks at the NHL-leading Ottawa Senators on the 23rd and 30th.
* A holiday week game at home against the division-leading Rangers on the 28th.
* On the 22nd, they will learn exactly how many of their players will be heading to the Olympics in February in Italy. It could be as many as eight players going, including DiPietro, Parrish and Blake (U.S.A.), Yashin & Zhitnik (Russia), Satan (Slovakia), Niinimaa (Finland) and Martinek (Czech Republic).
* And hopefully the return of Shawn Bates from his hamstring injury.
John and I will continue answering your e-mail questions on-the-air during intermissions. If you have any questions for us or for players on the Islanders, please feel free to send them along to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please join us at the Blue Line Bar & Grill for our live post-game show following all Islanders home games. The Blue Line Bar & Grill is located inside Nassau Coliseum at ice level, right next to the exit where the Zamboni leaves the ice. From the main lobby of the Coliseum, just go down the big set of stairs and escalators and we're located on the right hand side when you get to the bottom. Hope to see you there soon!