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Cleaning up the game?

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
by Mike Ball

Once again league brass, team GMs and coaches gathered with on-ice officials for a preseason meeting aimed at informing NHL clubs of impending rule changes.

The rule changes and interpretations are designed to open up the game by cutting down on blatant obstruction violations and thus increasing scoring opportunities and overall game speed.

Obstruction has become a big part of the North American game as skaters often take defenders out of the play while their linemates play the puck.

"Obstruction is any tactic by a player who tries to restrain or does restrain an opponent who is not in possession of the puck. Obstruction also occurs when a player physically prevents an opponent from moving freely in the direction he wishes to go," Colin Campbell, NHL Executive Vice President and Director of Hockey Operations told

Wade Belak isn't convinced much will change on the ice.
The three-hour summit took place at an airport hotel outside Toronto and its theme is reminiscent of plans that have been put forth in the past. The previous attempts to reduce the clutching and grabbing have yielded tangible results early in the schedule, but as seasons rolled on, referees seemed to revert to their old ways and let the players play what has become the NHL style of hockey.

"They always meet about the rules and stuff and it doesn't seem like much changes," Wade Belak told the Toronto Star. "It always seems like, in the beginning, they are strong on obstruction for awhile. Then it fades out. Who knows what's going to happen now?"

Canucks general manager Brian Burke recognizes the problems in trying to enforce the obstruction rules and that coaches and players need to cooperate for the benefit of the game as a whole.

"I sense a commitment and a passion for this that wasn't there before," Burke told the Globe and Mail. " I believe that the league means it this time and we all have to have the resolve to stay with it, which means we can't complain about obstruction calls that might cost us a game or a power-play goal if it's a legitimate call."

This is not a new topic in NHL circles, but it was brought to the forefront after fans were thrilled by the wide-open style of play that the NHLers showed at the Salt Lake games last winter.

Another point taken from the international game is revisions to line-changes and face-offs which should both be quickened in an attempt to keep the game moving and fans engaged.

The league is also looking to cut down on the abuse of officials. While everyone recognizes that the on-ice officials have a difficult job, nobody seems to remember this once the puck is dropped.

Early on this season we should see the referees protecting themselves a little bit more and issuing penalties for verbal abuse or even gestures directed towards them by offending players or their bench.

So once again we hear that the game is going to be cleaned up, sped up and hurried up. They all sound like great changes, but will they last?
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