When hockey season ends, in the playoffs, as it did last spring, it’s like hitting the slush at the bottom of the ski hill. You’re smiling and zipping along with this steady and familiar rhythm and not even thinking about the end of the ride and then boom. You’re knee deep in the slush. And you’re like: “but I was still flyin’ down the hill and there was lots more hill left and I wasn’t near ready for it to end…”. But it ends and you spend the first few days in this sort of purgatory before starting the off-season.
This off-season for your friend and humble narrator was filled with adventure and unique experiences. From spending a month on the beach in Southern California to a journey to the Galapagos Islands, my traveling was most satisfying and relaxing. The transition from the slush through purgatory and into the summer months is now behind me.
And so now starts the next phase; the transition from “Summer Ralph” to “Hockey Ralph” begins. Oh “Summer Ralph” reads clips, stays connected to his “Hockey Ralph” guys a bit and gets excited about summer hockey developments. But “Summer Ralph” of course doesn’t call any hockey games or go to any practices or office meetings or anything so it’s all outside arm’s length.
The transition to “Hockey Ralph” started in earnest September 9 with a flight to New York for the NHL Announcer Summit, which really wasn’t an Announcer Summit but they’re trying to get more announcers to show up so that’s what they called it.
In terms of a first step toward the season for guys like me – it’s perfect. I see many of my colleagues and friends and NHL people and I stay in a hotel and bring my three-day hockey bag and everything starts to feel familiar again. I get to hear from NHL people and TV rights holders about the changes and plans for the upcoming season and I start to get my head around it. “Summer Ralph” is going: “hey hey wait the beach was really fun…” but then “Hockey Ralph” is like: “yeah yeah of course but now we get to do what we do – hang around this bunch – put the cans on – and fire” and then “Summer Ralph” says: “you’re right – I’ll see ya next summer” but he hangs around a bit anyway.
By far the most productive part of the NHL Announcer Summit is listening to Stephane Quintal and his Department of Player Safety Group, and Stephen Walkom and his group discussing rule changes and officials. While there aren’t big sweeping changes to discuss – there are some tweaks. Let me give you a few highlights to take into this season to help you with your own transition:
1)Rule 38 – “Distinct Kicking Motion” – this one’s gonna be a little crazy I think, and I’m not at all sure why the powers that be felt they needed to amend. Consider this: 1200 games last season – only 89 reviews for kicking the puck into the net. Of those 89 – only 26 calls were reversed. So there doesn’t appear to be much going on here. But it was explained to us that the NHL wants to allow more goals and that they want to be “more liberal in their interpretation of distinct kicking motion.” Translation for you: This season – for a goal to be disallowed – look for an OBVIOUS distinct kicking motion. More goals deflected and directed off skates will count.
2)Because more goals are scored in middle periods (the long change period) and because the GM’s would like to see the number move from roughly 60% of OT games going to shootout to 50% - teams will change ends prior to the start of the OT period. The dry scrape (ouch) will happen BEFORE OT and not before the Shootout to accommodate a better playing surface and an OT result. Footnote: no spin-o-ramas in the shootout – ‘old school wins that one.
3)Two ice line augmentations: First – the goaltender trapezoid (yawn…) is increased about 2 feet in total and that change and subject deserves no other words here. The second is something to watch for. The distance between the opposing hashmarks on the outside of the faceoff circles have been increased from 3 feet – to 5.7 feet (more in line with what we saw in the Olympics). Translation for you: if you win an offensive draw it’s an extra step for the defenders to get out to your point man or other offensive option and you may get opportunities off of that. Of course the converse is also true; if the defensive team wins the draw they have an extra step to get the puck to safety. Keep an eye on it.
4)Some lip service is being paid to attempt to deter divers and embellishers through very small fines to players and potentially their coaches. You ask me – it’s not a huge deal but there’s a group that hates it enough to get this pushed through.
5)The NHL Situation Room will be running unofficial (for testing purposes) video review every night for offsides and goalie interference. It’s a good idea – running the tests this way. You ask me – offsides in review is a nightmare and it’s why they’re doing it this way and I find it very hard to believe that we will ever go there. Goalie interference – might get a little steam on goal calls so the dry runs will give them a preview.
I’m excited for the season! Lots of great things happening with our Stars, the NHL is coming off their best season ever and a sensational playoffs, and “Summer Ralph” is being put away as “Hockey Ralph” gets more immersed in all of it.
Training camp next week washes away even more “Summer Ralph” and I hope to see you there.