Expect 'fantastic hockey' as a rule

GEORGE GROSS, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 8:33 AM ET

"If you can't skate, you can't play in the National Hockey League."

This simple and seemingly logical verdict was expressed yesterday by the NHL's "hanging judge", Colin Campbell. The 2005-06 NHL season gets underway Wednesday, following a one-year hiatus.

I spoke to the NHL's executive vice-president and director of Hockey Operations about a variety of topics. mainly, however, about the effect of the new rules which, in some quarters, may turn a club upside down. Most of all, though, I wanted to know if the new rules about hooking and obstruction will be enforced all the way to the end of the playoffs.

"Everybody wanted the new rules," Campbell said. "The test about how the rules will be enforced will come when the regular season begins. The real test will come in March. The real, real test will come in the playoffs when there will be a 5-on-4 situation and the referee's next call could make it a 5-on-3.

"Having watched pre-season games, I came to the conclusion that the players seem to be adjusting to the new rules, but we shall see how they'll conduct themselves during the regular season and in the playoffs. Will they realize that the hook with which they used to get away, is now taboo?"

My next question concerned the referee's reaction to any kind of physical play.

"It will depend on the players in front of the net and in the corners," Campbell said. "If a defenceman gives an opponent a little shove, he may get away with it. But if defencemen use their sticks, they'll pay for it. Our intention is to get rid of the brutal cross-check."

This new hockey culture, as Campbell refers to it, will have a long-ranging impact on NHL hockey and certainly will help balance the league. Pierre McGuire, hockey analyst for TSN and one of the top hockey experts on the air, sees it that way. He looks at the game not only as an analyst, but also as a former hockey player and NHL coach who is familiar with all the tricks of the players and can assess what the effect of the salary cap will have on NHL teams..

"I think the NHL will be balanced like it used to be in the old six-team NHL," McGuire said. "You won't be able to write off the Carolina Hurricanes, or the Atlanta Thrashers, particularly since they acquired Marian Hossa from Ottawa. Without the salary cap a player such as Chris Pronger could have never played for Edmonton, or Paul Kariya would not have considered leaving Colorado.

"Still, you must remember that the salary cap is not settled forever. This year it is $39 million US per team, but next year it could be more, or perhaps less. That's when we will really find out what impact the cap has on NHL clubs."

My next question touched on the sensitive subject of fighting and the effect of the new rules on the prevention of brawls, something the late Clarence S. Campbell -- no relation to the hanging judge -- viewed as a release of tension in the game.

"Fighting will be reduced," the hockey professor said. "The only time I expect fighting is when a team misses a couple of injured stars and they are replaced by $450,000 players. Other than that, I'm looking forward to an exciting season the likes of which we hadn't seen for a very long time. Players such as Ovechkin, Crosby, Spezza and others will give NHL hockey a different dimension. It will be fantastic hockey.

"As for rushing defencemen, such as Scott Niedermayer, Mattias Ohlund and Leafs' Tomas Kaberle are concerned, I expect them to have a stellar year. The same goes for Boston's Brian Leetch."

Power-play specialists also will have a great year in the NHL this season, according to McGuire, thanks to the new rules and the probing eyes of the hanging judge.

GROSSLY ABBREVIATED

Former Maple Leaf Gary Leeman won the recent Radi Jelenic 12th annual Family Golf tournament at the Bond Head Golf Club. Ex-Leaf Mark Osborne finished second.


Videos

Photos