Rules will be broken

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:36 PM ET

No one knows what rule changes the general managers might approve at their meeting at Detroit in early April, but this much is clear: Nothing is off limits. For the first time, the National Hockey League is in a wide-open mode when it comes to altering its game. It had been a leaning in that direction when the GMs met in Nevada last February, but now the trickle has become a torrent.

Most GMs want to protect the integrity of the game. But even so, just by reverting to rules that were legislated out of the game, positive steps can be made to restoring offence.

For instance, many GMs want to kill the rule that allows a short-handed team to ice the puck. That one was brought in when the Montreal Canadiens dynasty of the 1950s became too potent for the liking of other teams in the league.

Also, the GMs could kill the other rule that came in at that time: Limiting a team to one goal per power play.

While the GMs are in this metamorphic mood, they will bring back the tag-up rule. That's the one that allows a delayed offside while encroaching players clear the zone.

NO INPUT FROM PLAYERS

The tag-up rule's reinstatement was approved last year, but the NHL Players' Association filed a grievance against the GMs' laundry list of modifications on a matter of principle -- the principle being that their members had no input.

As a result, the Nevada changes were never implemented. Not that it mattered much, since the season was cancelled. However, the GMs' intention now is to bring back the long-lost offensive aspect of the NHL game.

The most sensible route, of course, would be to make the ice surfaces a bit larger, but the governors won't go for that one because it would mean a significant expense.

So, the GMs will offer other suggestions, such as the one that says if you ice the puck, you can't make a personnel change. Many teams are taught to resort to intentional icing when they're tired and under pressure. If the GMs approve the changed concept, the offending team would have to keep those tired players out there, while the opposition would be free to send out fresh bodies.

There will be shootouts to determine the outcome if the game is still tied after overtime. The GMs will use the Detroit meeting to try to reach accord on the format involved.

There will be limitations on the size of goalie pads. Already the 10-inch leg pad is accepted as reasonable, but what about all the upper-body padding?

If the league were run by reasonable people, the GMs simply would approve a rule that says: "All padding must be of a reasonable size with the principle being that it is there to prevent injury, not stop pucks." Rulings would then be made on a case-by-case basis, just like suspensions.

UNREASONABLE

But the league isn't run by reasonable people. It's run by lawyers, so a common-sense rule has no chance. The GMs will have to try to find a rule that works for all body sizes, something that's not easy to do.

Goalies' movement will also be under scrutiny. A Nevada proposal required goalies to stay in front of the goal line at all times, but passage of that one was not smooth.

The concept may face serious opposition this time, now that the GMs have seen it in use in the American Hockey League. On the other hand, the mood for change is so strong that the goalies may find their movements limited even further.

It's also quite possible that the limit on stick curvature might be radically eased -- or dropped altogether. If a convoluted stick can make the puck dip or swerve, why not let it go? If batters in baseball can be required to face sliders, then so should goalies in hockey.

One thing is certain about the GMs' intentions: They won't make goalies happy.

But fans won't care. In their minds, the goalies have had it too good for too long.


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