NHL welcomes fresh start

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 12:29 PM ET

The NHL is officially ready for a new ice age.

The lockout, which resulted in the cancellation of a full season for the first time in the history of professional sports, came to a close yesterday as commissioner Gary Bettman declared the NHL open for business.

Not only is the league armed with a modified logo, it's going to look vastly different on and off the ice as the board of governors unanimously approved the new collective bargaining agreement as well as significant rule changes.

"During the long, dark days of the lockout many people said to me: 'Call me when it's over.' Well, I'm here to tell you it's over and we believe this is going to give the league a fresh, exciting start," Bettman said during a news conference held at the Sheraton Hotel in New York.

"We will do everything in our power to be the best we can be and to earn your continued devotion. This was a terrible time for everyone associated with the game. We will do everything we can to make it up to you."

Bettman also announced several new rules, including the removal of the red line, tag-up offsides, size limits for goalie equipment, area limits where goalies can play the puck, smaller dimensions behind the net and shootouts.

"We're going to have a winner in every game and we want to add more offence," said Bettman.

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, president Roy Mlakar and GM John Muckler were on hand for the news conference in New York.

On Monday, the team will hold its own press conference with players and coach Bryan Murray to talk about the club's plans for the upcoming season.

Needless to say, the team is thrilled the work stoppage is over.

"This is one of the most exciting days I've had in sports," said Melnyk. "Obviously, the lockout was very tough and very difficult. To come into the league and only play for one year was difficult for me because I love hockey.

"But I was aware of the situation and I knew that it was necessary if we were going to get the right system in place. We feel very strongly that we've got a good economic system that is going to allow us to work in partnership with the players as we go forward."

Mlakar said the club has an exciting plan.

"We're glad that hockey is back. The phones have been buzzing at the office the last few days and I feel with the changes we made to make the game more exciting, we're going to have success," said Mlakar.

The puck will be dropped on the 2005-06 NHL season on Oct. 5 with all 30 teams in action. Mlakar said yesterday the club will likely open the year against the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre, but the schedule has yet to be finalized.

RULE BREAKERS

A look at some of the new rules adopted yesterday by the NHL's board of governors, which were formulated and recommended by the newly formed Competition Committee:

NO MORE TIES

- Following a scoreless five-minute overtime, three players from each team participate in a shootout.

- Each team takes three shots. The team with the most goals after those six shots wins.

- If the score remains tied, the shootout will proceed to a "sudden-death" format.

- If a game is decided by a shootout, the final score will give the winning team one more goal than its opponent, based on the score at the end of overtime.

TWO-LINE PASSES

- Two-line passes will now be legal. The centre-red line will be ignored for off-side purposes.

- The "tag-up" off-side rule returns, allowing play to continue if offensive players who preceded the puck into the zone return to the blue-line and "tag" it.

RESTRICTIONS ON GOALIES

- The dimensions of goaltender equipment will be reduced by approximately 11%. In addition to a one-inch reduction (to 11 inches) in the width of legpads, the blocking glove, upper-body protector, pants and jersey also will be reduced in size.

- Goalies may play the puck behind the goal-line only in a trapezoid-shaped area defined by lines that begin six feet from either goal post and extend diagonally to points 28 feet apart at the end boards.

BIGGER OFFENSIVE ZONE

- The blue lines will be moved closer together to create an additional four feet in each of the offensive zones. That reduces the size of the neutral zone to 50 feet from 54 feet.

- The goal lines will be moved two feet, to 11 feet from the end boards.

- The width of blue lines and centre-red line remains unchanged.

CHANGES TO ICING

- A team that ices the puck cannot make a line change prior to the ensuing face-off.

- Touch remains in effect but linesmen will be given more discretion to wave off icing infractions if they are deemed the result of an attempted pass.

CHANGES TO INSTIGATOR RULE

- A player who instigates a fight in the final five minutes of a game will receive a game misconduct and an automatic one-game suspension. The length of suspension would double for each additional incident.

- In addition, the player's coach will be fined $10,000 US, a fine that would double for each such incident.


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