Rulebook is in need of a little more fine-tuning

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

So far, both the new rules and the new officiating approach are a roaring success.

But like any radical departure from the norm, there are still a few rough edges to be worked out. Here are some suggestions, either for next season or sooner.

Goalies are still too eager to freeze the puck. Fans want action. They didn't pay to see faceoffs. So, extend the anti-tedium crackdown to goalies who stop play when no attacker is within range.

Furthermore, in cases where the puck is shot in from outside the blue line and the goalie is the first to touch it, he should be assessed a two-minute minor if he freezes it, whether the attacker is nearby or not. If the attacker is close to the crease by the time the goalie decides to fall on the puck, there was plenty of time to make a play.

On the offensive side, when a pass is attempted, but the puck sails down the ice, icing is waved off. That's fine. But what if a pass is attempted and just inside the red line, the intended recipient, reaching as far as he can, has the puck nick his stick and go down the ice? Under the rules, that's icing.

But if he had let the puck go and hadn't touched it, it wouldn't have been icing. A team shouldn't suffer because someone was trying to make an offensive play. Amend the rule so that icing is waved off in both instances.

A three-player shootout? Where did that idea come from? Long ago, the NHL cancelled best-of-three playoff rounds because the results weren't representative.

Now that the players have a chance to exhibit their skills, it's clear that there are plenty of decent shooters on every team. Go to a five-man shootout. Even the nitwits who run soccer and international hockey have figured that one out.

WINGS PROVE 'EM WRONG

Before the season began, the widely held opinion was that the Detroit Red Wings would struggle.

They had a new coach and a smaller budget. They have the worst travel schedule in the league, never a good omen for an aging club.

Then, the guy who was supposed to be the brightest young star on defence, Niklas Kronwall, was lost for most of the season with a knee injury. To top it off, the goaltending was uncertain.

But the last concern has been answered by Manny Legace who, on Thursday, became the first goalie in the league to win 10 games.

After a shaky start, Chris Chelios has come to terms with the new rules and is once again a stalwart on defence, helping to compensate for Kronwall's absence.

Under intense scrutiny from new coach Mike Babcock, the long-dormant promise of Jason Williams has blossomed and he is among the league's top scorers.

Up front, a couple of unheralded European youngsters, Mikael Samuelsson and Johan Franzen, have formed with Dan Cleary to form a highly effective fourth line.

The word from inside the Wings is that the team welcomed the salary cap because it enabled them to get rid of higher-priced players who were fan favourites and would otherwise probably have been kept around.

But there's still that gruesome travel schedule to deal with as the season goes on.

ON A SHORT LEASH

Here is Ottawa Senators general manager John Muckler on the state of hockey: "Our product wasn't good. That's why the changes were made. It's 100% more entertaining than it was. Did you see that Leafs game here? There was a standing ovation in the third period and people were riveted to the shootout."

That's the same type of game that Leafs coach Pat Quinn denigrates as "river hockey" and criticizes as being an amateurish product.

Quinn is excellent when it comes to answering the media's questions, and it's to be hoped that his latest brush with the league's policies doesn't change that.

In happier times, NHL moguls were willing to let him ridicule the game. But at the moment, the NHL is in survival mode and the bigwigs get upset when one of the game's highest-profile coaches --probably second only to Wayne Gretzky -- criticizes the product.

That's why he was fined $1,000.

And the radio people who can't understand that point should take a few minutes on the air to carve up their own radio station.

Then we wouldn't have to listen to them any more.

MARIO IN HIDING

On a related matter, you may have noticed that on his worst night of the season, Maple Leafs defenceman Wade Belak had the grace and class to face the media and answer questions.

You may also have noticed that on the day that news of his matrimonial problems hit the streets, and he was undressed by Jason Spezza for Ottawa's winning overtime goal over the Montreal Canadiens, Sheldon Souray had the grace and class to face the media and answer questions.

So where was Mario Lemieux after the Penguins' overtime loss on Wednesday? He was nowhere to be found. Despite media requests to talk to the player who had been in the penalty box in overtime, he hid in a back room.

The league's media regulations require that every player be available after the game, and the unwritten rule is that it's especially important for key players to be available.

If Quinn is fined for media transgressions, why isn't Lemieux? Or, are there different rules for friends of the commissioner?

SABRES ON THE CHEAP?

Wednesday's game between the Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres was the first one this season to draw fewer than 10,000 fans.

It was, however, played in Rochester, home of Sabres owner B. Thomas Galisano.

Some Buffalo fans feel that the team is intentionally trying to keep attendance low in order to attract more revenue-sharing money -- and, in the process, more subsidies from the players.

If that's not the case, why don't the Sabres improve their team by trading one of their three highly rated goaltenders?

With the goalie injuries around the league right now, they probably could get a good player in return for either Martin Biron or Mika Noronen. But good players tend to be expensive. So the Sabres keep three goalies while using only one, Ryan Miller.

NEW STANDARDS

It was hard to understand the fuss when the Nashville Predators opened the season with eight consecutive wins to close in on the 1993-94 Maple Leafs' record of 10. Three of those Nashville wins came on shootouts -- which would have been ties in 1993.

It did, however, highlight a problem the league will have to deal with. That Toronto mark -- and others like it -- shouldn't fall to teams playing under different rules.


Videos

Photos