SUN Hockey Pool

Ference curbs his enthusiasm

SCOTT FISHER -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:55 AM ET

Excuse Andrew Ference if he's not doing cartwheels over the NHL's wide-ranging rule changes.

Blueliners, he says, are getting the short end of the stick.

"The forwards definitely like them more than the defencemen. The goalies get screwed over the most, then the defencemen," Ference says, only half joking. "And the forwards get all the perks.

"Majority rules, I guess."

With the overwhelming majority of the changes aimed at opening up the game, one might think a smooth-skating d-man like Ference would be giving the modifications two thumbs up.

But he sees some of the new rules a little differently.

By getting rid of the red line, Ference says, defencemen will be a little hesitant to pinch into the zone.

"You don't get to be up in the play as much," he says. "You can't hold the blueline in the offensive zone as much because you have to watch the guy who's cheating behind you.

"It's going to take away from our ability to be a part of the play in the offensive zone."

And you'd be hard-pressed to find a defenceman who agrees with the rule restricting the goaltenders' ability to play the puck. As a result, a lot of rearguards will be eating plexiglass as they skate into the corner to retrieve a dump-in.

"I'm glad I can skate," he says with a chuckle. "I wouldn't want to be a big, immobile defenceman in the new league. Plus, if you've got Paul Kariya or (Teemu) Selanne or (Shean) Donovan trying to get in behind you for a breakaway, it's pretty tough to catch those guys if you're not fleet of foot.

"But I think everyone will agree it's a lot more fun to watch fast, skilled players instead of big, clutch-and-grab guys."

NHL clubs will be spending a good chunk of time during training camp trying to adjust to the game's evolution. The teams that get a grasp on it the fastest and figure out ways to use it to their advantage should find immediate success.

"Rules are rules but it's how teams take advantage of them that will be the real barometre for success," Ference says.

"It'll be up to the coaches whether that long pass will be part of the game plan or be on a player's whim.

"If you saw Tampa Bay and the way they played with the old rules, I have a tough time imagining they'll play conservative now."

While the elimination of the red line and the addition of the shootout are creating the most interest, Ference says it's a rule everyone overlooks that will have the most dramatic effect.

A team who ices the puck can no longer make a line change, which could lead to a big mismatch.

"I think that's the one that'll have the biggest impact," he says.

"I don't know why nobody's talking about it. That's going to produce more goals than all the other rule changes combined.

"You get a tired line out there, they're bagged and they ice it, they have to stay out there against the other team's top line. Teams are going to get caught a few times a game. Imagine another team's fourth line out there and they're dead tired. And we throw Jarome (Iginla's) line out there against them. That's a pretty big mismatch."

And there's no easy way out. Exhausted players can no longer fire the puck over the glass to get a change.

"You get a penalty for doing that now," Ference says. "But sometimes you might want to take the penalty if you think you have a better chance of killing it off than leaving a tired fourth line out there."

The 26-year-old admits he's looking forward to connecting on the the odd home-run pass but is concerned defensive-minded clubs will figure out a way to clog things up once again.

"I'm excited if teams don't start lining up on their own blueline and play another version of the trap," he says. "I think it'll definitely benefit certain teams. We have some guys who can fly around pretty good and create some opportunities."

And with the linesmen now having the discretion of waving off an icing if it was deemed to be an attempted pass, Ference says d-men might take a few more chances.

"I think that's huge," he says. "It's one thing to take away the red line. It's another thing to give the linesmen the ability to waive off icings. That totally transforms the game.

"That makes it a lot more tempting to go for that long pass."


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