The NHL’s competition committee meets every June to toy with rule changes, but this year’s gathering felt particularly urgent. Terms like “black eye for the league” were commonplace describing the officiating this past post-season, in which controversial calls legitimately affected the outcome of several games.
Concrete rule alterations thus felt vital. “Our officials are the best in the world in any sport,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman at the draft in Vancouver. “They have the most difficult job possible and, overwhelmingly, they do a great job, but there is a human element. Based on the speed of the game, things can get missed or gotten wrong. It happens infrequently, but, as I acknowledged before Game 1 of the final, we had some controversial plays at most inopportune times.”
Here’s a rundown of the changes unanimously approved by the NHL’s competition committee, GMs and board of governors for 2019-20:
EXPANSION OF COACH’S CHALLENGE
Through 2018-19, a coach’s challenge on a goal was restricted to offside and goalie-interference calls. Now, coaches can challenge other types of plays in the offensive zone that should’ve resulted in stoppages but did not. The NHL cites examples such as pucks that “hit the spectator netting” or are “high-sticked to a teammate,” but we all know this is The Hand Pass Rule. San Jose won Game 3 of the Western Conference final in overtime against St. Louis after a blatant Timo Meier hand pass led to Erik Karlsson’s winning goal. The league is reacting to correct that mistake going forward. Coaches can only challenge these plays if the puck doesn’t exit the attacking zone between the missed call and the goal.
There’s a serious wrinkle, however. You better be right if you challenge a goal. Coaches can challenge an unlimited number of times, but if they’re wrong, they’re assessed a two-minute minor penalty. If they’re wrong any additional times in the same game, it’s a four-minute double-minor penalty. The situation room in Toronto will remain in control of initiating reviews in the final minute of regulation.
REFEREES’ REVIEW OF MAJOR- AND MATCH-PENALTY CALLS
Officials can no longer dole out major penalties no questions asked. Under the new rules, after calling a (non-fighting) major or match penalty, a referee must conduct an on-ice video review. Afterward, the official can (a) uphold the call, or (b) reduce the call to a two-minute minor. The penalty can’t be rescinded altogether. “I just don’t want it to lead to too many trips to the penalty box to take a look,” said Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. “But it’s a hard enough job out there for them, and these calls have big ramifications.”
The call is entirely in the referee’s hands. The league will provide the necessary equipment for a proper review, but the referee will not consult the situation room. With no intermediary to consult, the hope is the reviews won’t take too long. “We have to do it cautiously,” Bettman said. “We have to do it in a way where we get it right as much as possible without disrupting the essential flow of what is the most exciting, fast-paced game, with the most action and the best flow.”
This major/match penalty rule change is another reactive one, created in response to Game 7 of the Vegas-San Jose first-round series, in which a bogus cross-checking major was called on Cody Eakin for a fluke play that injured Joe Pavelski, leading to four Sharks power-play goals and one of the most improbable comeback victories in NHL history.
Under the new rules, the officials, Eric Furlatt and Dan O’Halloran, would’ve been able to reduce the call to two minutes, meaning the Sharks would’ve scored one power-play goal, not four. “I always believe you just have to get it right,” said Colorado GM Joe Sakic during draft weekend. “The more opportunities to make the call, the better.”
‘FRIENDLY FIRE’ HIGH-STICKING
Another variation on the “do-over” rules for on-ice calls: officials can review and rescind double-minor high-sticking penalties if, after watching the footage, they discover the crime was committed by the victim’s own stick. These reviews will be discretionary, not mandatory, and won’t require consultation with the situation room.
A HEADS-UP ON HELMETS
We won’t see another iconic helmetless hit like the one Torey Krug delivered on Robert Thomas in the Stanley Cup final. Now, if a player loses his helmet during play, he must immediately leave the ice or retrieve it and put it back on. If he loses his lid in the process of playing the puck, he’s allowed a “reasonable opportunity” to complete the play. Failure to comply means a minor penalty, as does any deliberate removal of another player’s helmet.
ADDITIONAL 2019-20 RULE CHANGES
(a) If a goalie freezes the puck on any shot from outside the center red line, the defensive team no longer gets a line change. Same goes for any time a defensive-zone skater unintentionally dislodges the net; (b) After an icing or at the start of a power play, the attacking-zone team can now choose the end-zone dot at which to have the faceoff; (c) If a goalie intentionally knocks the net off during a breakaway: automatic goal for the other team. Call it the David Leggio rule; and, (d) If an attacking team knocks a puck out of play in the attacking zone, the faceoff will be held at one of the attacking-zone dots.
– With files from Ryan Kennedy