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Can we look forward to a change in the offside rule and a crackdown on crosschecking? Looks like it

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said player tracking is on its way, and the league also appears prepared to make changes to the offside rule and crosschecking. As for the Olympics, don't expect a change of heart.

ST. LOUIS – Puck and player tracking will be coming to an arena near you soon, but more importantly so might a new wrinkle to the NHL’s offside rule and a much-needed crackdown on crosschecking. That’s the good news. The bad news is the NHL has had absolutely no change of heart, and likely won’t, when it comes to its stance on playing in the Olympics.

Among other things, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said at his all-star state of the union address that puck and player tracking will be implemented in all 16 arenas where playoff games will be played in April and in all 31 arenas in time for next season. Senior vice president of hockey operations Colin Campbell hinted that the league is gradually moving toward changing its offside rule that will essentially see the plane of the blueline extended, which would have players who have a skate in the air along the plane of the blueline be considered as touching the blueline.

“We don’t make rule changes (at the GM meetings in November), but we were leaning the right way in my mind,” Campbell said. “But we need two-thirds of the managers to vote for the change and then the competition committee and the board (of governors). There are three steps to go through, but there’s a chance. I don’t get a vote, but personally I think it would be good for the game and we always try to do good things for the game.”

The first step in that process will take place at the GM meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., from March 2 through 4. The approval of the GMs is key to the process moving forward and ultimately resulting in a rule change. Should 21 of them vote in favor of the change, it’s almost certain both the competition committee and board of governors would follow. It would also represent a reversal from the last time the GMs tackled the issue two years ago and decided to keep things status quo. If the rule were to change, there would be fewer good goals called back for what many fans and observers see as some fairly chintzy offside calls, some of which come a significant time after the offside infraction.

Another thing the GMs will look at is a crackdown on crosschecking, which seems to have reached epidemic proportions this season. What a lot of observers find so disturbing is that many of these offenses take place right in front of one of two referees on the ice, which leads to the notion that it’s a pretty pointless rule at times. With the crackdowns on hooking, holding and slashing, crosschecking seems to have become a defensive tactic, particularly in front of the net. “(Columbus Blue Jackets GM) Jarmo Kekalainen has a concern because he’s lost two players for a minimum of four weeks with injuries,” Campbell said. “I understand why players do it. You can’t hold, you can’t hook and you can’t play the hands with a slash, so guys are pushing and forcing guys out and a push turns into a crosscheck and when a crosscheck turns into an injury…it’s something we’re going to address at the managers’ meeting. Now it’s hurting players.”

Campbell alluded to a game between the New York Rangers and New York Islanders Jan. 16 in which Derick Brassard was called for a crosschecking penalty after the third crosscheck he applied to Jesper Fast of the Rangers, with the call being made by the official in the neutral zone and not the one nearest the play. The call came in the last minute of the game and the Rangers scored on the ensuing power play to win the game. Brassard disagreed vehemently with the call, saying “that happens, like, 100 times in a game.” That’s a big part of the problem. “It was like 1-2-3 and the guy went down,” Campbell said. “The referee had to call it. It’s like anything else, you have to address it, but you also have to be consistent with it.”

Speaking of consistency, there has been no movement from the NHL with respect to its approach to the 2020 Olympics in Beijing. The International Ice Hockey Federation would like an answer from the NHL by this summer, but even Bettman alluded to the fact that it’s almost certainly not a hard deadline. In reality, the league probably doesn’t have to come to a firm decision until the summer of 2021 when it makes its schedule for the 2021-22 season. But things are not looking good.

“I know the Players’ Association still maintains a strong preference for going and I know the IIHF is focused on engagement with us,” Bettman said. “From our standpoint, both with going to five Olympics, then not going Pyeongchang tells us that going is extraordinarily disruptive to the season. I know maintains itself as a priority for the Players’ Association, but having said that, we were very comfortable with not going to Korea.”

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