The WHL doesn’t necessarily have a need to increase scoring, but the junior league will be experimenting with a rule change in 2016-17 that could see more pucks hitting the back of the net.
As part of the league’s Annual General Meeting, the WHL announced a few rule changes, including the adoption of hybrid icing and improved video review systems in each of the league’s 22 buildings. The most interesting one, though, is that players will now be permitted to knock pucks into the net with their skates, so long as they’re not in the crease when they do so.
“The WHL also clarified the rule regarding pucks off players’ skates which enter the net,” the league’s release reads. “The clarification states that, unless the puck is in the goal crease, a puck that enters the net off of a player’s skate shall be ruled a goal. This will eliminate the need for a decision by the referee and/or video goal judge as to whether it was a distinct kicking motion or not.”
That’s a great move by the league to alter a rule that has never been black and white. What one referee considers a kicking motion may be considered a stopping motion or redirection by another, and the debate has made for some head-scratching goals — and no goals — at every level of play. By allowing goals to go in off the skates, we’re closer to black and white territory, if not completely there.
The rule is an interesting one in that it now gives players the option of knocking a puck home when tied up in front by using their skates. The main concern is likely that the inclusion of kicked in goals could see more players kicking at pucks, and thus more injury, but the WHL wisely decided to remove the kicked in goals from the crease. Players thrashing about in a crease-crashing scrum would be the most likely way for an injury to occur and that’s a great precaution.
As for scoring, it’s hard to say what impact the rule change will have. WHL contests averaged more than six goals — roughly 6.56 — per game in 2015-16 and it’s not rare to see a team post a double-digit goal tally in a single outing. It’s hard to imagine allowing players to deflect, direct or propel pucks in with their feet is going to result in a huge uptick.
It will be interesting to watch will be if the experiment results in changes in other league, though, especially if the rule does see an increase, however slight, in goals per game. Other junior leagues could adopt the change and, if there’s no negative results, it seems like a genius addition for every league, including the NHL.
On the surface, this looks like a great move to take the gray area out of the game and add an element to scoring. However, like any rule change, final judgment needs to be reserved for when the rule takes effect and shows a result, be it positive or negative.