Thursday, August 25, 2005

NHL Rule Change Seminar

Today, the NHL attempted to use the internet in an interesting new way to try to win back some fans. They held a web seminar at to explain the rule changes that have been adopted for the NHL relaunch. It was a good idea. Boston Bruins coach Mike Sullivan and St Louis Blues goalie coach Keith Allain explained the rules in a video chat. They had a telestrator set up so they could show examples of (for example) two-line passes. This event was not available to everyone. Invitations were sent to people who are on an NHL maillist (I'm not exactly sure what I did to get on it).

The rule changes were explained in a very vanilla manner that sounded much like the NHL's talking points. Jamie Fitzpatrick does a better job explaining the rule changes in the link I gave in the first paragraph. The choice of Sullivan and Allain as presenters is interesting. Neither are high profile coaches. Neither are directly linked to some of the issues the NHL is trying to crack down on (for example trapping and large goalie equipment). They did an pretty good job of presenting the information, although I think both have impressions of how these rule changes will really affect their teams and how they plan to react to them, but of course they will not give away the answers for free in a forum like that before even playing one game.

The whole session lasted about 45 minutes. First Sullivan presented the skater rule changes. The he answered a few questions. Then Allain presented the goaltender rule changes. Then he answered a few questions. The questions were selected from those entered by people like me attending the web seminar. The whole seminar was marred by technical problems. As much as 20 minutes of the 45 minute seminar were lost when they experienced either video or audio problems (or both).

They did not select my questions to answer. I asked two of them. I asked why all the reasoning for the rule changes was explained in how it would increase scoring. Why is scoring a good metric for good hockey? For example, the Stanley Cup finals are low scoring and the All Star game is high scoring, but the Stanley Cup finals are way better. I also asked what is so wrong with ties - when they were discussing how the shootout would end them.

Mike Sullivan chose questions that were as vanilla as possible. He stalled for large periods of time between questions while he was looking for such questions (I assume that means there were not many of them). He answered questions like: Coach, what is your favorite new rule? and In tag up offsides does only the offside player need to tag up or does the whole attacking team have to be outside the offensive zone to prevent an offside?

Keith Allain was less selective in his questions. He attempted to answer questions like: Can you trap even with legal two line passes? (obviously you can - the trap is common in Europe where there is no red line in many leagues) or Do you think its right to decide a team game with an individual contest like a shootout? He was quite non-commital on his answers. For example on the shootout question saying there are two different lines of thought, but the NHL consulted their fans and they want shootouts.

At the peak, over three hundred people were attending the web seminar, but as technical problems occurred, there were only about 90 people who stayed until the end.

My opinion of the rule changes (at least the short version). I think that most will accomplish little. Scoring will likely not change much. Obstruction crackdowns will slowly be abandoned, like the last few obstruction crackdowns. When you make many changes to the rules, undoubtedly, there will be unintended consequences. I am not sure what they will be, but they are more likely to detract from the game then improve it. I think in 10 years, many of these rule changes will be changed again. Unfortunately, the shootout is probably here to stay.

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