The NHL quietly made a trio of rule changes Wednesday, and at least one of them is likely to matter quite a bit for the Chicago Blackhawks and other teams
NHL rules are a sticky area for discussion — not only with fans, but also with players and coaches. With some of its newer innovations in the regulations department, the league has seemed uncertain or entirely clueless on how to enforce them. This often leads to the Chicago Blackhawks and other teams feeling angered or ripped off in any given moment.
Wednesday, the league announced a trio of changes for the 2017-18 season. And while they might not thrill everyone, at least the league is trying to set in stone a few things this time around, versus just flip-flopping until a game has already been ruined.
The biggest of these rule updates comes with regard to the offsides challenge. Starting this upcoming season, teams will be assessed a two-minute minor penalty if they lose an such a challenge. This is a change from the team simply losing its timeout before.
It’s definitely worth noting this two-minute minor doesn’t apply to failed goaltender interference challenges. As Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman notes, the “grey area” relating to that challenge would make it much more dangerous to assess a penalty if the call on the ice stands.
The other two rule changes are impactful, though maybe not as much as the offsides challenge penalty. I’ll let Friedman lay out those alterations:
"Another adjustment that will have strategic impact. Teams are no longer able to call timeout after icing the puck. The other club can still do so if it wishes, but tired defenders won’t be able to ask for the extra rest."
"The final change is smaller, but also helps those with an offensive advantage. Previously, under Rule 80.4, a team on the power play that was guilty of playing the puck after a high stick saw the ensuing faceoff come deep into their own zone. Now, the team will gain territory (assuming the infraction is in the offensive end). Instead of going all the way down the ice, the faceoff will be in the neutral zone, close to the defending team’s blue line."
NHL fares well in latest changes
Before I explain why I think the Blackhawks will struggle with these new rules out of the gate, let me just say I think they’re generally solid changes for the game.
Da Windy City
NHL coaches were getting way too comfortable challenging goal-scoring plays at random, just hoping to extend an overtime affair or stop a result from getting to blowout territory. Some of them were absolutely laughable challenges, yet it’d always take the referees several minutes to rule because they’re using tablets to view these key plays.
This rule change, along with the no timeouts on icing switch, are moves intended to speed up the game and improve offensive flow. The smallest change — moving faceoff location after a team on a powerplay contests the puck with a high stick — is the only one I’m iffy about.
It’s being done, again, to improve the game’s offensive flow. So I can appreciate that. However, I’m not sure why teams on the penalty kill need to be additionally burdened. It’s not a major ordeal, but it gives the penalty-killing team even less time to try and slow their opponent. I’m not necessarily sure that’s required, considering plenty of scoring happens on the powerplay to begin with.
But back to the Blackhawks. How do these rule changes impact them in 2017-18? Well, I think they’re going to have some trouble with them.
Short-term issues for Chicago
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is one of the aforementioned coaches who just loved to challenge offsides calls for the sake of it — at least in my mind. Part of this was the chance to possibly get a call overturned, but I think a bigger part of it was giving his guys an extra rest.
Now that option is gone, along with the additional rest bid that would come with calling a timeout after you’ve iced the puck. For younger, fleeter-of-foot teams, that might not be a big deal. But the Blackhawks aren’t exactly either of those things right now.
For a team that struggles to possess the puck to begin with, the Blackhawks need all the opportunities they can get to rest and change momentum. The offsides challenge and icing rules certainly prevent that.
The powerplay faceoff movement rule also can’t do anything to help a Blackhawks penalty kill that lost its best asset this offseason in Marcus Kruger. Taking a faceoff from the opposing zone to the neutral zone may not seem like much, but with the Blackhawks’ PK in flux such as it is, it could wind up making a big difference at times in 2017-18.
Will these rules make or break the Blackhawks’ season? No. But this is clearly one of the weaker teams assembled by general manager Stan Bowman since he took over. Every little advantage this group can get, it should take. And the Blackhawks just lost a couple.