Anyone who understands the game of hockey knows that its fast-paced nature is one of the unique traits of the sport. Yet, the National Hockey League keeps adding new rules and restrictions, which have ultimately slowed the fastest game on earth.
Remember the two-line pass? Okay, to be fair that was implemented back in 1943 but it brought with it the dead puck era – a time period from 1995-2005 where goal scoring was at an all-time low thanks to the emphasis teams put on neutral zone traps and clutching and grabbing opponents.
So, after a year-long lockout, the two-line pass was erased in 2005-06 in an attempt to open up the game. Scoring did see an initial increase, but more rule changes and regulations over the past few years – from goaltending equipment to coaches challenges – have slowed the pace down considerably.
The emphasis for the 2017-18 season? Being more restrictive on slashing and faceoff violations.
To say that these regulations are unpopular throughout the league this preseason is quite the understatement. In Thursday’s Bruins-Flyers tilt – a 2-1 overtime win for the Black and Gold – the two teams combined for seven slashing penalties and one faceoff violation. That is 16 minutes worth of penalties for those counting at home.
One of the more vocal critics, to little surprise, is Brad Marchand. He finally got to witness the faceoff restrictions first hand in his preseason debut on Thursday night.
“It’s really taking a lot away from the game. You can’t have a winger taking all the faceoffs. I mean if you look at the percentages of how many times guys got kicked out tonight, and what it’s taking away from the teams, it’s not worth what’s coming with it. And literally, both teams were laughing out there about how bad the rule is,” Marchand said.
“It’s becoming a big joke, so there’s got to be something tweaked with it. You know, these games are painful and I thought it was a bad rule before I played, but it’s even worse after going through it and actually seeing what it’s like. It’s basically an automatic win for the other team. The only thing you’re worried about is not moving before the puck is shot. Maybe that’s what they want – more offenses to win. But, you know, you’re taking away the game and it’s the reason the guys make the NHL.”
No surprise that the outspoken Marchand would speak out about any egregious rule changes. It’s also not a surprise that Bergeron, not as outspoken as his longtime fellow linemate, isn’t a fan either.
Bergeron won half of his draws in his first preseason game. But the comments he made after Thursday’s game with Philly had a lot more weight than his 17:33 of ice time.
“I think that the faceoff is definitely an adjustment. I think that the faceoff is a skill and you work your whole career to develop that and you work on your hand-eye and timing and everything and try to take that away,” Bergeron said postgame. “You have to adapt I guess. It’s something that I’ll definitely do, but I don’t think I’m a huge fan.”
Until the league decides to loosen their faceoff rules, there’s a good chance for soundbites from players and coaches from all 31 teams voicing their displeasure.
It’s also something the officials are just getting used to.
“Yeah, I mean, the faceoffs, to begin with, you can’t get in a rhythm, it’s hard right now. I think the refs are frustrated too, just because it’s new to them,” said Riley Nash, who tallied an assist on Paul Postma’s game-tying goal in the third period.
“So hopefully over time we’ll build a little bit of chemistry with the linesmen and get that sorted out, but right now it’s a little frustrating. Right now it feels like you flinch, you’re gone, right? So, as a centerman, it’s hard to really get in a good rhythm in the faceoff circle.”
But what about the emphasis on slashing? That too seems to be killing the flow of the league’s preseason contests, but head coach Bruce Cassidy understands where the league may be coming from, particularly when it comes to player safety.
“The slashing, I think it’s another good rule, to be honest with you, to find that happy medium. There’s a lot of hand injuries now and I think it’s something they needed to curb,” Cassidy said during Thursday’s press conference. “I think eventually players will learn that as well like they adjust to all the rules.”
It’s an adjustment period for sure, and the players will have to have more control over how they conduct themselves. Any hint of cheating at the faceoff dot will be enforced.
“I hope not. I mean, it’s just kind of weird, because if they want to stick to it, they’ve got to stick to it. We just have to kind of change how we play and adapt to it, and that’s all we can do, right?” said Ryan Spooner, who had a solid 200-foot game on Thursday night. “So, it’s just kind of unfortunate that we’re kind of used to playing a certain way and they change it, but it’s kind of on the players now. We’ve just got to control what we can.”
The league, however, might have overstepped their control a little bit. Through the first week of the preseason, it’s killing the flow of the game. The last thing they need is the start of another dead puck era.