#AHL Board approves rules changes for the 2014-2015 season

The AHL has long been a testing ground for rules the NHL wants to see put into practice, and it looks like this upcoming season will bring changes for all of the clubs in the league in several areas. Here’s the release that talks about them:

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The American Hockey League’s Board of Governors has concluded its 2014 Annual Meeting, held this week at Hilton Head Island, S.C.

Chaired by AHL President and CEO David Andrews, the four days of meetings, which concluded Thursday, saw the approval of the following rules changes to be implemented beginning in 2014-15:

Rule 85 (“Overtime”)

    • During the regular season, the sudden-death overtime period will be seven minutes (7:00) in length, preceded by a “dry scrape” of the entire ice surface.
    • Teams will change ends at the start of overtime.
    • Full playing strength will be 4-on-4 until the first whistle following three minutes of play (4:00 remaining), at which time full strength will be reduced to 3-on-3 for the duration of the overtime period.
  • If the game is still tied following overtime, a winner will be determined by a three-player shootout.

Rule 20.4 (“Major Penalties”)

  • An automatic game misconduct will be applied to any player who has been assessed two major penalties for fighting or three major penalties for any infraction in the same game.

Rule 9.6 (“Helmets”)

  • A player on the ice whose helmet comes off during play will be assessed a minor penalty unless he immediately (a) exits the playing surface or (b) puts the helmet back on with the chin strap properly fastened.

“With the full support of the league’s Competition Committee and Player Development Committee, the Board has approved these changes with the betterment of our game and the safety of our players in mind,” said Andrews.

I ramble about all of this after the cut.

And be warned, when I say ramble, I mean ramble.

On the first rule, the one that talks about new overtime rules, league VP of Communications Jason Chaimovitch had the following to add on:

Doing some basic math, it’s easy to see the main target of this rule: the shootout. Of those 275 league-wide games, 178 of them went to the shootout. The general opinion in hockey town is that the shootout is mostly a favorite of the casual fan because it’s exciting. The “excitement” factor is generally something that big time fans agree with; yes, the shootout is exciting. However, fans who dislike the shootout point to the fact that a glorified skills competition shouldn’t determine things like divisional/conference standings and divisional titles (remember, the Crunch won the division title in 2013 with a shootout win over Worcester). They use the lack of the shootout in playoff games in both leagues as proof of the weaknesses of the shootout. Some even feel that hockey is a team sport and that shootouts negate that.

There’s obviously no wrong or right here. Like them or not, shootouts are a fact of life for pro hockey players and fans. Both leagues use the shootout during the regular season, and both leagues obviously see value in the excitement level and the ease with which the current system that utilizes shootouts determines standings points.

However, it’s also basically assumed that this new OT rule the AHL is testing will drastically reduce the number of games that have to go to a shootout. The amount of ice 3-on-3 hockey opens up is insane. Goalies who have already played 64 minutes of hockey (including the 4 minutes of 4-on-4 hockey) will still have to be extremely sharp and on their game, even more so than they probably have to be for a shootout.

So, while shootouts are currently still part of the AHL, one has to wonder what this means for its future if the NHL likes what they see in their developmental league. Of course, the NHL adopting a more drawn-out OT period is probably still two to three seasons away, which means that anything determining the shelf life of the shootout is even further than that. But, it will be interesting to see where this goes.

Onto rule Rule 20.4, the new fighting major/major penalty rule. My initial thought is, “meh.” Obviously this is aimed at enforcers, ones like Syracuse Crunch forward Eric Neilson. However, I’m pretty sure I can count the amount of times Neilson–and even a “pest” like Phillipe Paradis–got into two fights in one game last season on one hand. With the “bucket rule” still alive and well in the league, the one stating that no player can remove their own helmet to fight, most enforcers have only been chancing one fight per game anyway. It’s too risky to throw those mitts at those helmets more than once during a single game.

Now, the second part of the rule, where a player is assessed a game misconduct for totaling up three major penalties for any infraction, might be where things get a little sticky. Last season, the Crunch’s penalty door was practically a revolving one for guys like Paradis (still an unsigned RFA at this point), Crunch captain Mike Angelidis (who had the second-highest PIM total of his career last season), and Luke Witkowski (whose 204 PIM led the team).

Now, granted, there’s a big distinction to made here: most of the minutes those players racked up were due to minor penalties, not major ones. Minor penalties are not a part of this new rule. But, players who tend to spend a lot of time in the box due to majors are obviously being encouraged to start checking their tempers at the door.

To be clear, I would not place Paradis, Angelidis, or Witkowski in that category, but they were on the receiving end of a lot of minutes last season. Some were five minute majors. They get one of those, say for high sticking, and also get into a fight during the same game, it will only take one more major to have them thrown out.

Again, that’s not something I expect to happen with any of those players. But, it’s something to keep in mind when fuses get short.

Finally, we have yet another helmet rule coming into play: A player on the ice whose helmet comes off during play will be assessed a minor penalty unless he immediately (a) exits the playing surface or (b) puts the helmet back on with the chin strap properly fastened.

My initial reaction to this is simple and short: sigh.

But, hear me out.

I realize this is all meant to increase the safety of the players on the ice. I know the league is trying to cut down on concussions, and I am absolutely aware of the terrible, awful damage concussions can cause to a player’s physical and mental health. I am just as concerned about it as any other hockey fan. I wouldn’t wish head injuries on any player, never, and to do so ever is disgusting and vile.

However, I feel like this rule has its heart in the right place but its practicality in all the wrong places. How many times have we seen a helmet go flying during play for whatever reason, and how many times has it just not been practical for the player to go get it? So, now, in that case, the player’s only option is to interrupt the flow of play, maybe even interrupt a potential scoring chance or create a potential defensive hole, and head to the bench. If they don’t, any scoring chance will be interrupted anyway with a penalty being called. That is going to be very, very frustrating for players and fans.

Unfortunately, with realizing and acknowledging the realities of concussions in this sport, I can also see that there’s not really any other option besides calling play dead every single time a player loses his helmet, which is going to an extreme that will absolutely kill the game. I don’t have any other ideas right now to solve this problem, and obviously the league didn’t, either.

In a perfect world, this wouldn’t be something we have to worry about as a community, but this isn’t a perfect world. This is real, it’s scary, and it’s been an extremely slow and extremely painful lesson. Yes, this rule is going to be as frustrating as all hell in the beginning, but if it prevents our players from suffering from physical and mental injuries because of concussions…then I have to support it. Yes, it has weaknesses. But, in this case, we need to accept those frustrations and weakness because this rule might just save a life, in more ways than one.


So, uh, there’s my two 43.5 cents.


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