NHL Insider: GMs went too far proposing rule changes on faceoffs

  • Updated: March 15, 2014 - 7:42 PM

NHL general managers proposed a rule change regarding faceoffs that isn’t popular among players or coaches.

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NHL general managers have proposed a new faceoff rule that has some players grumbling already. It would allow linesmen to move cheating players back 12-18 inches on faceoffs.

Photo: File photo by jeff wheeler • jwheeler@startribune.com,

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Either the general managers were bored because there were no hot-button topics on the agenda at last week’s GM meetings at the Boca Beach Club or they felt so guilty spending three days golfing and working on their suntans that they had to justify their time in South Florida by doing something.

The NHL game is in such a great place right now, there seemed to be little for the managers to talk about. Head shots are no longer a problem, goalie equipment has been streamlined.

So the execs walked away with three rule-change recommendations, including one pretty drastic one, to the competition committee. All rule changes would have to be approved by the committee and then the Board of Governors.

One makes total sense. In an effort to have more games end before the shootout, teams would switch sides after the third period. That would create the so-called “long change,” which puts defenders far from their respective benches and often causes tired players to get hemmed in their zone, which could create more goals.

The managers then recommended two faceoff rule changes — one so subtle that fans will barely notice, but another that could have a significant impact.

In an attempt to curb “cheating,” instead of a center being kicked out of the circle and replaced by a teammate if a violation is committed before a faceoff, a linesman would make that same booted player take the second faceoff attempt, only that player would be forced to move back 12 to 18 inches. The exact measurement hasn’t been decided.

“I don’t like it at all,” Wild captain Mikko Koivu said. “All it does is create more of a gray area. Faceoffs are quick reactions, both from the center and the linesman. Things happen so quick. Mistakes happen. So you’re going to maybe lose a tight game because a linesman gives the other team a free puck?”

But managers have noticed that 1) Players know linesmen avoid calling penalties (two violations on one faceoff), so they tend to cheat and 2) after icings, a winger will take the draw and intentionally commit a violation to get kicked out for a center just to buy more rest for trapped teammates.

Wild center Kyle Brodziak said: “This seems like a drastic rule change and gimmicky. It’s a linesman’s job to make sure players don’t cheat. I mean, is this that much of an issue? I think it’ll lead to more cheating because linesmen are not going to want to be backing guys up.”

Wild GM Chuck Fletcher says that’s his big concern.

“I think the will of the group was to find fairer faceoffs, but to me these are new ideas and I think there’s probably a lot more discussion that’s needed to flush out the positives and negatives,” Fletcher said. “Nevertheless, it is going down the path to the competition committee.”

Only in the NHL can a rule change actually move up the chain without all the positives and negatives being flushed out.

Even though there are rules in place to determine cheaters, it’s still a pretty subjective call by a linesman. Look how many heated debates occur between centers and linesmen throughout a game.

In 2010, Wild center Matt Cullen got into a game-long duel with linesman Johnny Murray. Murray kicked Cullen out seven times, including once before Cullen even got to the dot.

Linesmen are human. Can you imagine if a frustrated linesman has the power to move a center back 18 inches on a defensive-zone draw in a tie game in the final minute?

This proposal seems like it can open up a major can of worms and cost teams games.

“There’s a lot of what-ifs that I’m not sure we’ve looked at,” Fletcher said. “Personally, I think we need to be a little more cautious in this regard.”

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