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22 stupid rule changes that would make the NHL better

The game of hockey has changed in dozens of ways both significant and subtle over the past century. What if we changed it even more?
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Need more goalscoring in overtime so fewer games go to the shootout? MULTI-PUCK!!!

The game of hockey is wildly different from how it started. It used to be played with seven players per team in two 30-minute periods with no forward passing allowed. Goaltenders weren’t allowed to drop to the ice to make saves. At one point, captains were required to be on the ice at all times and only three defending players other than the goaltender were allowed in the defensive zone at one time.

All that is to say is that hockey has changed and it continues to change. Certainly, recent changes have not been the same sort of seismic shift of allowing forward passes but they still change the game. 

For instance, last season the NHL ruled that a player’s skate no longer need to be in contact with the blue line in order to be considered onside. This season, they’ve adjusted the interpretation of the cross-checking rule, with more strict enforcement to “promote offence and reduce injuries.”

The NHL has experimented with weirder changes, with Brendan Shanahan running research and development camps when he was NHL Vice President to test out ideas, some of which made it into practice, like hybrid icing and shallower nets to increase the space behind the net. 

Other ideas, like trying to reduce boarding by allowing “bear hugs” and the utterly bizarre idea of having just three faceoff circles — one in each zone in the middle of the ice — didn’t make the cut. 

But maybe there are some weird ideas that might actually make the NHL better. Actually, there might be some flat-out stupid ideas that could also be oddly genius and exactly what the NHL needs.

I posed the question on Twitter — “What’s a really stupid rule that you think should be in the NHL?” — and gave an example of my own: the NHL should only allow each player to participate in the shootout once per season. Once you’re out of shooters for the season, that’s it: any game that goes to the shootout is a loss, unless the other team is also out of shooters, in which case it’s a tie.

That may sound ridiculous — stupid, even — but stick with me. 

On average, an NHL team appears in about 9 shootouts per season. If you use three shooters per shootout, that’s 27 shooters, more than the 21 skaters on an NHL roster, but that doesn’t include players called up during the season because of injuries. This rule change would not only force teams to think strategically about which shooters to use and when, but also force teams to use less likely players in the shootout, like defencemen and call-ups, increasing the odds of a Marek Malik moment.

It would increase the importance of ending a shootout early — if your first two shooters can score and your goaltender shuts out the opposition, you save a shooter — and heighten the tension of any shootout that goes long. The most important aspect, however, is that it would greatly encourage teams to play for the win in regulation and overtime in order to avoid the shootout altogether.

Is it stupid? Undoubtedly. But it might be fun.

The prompt got some fantastic responses. Sure, some people missed the point and suggested very smart rules that would make hockey better — like 3 points for a win, 2 points for an overtime/shootout win, and 1 points for an overtime/shootout loss; getting rid of offsides altogether; and removing the trapezoid behind the net — but others got into the spirit of things and suggested some truly bonkers ideas.

This might actually be something.

Can you imagine? Let’s look at the 2011 Vancouver Canucks. After the first round, they get to add one of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, or Duncan Keith from the Chicago Blackhawks to their lineup. After the second, they could get Shea Weber from the Nashville Predators. After the third? Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, or Joe Pavelski from the San Jose Sharks.

Of course, the Boston Bruins would be bolstered by the likes of P.K. Subban, Claude Giroux, and Martin St. Louis. Who would win?

This is actually quite clever. Instead of waving out a centre, make them try to win the faceoff with the butt end of their stick. It’s probably not ideal to have the blade of a stick flying around near someone’s face during a faceoff, but oh well.

I like this but considering how angry fans already get at refs for bad calls, can you imagine if a bad call meant you went into bonus penalties and the opposing team got longer power plays?

Actually, that sounds hilarious. More angry fans!

They actually do this in the Finnish Liiga and some European tournaments: the leader in scoring on each team wears a gold helmet.

Former PITB writer Will Graham suggests doing away with shootouts altogether. Instead, each team has to have a series of progressively smaller goaltenders.

Eventually, they’ll get to the mini goaltender, J.C. Petit, from the classic McDonald’s commercial.

The only reason this wouldn’t work is how do you manage the salary cap with your series of goaltenders of diminishing size? Yes, that’s the only reason this wouldn’t work.

You go to the box, two minutes by yourself, and you feel shame. Except now you feel shame for the entirety of the intermission. No spend time in the locker room with your pals, no pep talk from your coach, no talking strategy, none of your regular intermission routines — if you wanted any of that, you shouldn’t have slashed somebody just before the end of the period.

If we’re going to get silly, let’s get silly. Overtime is already just about putting on a show, as the NHL reduced the number of players on the ice from 5-on-5 to 4-on-4 and now 3-on-3. Why not add some more chaos with multi-puck?

We need more politeness in hockey, I think.

Keith Yandle actually already does this. Every time his goaltender leaves the puck for him behind the net, he thanks them. It's very wholesome.

Suddenly, big body checks would become even more important. The hipcheck would become a staple. Diving would become incredibly risky: if you don’t get the penalty, you’re completely out of the play. 

This is very, very stupid but I kind of want to watch this just to see what happens.

When there’s a bench minor, such as too many men on the ice, it’s never quite clear who is to blame. The coach just picks some random player to go to the box to feel shame when really, the shame probably belongs with the coach himself. So, let the opposing coach pass along that shame with a mighty glove slap, like he was challenging him to a duel.

Would this have any tangible effect on the game of hockey? Probably not. But it would be weird and entertaining.

Speaking of coaches…

If a coach wants to force his players to wear a suit to the game, then they should have to wear a full hockey uniform during the game.

Fair’s fair.

Hannah had some other great, completely unworkable, suggestions. This one was my favourite:

This totally wouldn’t work but can you imagine how fun it would be?

There’s already supposed to be a minor penalty when a goaltender “holds the puck in any manner which, in the opinion of the referee, causes an unnecessary stoppage of play,” according to Rule 67.3, which is rarely used.

What Prashanth is saying is that maybe every stoppage of play is unnecessary and you have to admit that this would lead to a lot more continuous action, chaos and, goals. 

That wasn’t the only idea that suggested curbing a goaltender’s ability to keep the puck out of the net.

Taking away their stick would be a nightmare for goaltenders but it would be a lot more fun for skaters. No more poke checks, no neatly deflecting shots into the corners, no stopping the puck behind the net on dump-ins — that’s not to mention it would be a lot easier to go five-hole.

This is a goaltender’s worst nightmare. Imagine trying to track a puck in a black crease. Amazing idea.

Others didn’t want to take things away from goaltenders but to give them more freedom.

Can you tell that Lachlan is a goaltender?

That time Patrick Roy deked out Wayne Gretzky then pulled off a spin move to cross the red line was probably the first time anyone realized that there’s actually a penalty for a goaltender going past centre ice.

Unfortunately, if a team wants an extra attacker, the goaltender can’t just jump up the ice themselves. They have to go to the bench so his team can add an extra skater. Charlie has a suggestion for changing that rule.

Yes, like the designated hitter in baseball, teams could have a designated extra attacker. This would add some intriguing strategy: you want a player good enough offensively that you’d want him on the ice to score a last-minute goal but not so good that you wouldn’t want him on the ice all game.

Finally, a role for those one-dimensional forwards who are too good for the AHL but aren’t reliable enough defensively to play a regular shift in the NHL.

There were also a few suggestions for changes that weren’t about what happens on the ice.

This would be pure chaos. Can you imagine a redraft of the entire league every five years? 

Maybe Sidney Crosby would play for four different teams in his career instead of just the Pittsburgh Penguins. Teams could off all sorts of side deals and trades to try to hang onto a fan-favourite franchise player to the detriment of the rest of their team. One team might stockpile picks in the five-year draft to try to create a super-team. 

It would be a magnificent mess.

I love this. You don’t get to know exactly when you’re picking heading into the draft, GMs! Do it live!

Finally, one last suggestion for a stupid rule that made me burst out laughing when I first saw it.

It’s like the Golden Snitch in Quidditch but exceedingly weird and gross. 

There were many more great responses to my original tweet. What do you think? Are any of these very stupid ideas worth actually trying? Do you have some stupid ideas of your own? Let’s hear them.