The changes have come at the expense of defensemen, especially those not blessed with particularly quick feet. Many well-established but slow blueliners such as the Colorado Avalanche's Bob Boughner and the Penguins' Lyle Odelein were struggling to keep pace. As Gretzky said, "I've already told our scouts I don't even want to hear about a defenseman who's smart and tough but isn't mobile."
Director of hockey operations Colin Campbell says the new rules were designed to boost hockey in its return the way Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa's home runs helped baseball shake off the effects of the players' strike that ended in 1995. Permitting two-line passes has yielded grand scoring chances-- Tampa Bay's Vaclav Prospal connected with teammate Vincent Lecavalier on one to set up the Lightning's sixth goal against the New Jersey Devils last week--but there has not been a plethora of stretch passes. The no-puck-handling zones behind the nets have not unduly inconvenienced goalies. In fact, some of the least discussed changes have been the most dramatic, especially the rule that prohibits a team that ices the puck from making a line change on the ensuing face-off. On Oct. 25 the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim were caught with their fourth line on after an icing call; Kings coach Andy Murray put out a scoring line for the draw, winning both the matchup and the game when Luc Robitaille batted in the Kings' second goal. Said Ducks coach Randy Carlyle afterward, "That was a new-rules goal."
Campbell notes that it is still early "and no one here is patting himself on the back," but the NHL will continue to monitor its referees' vigilance and the offensive numbers. If scoring declines as the season continues, the league will consider more changes next summer--including the nuclear option of larger nets. My NHL: kaboom.