TORONTO - Changes are coming to NHL arenas this fall even though the league didn't emerge from its two-day research and development camp with any significant rule recommendations.
When the puck drops on a new season in October, each of the 30 arenas around the league will feature a curved spring-loaded glass stanchion between the benches to protect players. There will also likely be a series of minor changes made around the net to assist with video review calls.
"I think there'll be a few things, including the curved glass, that we'll see in NHL games this year," league vice-president Brendan Shanahan said Thursday.
The new glass stanchions are designed to prevent incidents like the one that saw Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty suffer a concussion last season after being hit by Boston Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara and slamming into the boards between the benches.
"We all agree that the curved glass makes the playing environment safer for our players so we want to have it in the game," said Shanahan, who organized the camp for a second straight year. "Now again, a camp like this is to shoot pucks off it and decide—is a puck in play or is a puck out of play when we touch it?"
The new design of net comes with a 40-inch frame as opposed to the traditional 44 inches. It also features a clear plastic strip along the top, thinner mesh and a built-in high definition camera—changes that should make the job easier for the league's video review room.
There will also likely be a new "verification line" that runs three inches behind the goal-line and can be used to determine if a puck completely entered the net.
Since the changes to the net won't directly impact the rulebook, the procedure for implementing them is still being ironed out. They'll be used during training camps and exhibition games before the hockey operations department makes a decision on whether they'll be on display in the regular season.
Some teams have already expressed a willingness to take part in further tests.
"We told the league: Anything you want to try in the pre-season game we're willing to try," said Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke. "If this is a first look at it with 17 year olds—albeit highly skilled 17 year olds—and the league feels like they need to look at it with NHL players, we're willing to try it in our pre-season games.
"We'll try the nets, the cameras, any rule changes they want to try. The other team has to consent, but if they need a guinea pig, we'll be the guinea pig."
The two coaches working the benches at the research and development camp both liked what they saw from the new nets. Dave Tippett of the Phoenix Coyotes and Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins heard the prospects commenting on the extra room the modified design created.
"It's a small variation," said Tippett. "What you're doing is giving players more space to play. I don't think it has a negative effect on the game whatsoever. It's only a positive."
During the camp, the coaches oversaw a group of 36 top-rated prospects for the 2012 draft. They held three scrimmages featuring a variety of different rules governing power plays, faceoffs, icings and other infractions before wrapping up Thursday's final session with a skills competition.
It was an intense couple days for teenagers looking to make an impression on the numerous scouts and GMs in attendance.
"It was pretty tough to adjust (to the different rules)," said Ottawa 67's defenceman Cody Ceci. "I've been playing the same game of hockey since I've grown up. Just to see all these rules change—you've just got to stay on your toes and think a lot more than you usually do."
None of the rules on display are expected to be seen in the NHL any time soon.
However, the league thinks it's important to continue testing new ideas and gathering information during sessions like this one. Commissioner Gary Bettman expects the research and development camp to be held at least every other year moving forward and the teams are more than willing to keep showing up.
"I think any time the league is looking at doing some things that impact the game, I think it's important that you show your support and have an educated opinion on it," said Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. "So that when we do talk about things in the (GM) meetings, you can talk about actually seeing it yourself and forming your own opinion.
"I think it's an important process."
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