Sidney Crosby accepts a hat and jersey from Mario Lemieux at the 2005 draft. (Andre Ringuette/Getty Images)
The report card is in: evolution has caught up to some of the bold rule changes introduced 10 years ago. We grade the changes made a decade ago. Which ones make the cut and which need to be axed?Ten years ago, instead of being unveiled at a full arena, the best prospect in a generation was introduced to the hockey world in the ballroom of an Ottawa hotel. The 2005 lockout had just ended and the Corel Center (now the Canadian Tire Centre) couldn’t accommodate the new day for the NHL draft. But that didn’t blunt the excitement and anticipation of the New NHL, one that featured a ready-made superstar in Sidney Crosby, a salary cap to get the NHL’s economics in order and a host of rule changes and enforcements to allow its offensive stars to shine. As Mario Lemieux posed for pictures with Crosby, the Penguins’ No. 1 pick, you could just envision him using the removed red line to spring Crosby for breakaway after breakaway. For a while, the plan worked masterfully. After taking a year off, the NHL roared back in popularity. Ratings were up, attendance was up and the excitement was palpable. How could the NHL have possibly kept up that pace? Well, pace hasn’t been a problem. The league is faster and more chaotic than it has ever been. Over the years, though, scoring has decreased almost back to where we started. In 2003-04, the season before the lockout and the height of the Dead Puck Era, teams were producing an average of 5.12 goals per game. This past season, without factoring in the goal teams are awarded for winning a shootout, that average was just 5.32. Many argue the evolution of the player has narrowed the gap so much between the best players and lesser ones that it’s more difficult to create offense. Now, instead of having a fourth-line of enforcers and role players, teams have bottom-six forwards who can skate almost as well as the top-six forwards. And according to St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, teams are actually playing far more reckless defensively than they ever have, challenging the puck carrier at every opportunity. “If you’re a winger, there’s a defenseman in your face every shift,” Hitchcock said. “He’s either in your face as you exit (your zone) or he’s in your face in the neutral zone. So there’s no space, no time.” Teams play a swarm defense in their own zone. They collapse in front of their net and block shots like never before. “It used to be that a shot blocker was a specialist,” said Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau. “Now, everybody blocks shots.” So is the New NHL still working? Or does the league need another round of sweeping changes? Let’s look at the major changes and see where we stand 10 years later: Obstruction Crackdown Entering 2005-06, the league vowed to crack down on the obstruction fouls that were slowing the game to a crawl, and it was hyper vigilant to start. Nobody could have expected it would continue at that pace, and it hasn’t. There’s more obstruction now than there was in 2005-06, though still far less than there was prior to that. “When we went to the final (with Carolina in 2002) and when we’d play the New Jersey Devils, oh my God, how are you selling that?” said Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice. “The difference now is that everyone skates so well, and there’s so much gap control. It’s almost the Anton Stralman effect. These strong skating defensemen can close the gap so quickly. And I don’t think we want to see that go away.” Some believe it was the obstruction crackdown that caused teams to close that gap and take the ice away. Players who would slow opponents down with restraining fouls have been replaced by those who do it with skating, hockey sense and body positioning. And there’s been at least one unintended consequence of the crackdown. “I worry about defensemen,” said Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill. “I know when pucks are dumped in the corner and they go back, they have no protection at all. With the speed of the game and no obstruction, I just worry about the safety of the players.” GRADE: B Removal of the red line In an effort to speed up the game and stretch out the ice, the NHL removed the red line, creating the stretch pass. But there are those who think it has sped the game up too much, especially in the neutral zone. There were a lot of old-school coaches who were not in favor of the move, but many have changed their minds. “You can catch a team on transition and that’s great,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz. “You see teams throw it into a space and the guy is just flying. The Rangers do that a lot.” GRADE: A Reduction of Goalie equipment and Introduction of the trapezoid If the NHL was declaring war on goaltenders by restricting the size of their equipment and their movement, then the fraternity has battled back valiantly. Despite the fact their equipment is now dictated by the size of their bodies and the equipment police keep a vigilant eye out for offenders, the position has never been better. August 17 edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.