Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports

Bruins 2, Flyers 1: These changes are going to ruin the NHL

Ty Anderson
September 22, 2017 - 12:06 am

The first penalty of Thursday’s preseason contest between the Bruins and Flyers came just 18 seconds into the game. It was a deserved penalty, too, as Jesse Gabrielle nailed the Flyers’ Travis Konecny with a borderline dirty hit upstairs at center ice.

But what followed in a 2-1 overtime final for the Bruins, however, was a night of ticky-tack penalties that completely disrupted any sort of flow this game could have had.

And at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, each penalty only further proved that this upcoming NHL season will be unwatchable if this preseason emphasis on axing faceoff violations and slashing of any kind does indeed carry over into the regular season.

Consider this: The B’s and Flyers combined for five penalties through the first 12 minutes of hockey. Three of the calls were for slashing, one was for a faceoff violation, and the other was the aforementioned Gabrielle hit (whistled as an interference). During those 12 minutes (11:31 to be exact), the Bruins and Flyers played exactly five minutes of five-on-five play, the longest stretch of even-strength action lasting 3:12.

“There was no flow to the game,” Patrice Bergeron, kicked out of at least three faceoffs in the win, said. “It’s unfortunate, but we’ll just have to work on it in practice and get used to that. I think that everyone will get used to it, the refs also.”

By the night’s end, the Flyers had nine total power-play opportunities (Ed Rooney voice: Nine times), four of which coming off slashing penalties whistled against the B’s. That is a simply ridiculous overall number, especially for an exhibition game, and one that will most definitely ruin this sport if established as the norm moving forward this season.

And though the Bruins killed off all nine penalties, it was clear that they felt at as massive disadvantage, especially when it came to their battles at the faceoff dot.

“If you look at the percentages of how many times guys got kicked out tonight, and what it’s taking away from the teams, it’s not worth what’s coming with it,” Brad Marchand, vocal about this all camp, said. “It’s becoming a big joke, so there’s got to be something tweaked with it. These games are painful and I thought it was a bad rule before I played, but it’s even worse after going through it and actually seeing what it’s like.”

“I wonder what they’re really trying to get out of it,” Bergeron, the only B’s center to finish the night with a faceoff percentage about at 50 percent, said. “I understand that it’s feet above those lines and sticks and whatnot. That being said it also kind of sucks. Hockey is a fast game and they’re really slowing it down.”

Talking to players on both sides, the belief is that this new faceoff rule is not something that’s being enforced correctly (it’s important to note that excessively does not mean correctly), and some other players seem to believe that star players are still allowed to get away with just about whatever they want when it comes to their battles at the dot.

“Their guy crosses the line twice and it’s nothing. I flinched once and I was gone,” one player said, citing the disadvantage it sets a player up for when it’s not called down the line for every player. The players also don’t seem to be sure exactly what is and is not allowed. “It’s a battle for the puck, right?” one player said. “Let us battle for it.”

“If they’re going to call it like this now, you hope that they’ll call it like this in the regular season, or else what’s the point?” one Bruin said. “I wish they’d just leave it alone.”

But it seems almost impossible for the NHL to be this militant about faceoffs and slashing come next month, unless the league wants to make the deathwish investment in three-hour games, and wants to take all even-strength skill out of the equation.

“I think if you’re looking at the preseason games, there’s like 15 penalties a game right now. It’s basically special teams the whole way,” said a frustrated Marchand. “We should play one team on the power play for five minutes and then the other team five minutes on the power play. It’d be good to play a little bit of five-on-five out there.

“It’s just taking away from the game. It’s supposed to be the best team wins the game and maybe a couple of power plays here and there,” Marchand went on. “But it’s not supposed to be the best special teams [wins]. So… tough rules.”

But the NHL, generally considered to be one of North America’s “Big Four” in terms of pro sports leagues, has always had this problem. They’ve always felt that their league needs to be improved, which of course is not a bad strategy (the NBA has done a wonderful job of adjusting their league with the times). But when the NHL makes a change, rarely does it seem to truly be for the better, usually go far too drastic, and it often confuses their players, fans, or both. It was just a few years back when they decided to needlessly crack down on players tucking their jerseys (so, so dumb).

They later introduced a coach’s challenge, which seemed universally loved at the time.

Then you saw that coaches were challenging whether or not a player’s blade was a centimeter in the air on the zone entry that came 48 seconds before a goal -- and reviewing them on screens that made your Gameboy seem like one of these 4K TVs -- and we all decided that we hated the challenge. So they tinkered with that, deciding that a failed offsides challenge would result in a two-minute minor for the challenging team. An idea so good you would have thought Adam Silver’s league came up with it.

...But that’s come with this nonsense that’s left players straight-up confused.

Concluded Marchand: “I know the NHL and they want to increase the scoring, but you want to make it exciting for the fans and what’s going on out there is not exciting at all.”

Confusing for the players, and not exciting for the fans.

What a disastrous and unaffordable combo for the NHL.

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