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Downsizing the rule book

Reducing goal depth, goalie pads part of modifications for 2013-14

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No, your eyes are not deceiving you. NHL nets, specifically goal frames, are smaller this season.

That modification is among several rule and rink modifications for the 2013-14 NHL campaign.

The league has decided to create a little extra space behind and to the side of nets while keeping the important scoring area at the customary four-feet-by-six feet.

The depth of the goal has been reduced to 40 inches from 44 inches and the radius of the curve on nets' sides is now 18 inches instead of 20 inches. That has reduced the overall width of the frame from 96 inches to 88 inches, creating a little bit of extra room to move around the rink's most crucial real estate.

The actual playing rules have seen changes to fighting, checking-to-the-head and icing provisions.

Icing would seem to be the most progressive.

In addition to eliminating the circumstance where an "attainable pass" was enough to have a potential icing call waved off (the puck must now be touched on the offensive side of the centre line), the league is experimenting with a new hybrid icing standard in the pre-season.

For this new rule, when a puck crosses the far goal-line, the icing determination will be made when either the defender (icing) or attacker (no icing) first reaches the faceoff dot in that zone.

The player's skate will be the determining item to reach the dot.

The rule will be implemented for the regular season only if a vote by the NHL Players Association at the end of the exhibition season approves it.

"There have been some scary accidents over the years but it feels like it's pretty much the same," Jets defenceman Toby Enstrom said about the possible new icing rule. "It's similar. But in the end it's about having a little bit of respect for the other guys around you.

"I like the rule as it is. But if they want to try to change it, every guy has to adjust to it. I'm only one guy out of 700. It's not up to me."

When a fight takes place, the league has eliminated the former extra minor penalty for instigating while wearing a visor. Now, players will receive an additional two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct if they throw off their helmets before fighting.

League officials have also amended the wording of the relatively new Rule 48.1 on illegal checks to the head.

The modifications don't soften the rule any and are just meant to clarify the standard that targeting the head is not permitted, nor are checks allowed when they make the head the principle point of contact.

Equipment guidelines make up the rest of the new standards.

The seemingly constant evolution of what's allowable for goalies will see leg pad heights limited in a new, complicated formula that will see goalies subject to spot checks.

Here's what's now allowed: pads can be maximum 11 inches wide and their length is limited to each individual's physical makeup. A pad may not be any longer than floor to knee plus 45 per cent of knee to pelvis plus a four-inch skate allowance.

As for regular skaters, they've got five new things to be concerned about this season.

First, players with less than 25 games of NHL experience starting this season must wear a visor.

Second, sleeves of the jersey must now extend all the way inside the gloves.

Third, pants may not be cut, torn or open, especially on the inside of the thigh.

Fourth, any apparel underneath the torso that shows through or above the neck opening of the jersey must now be a uniform colour and of that of the team's jersey, so no more black turtle neck for Montreal centre Tomas Plekanec, for instance.

And lastly, one that will be an annoyance to several style-conscious NHLers -- Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin has already trashed this one -- jerseys may not be tucked into pants if it's going to expose the top padding of the pant or any additional body protection.

A warning will come first, followed by a minor penalty for a second violation.

Enstrom, who often has his jersey tucked, seemed unimpressed by the rule on Wednesday but didn't lash out like Ovechkin.

"I'm not the guy who's going to make all those decisions," Enstrom said. "Lucky me. If that's the rule they want to have, every player has to buy that rule.

"We're playing the game with a puck, sticks and skates. That's how it's been all the time but you know what, if they want to change rules and they feel comfortable doing it and it's not going to change the game, we'll buy into it and keep playing."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 19, 2013 D3

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