Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Revisiting the NHL Rules of Old: Forwards, Defensemen and More

Good afternoon puck addicts.

I think it's safe to say at this point that we're all tired of discussing players who are wearing suits in lieu of jerseys.

Researching the history hockey when the game in its current state comes with a few sad feelings of longing for something you've never experienced.

But as a fan, what can you do but think progressively?

That being said, feel free to let this retrospective on NHL rules rules of old remind or inform you of a time when the game was a game.

After part one focusing on goaltenders, we will look at how old regulations impacted forwards, defensemen and other aspects of the game.

Rest assured, this article will not contain the words 'owner', 'billion' or 'million'.

Attackers and Rearguards

In the midst of player salary negotiations, it's worth noting that in the very young stages of pro hockey, the National Hockey Association — the precursor to the NHL — had a seventh position on the ice.

It was a fourth forward called the 'rover', which was positionally the shortstop of hockey; behind and to the side of the centerman. It was in 1911 that the league adopted the more symmetrical six-man game that we see today.

The reason for the change? The league likely cited a want for more punch and less wrestle. Two fewer men equals more movement in the game.

After all, it was just one year prior to this that they implemented the change from one intermission to two. Two periods at half an hour each was a game that surely saw more fatigue and less action.

In fact, during my research it seemed to be that nearly every rule change since the turn of the century was a direct attempt to increase offense and action. The league's ideas were working and by the mid-twenties goalscoring more than doubled and was climbing still.

Some Just Don't Work

A rule is thought of, approved and implemented by more than just one fool with a hunch, and there's usually a coherent reason for its implementation.

However, this has not always been the case.

For a comically long time — until the 1927-28 season — an attacker with the puck, in any zone but the offensive one, couldn't make a forward pass. He was to bring the puck into the offensive zone himself before passing and beginning a play.

Incidentally, it was in the same year that they started assessing a penalty to a player who picks up the puck and carries it.

Far more perplexing was an extension of the rule that awarded a penalty shot for being tripped and thus prevented a clear shot on goal. You got the shot alright, but it had to be taken from within a ten foot circle, located almost 40 feet from the net.

Makes sense, right? Don't worry, the silliness was adequately evened out. The netminders weren't allowed to advance more than one foot from the goal-line during the shot.

How long did it last? The rule was implemented in the 1934-35 season and lasted until 1941, where the player was permitted to skate in for the shot. It clearly couldn't last, but that's still six solid seasons of awkward shots that likely never went in.

Some Could Still Work

After many decades since its first application, the rule against kicking the puck into the net is still largely debatable.

Prior to the 1929-30 season you could kick, punch, slap, or headbutt that puck into the net, so long as it went in. You put the puck in the net; you score.

I personally subscribe to the idea of allowing the puck to be kicked in, as long as it's on the ice. As Brian Burke would agree, we are very much in the butterfly era of goaltending. I can't see any disadvantages from their perspective. Once the puck reaches the slot and the crease, today's netminders are constantly tracking the puck down low.

Is there really a difference? Where do you guys stand on this?

Another one that I liked, which is more of a fun aspect of the game rather than a rule, was in the late twenties where the home team would start the game by choosing which goal to defend.

This was in a time where the ice was certainly more crude, more likened to a back-yard rink, which is something that would've impacted one's choice in sides more than it would today.

Teams today are a lot more serious about their advantages and disadvantages, as there's truly more at stake than there used to be, so this is something that would only create problems.

Up Jumped the Devil

I'll leave you with a few fun facts that in some ways marked the beginning of true consumer-based hockey, and is fitting with the league's current state.

The rinks were first painted white in the 1949-50 season. Prior to this, it was simply ice on concrete. As you can imagine, the puck was likely a lot harder to track.

Two seasons later marked the first time a home team was to wear basic white sweaters and the visitors basic coloured.

These rules were not really aimed to the players. After, they knew each other well enough and could see the puck fine. Rather, these rules were designed for the spectators, and more specifically,  the television audience.

From Wikipedia:
In the fall of 1951, Conn Smythe watched special television feeds of Maple Leaf games in an attempt to determine whether it would be a suitable medium for broadcasting hockey games.
The rest truly is history.

Amos is freelance writer and columnist who writes for HabsAddict.com. Follow Amos on Twitter and Facebook

(Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images North America)


Good stuff Amos!

Let me play devil's advocate about your "kicking motion" position.

While goaltenders can anticipate kicked pucks and probably stop many due to their butterfly style, it is exceedingly difficult for defenders to prevent a kick.

After all, you can tie up a stick. If you tie up skates, that is just tripping.

Can you imagine some goalie sprawled on the ice with a bunch of blades whizzing by as the other players try to kick the puck in... players are cheeky enough with their sticks.... if they could kick at an errant puck..... it would be net minder genocide!!!! lol

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