Tonight was the first time I saw the “new” faceoff rules in place. It was the first preseason game, so whenever a new standard is put in place it is easily noticeable.
The league wants to crack down on cheating in the dot, mainly with your feet. Mark Letestu and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins discussed what they think of the rules and what to expect moving forward.
Letestu, who scored twice in the Oilers 5-2 home preseason victory over Calgary is acutely aware of what needs to be focused on the most for centres.
“Feet are really important. We had the linesmen come in and talk to us today to give us a clear definition on what they are looking for, said Letestu. “They don’t want skates touching the hashmarks at all. They want the defensive team paused, then the other team paused and then they will drop it. They are calling the rules the way they are meant to be called. There will be an adjustment period. We saw a lot of guys getting tossed, but we will adjust.
Another change will be no more leniency on cheaters. One player gets tossed and then it will be a penalty on the next infraction?
“It has always been the rule, but on the second faceoff linesmen are very hard pressed to make that call. If you want to see a coach blow a gasket that will be the one, said Letestu. “I have a tough time believing the playoffs in game seven that type of call will be made. Right now there is an overemphasis on it to try and back guys off, and hopefully it doesn’t go back to the way it was where guys are getting feet involved and over cheating, but there is definitely a message being sent right now,” Letestu said.
Most would agree it would be odd to see that call in the playoffs, but if the league calls it all season, then they should continue to enforce it in the playoffs. If a player knows he can’t cheat and has adjusted all season, there is no reason to suddenly let them have two infractions and not be punished.
Nugent-Hopkins has never had much success in the faceoff dot. He is only 43% in his career. He thinks the new rule could hurt some players who have dominated the dot.
“For the past year, even throughout the summer, I’ve been working on my foot move in the faceoff circle, so now that’s out the window. There are some guys around the league who own the circle because of that foot move so it’s going to change that big time. You really don’t have time to get your foot in now.
“If they’re going to maintain this standard, as soon as you touch the red markers you are out. I don’t know if we’ll get a warning in the regular season or down the road, but it is a little bit different for sure. You are not standing straight up, you are reaching a bit more than being right over top of it (faceoff dot),” said Nugent-Hopkins
So what will be the best way to win draws under the new rules?
“I think timing will be the key,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “You still have to be strong, if players arrive at the same time, but I think it will be less about strength and more about timing. I think guys will try to get as wide as they can, and one whack and it (puck) is gone. If you are too wide you aren’t going to be able to get in after the fact. If this is the way it is going to be, it will be one or two whacks and it is gone and not as many battles.
Timing will be key, not only on reacting to the puck drop, but getting used to the new format of the defensive player getting set, then pausing, then the offensive player doing the same. It will take some time admitted RNH.
“I was trying to figure it out today. Even with the linesmen it was new for them, so they are figuring it out as well. It is a learning process right now. From what I understand the defensive guy sets his stick on the ice, then the offensive guy has to touch the white part of the circle, then the linesman drops it. There is a little bit of a delay after the offensive guy sets to when the puck is dropped. It will take a little to get used to it, because drops will change here and there, but it will be fine once you get the hang of it.
Maybe this is the change you need to improve in the draw, I jokingly asked him
“Yeah, maybe this exactly what I need. Hopefully it doesn’t go the other way (laughs),” replied Nugent-Hopkins.
There is no argument players were pushing the boundaries on the faceoff rules, and it was time to reign them in. We will see more players kicked out of draws early in the season, but I hope the NHL sticks to it. As Letestu said they are calling the rules the way they were meant to be called. The players will adjust and I hope the NHL has the fortitude to enforce this new standard all season.
It is no different than the hooking and slashing on the hands. We saw a lot of penalties last night and I’m sure it will continue into the preseason and regular season. The NHL did this in 2005/2006 and the players started to adjust. The problem was the NHL didn’t stick with it the following year and slowly the league got worse and worse and last year players were slashing each other for fun.
The rule book is there for a reason. Call it by the book and the players will adjust. If they don’t their team will lose and they could lose their spot in the lineup.
There will be some tough nights, and I’m sure fans, players and coaches will be frustrated some nights, but if they stick with the new rules all season the game will be better in the future.