The NHL announced a series of major rule changes on Thursday, in a move designed to try to prevent future controversies like the ones that marred this season’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

NHL rule changes
The NHL will be introducing a number of rule changes in response to controversies that occurred during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. (Image: Steve Russell/Toronto Star)

The decisions were reached at the general managers meeting in Vancouver, with the most significant changes coming in how instant replay will be handled going forward.

Referees to Review Majors

One of the biggest changes will see referees required to review all major penalties. Now, if a major is assessed, an official will have to take a look at replay to see if they can confirm that classification. Referees will have the ability to change a major to a minor, though they cannot completely wipe away the penalty after the fact.

In addition, coach’s challenges will be expanded to allow reviews of missed calls that would have resulted in a stoppage before a goal would have been scored, including hand passes and high sticks. Only “black-and-white” calls will be eligible to be overturned on review.

According to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, the changes were already under consideration, and shouldn’t be seen as a kneejerk reaction to what took place in the playoffs.

“We view this as evolutionary,” Bettman told reporters. “The increased use of video replay is something we’ve considered and discussed over time, and at this point and time we think it was the appropriate response to what we were seeing, coupled with our ability to do it.”

But the biggest “evolutions” seem directly tied to two of the most contentious plays in this year’s playoffs.

New Rules Directly Address NHL Controversies

First, there was the five-minute major that Cody Eakin of the Vegas Golden Knights received in Game 7 of their first round playoff series against the San Jose Sharks. While the Knights were up 3-0 at the time, the Sharks would score four times on the ensuing power play and go on to win the game and the series. The NHL later acknowledged that the call was incorrect.

Then there was the game winning goal in Game 3 of the Western Conference final. This time, it was the Sharks who appeared to benefit from an illegal hand pass just before winning in overtime against the St. Louis Blues.

The expansion of instant replay only goes so far. Teams won’t be able to initiate a review in order to look for missed penalties, something Bettman said would be “terribly disruptive.” And coaches will be punished for unsuccessful challenges: a team will receive a minor delay of game penalty on the first failed challenge, and a double minor on a second miss.

Even more drastic measures were considered, including the potential to eliminate the offsides rule altogether, though that proposal didn’t pass.

On the other hand, there were a number of other changed that were approved on Thursday. That includes requiring players to put their helmets back on after falling off before participating in a play, and a new rule that will award an automatic goal if the goalie knocks the net off during a breakaway for the opposing team.

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