NHL '02-'03: New rules, new fan protection, new Red Wings

Posted: Sunday, October 06, 2002

This NHL season, all eyes will be on the new-look Detroit Red Wings to see if they can repeat as Stanley Cup champions. The view of the ice might be a little blurry, however.

Many fans will be watching through netting to protect them from flying pucks.

Plenty has changed since the Red Wings knocked off surprising Carolina to win their third Cup in six seasons.

Seven teams switched head coaches. Five never have held the job before, including New York Rangers boss Bryan Trottier, who forged a Hall of Fame playing career with the rival New York Islanders. There's also Dave Lewis in Detroit, Mike Babcock in Anaheim, Dave Tippett in Dallas, and Bruce Cassidy in Washington.

Pat Burns has resurfaced in New Jersey as the third Devils coach since the start of last season. Longtime Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock is now in charge of the Philadelphia Flyers, who fired Bill Barber one season after he was the NHL coach of the year.

Gone from the NHL champs are Scotty Bowman, the winningest coach in league history, and goalie Dominik Hasek -- both retired. The Red Wings also are without captain Steve Yzerman until at least January because of the knee injury that he played with during the postseason.

''I am definitely going to have some more responsibilities out there,'' Detroit's Sergei Fedorov said. ''I'm excited, no question about it.''

The season already got off for a rough start for Lewis. If replacing Bowman weren't tough enough, he was in a hospital Wednesday for treatment of a kidney stone.

By league mandate, all 30 arenas will have protective nets hung behind the goals and in the corners.

Last March, 13-year-old Brittanie Cecil died after she was struck in the head by a puck that deflected into the stands at a Columbus Blue Jackets game.

The nets are black to prevent glare for television viewers.

''Some fans don't like it, we understand that,'' NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. ''But I remain certain that this was the right thing to do. Actually, it was the only thing to do.

''If you sit back and you relax and you watch the game, within a minute you won't even know it's there.''

Fans will notice the elimination of a lot of the clutching and grabbing that has slowed offense down. A strict standard of interference has been mandated, with emphasis on cutting down impediments in the neutral zone and fouls committed by players who forecheck without the puck.

''It seems like they want to call a lot of interference stuff and a lot of penalties,'' Islanders forward Alexei Yashin said. ''It should be a help to make the game more exciting.''

As officials watch the players, the league will be keeping an eye on the men with the whistles. All televised games will be viewed by a supervisor in Toronto, making sure that the rules are being enforced -- no matter when the infractions occur.

''The fellows realize it's part of their job to follow the rules,'' director of officiating Andy Van Hellemond said. ''We have the American Hockey League for people to go down, perhaps, and work these kinks out.''

And games will be faster with the hurry-up faceoff in place. Once line changes are set, players have five seconds to be in position.

That means getting home earlier, too.

Bettman noted that quicker faceoffs in the preseason cut the average game to 2 hours, 17 minutes, down from 2:33 last season.

''There has been more skating and less standing around, which is a good thing,'' he said.

Time has passed quickly in three cities that are celebrating a decade with their teams. The Stars are embarking on their 10th year in Dallas, following their move from Minnesota. The Mighty Ducks are beginning their 10th season in Anaheim. They joined the NHL as an expansion team along with the Florida Panthers.

The Nashville Predators enter their fifth season with the promise to season-ticket holders that they will either make the playoffs or refund approximately $1 million from a ticket price increase.

Some teams saw their payrolls rise as they lured major free agents.

Bill Guerin moved from Boston to Dallas, Theo Fleury went from the Rangers to Chicago, and Tony Amonte left Chicago for Phoenix.

Hasek's retirement started a bit of a goaltending carousel.

Curtis Joseph left the Toronto Maple Leafs to take over in Detroit. That left Ed Belfour to leave Dallas for Toronto. Ron Tugnutt left the Blue Jackets for the Stars and will battle Marty Turco for the No. 1 job.

Mike Richter chose to stay with the Rangers, just as he did in summer 1998, when he and Joseph also were free agents. Back then, Joseph bolted Edmonton for Toronto.

Richter's signing in New York capped an $80 million free-agent shopping spree for Rangers general manager Glen Sather, who wooed center Bobby Holik from the Devils and Darius Kasparaitis from Colorado.

The Rangers have missed the playoffs every year since 1997 and are counting on these players, as well as Eric Lindros, Pavel Bure and captain Mark Messier, to help Trottier in his first season on Broadway.

Mario Lemieux hopes to play up to 75 Pittsburgh Penguins games as the nearly 37-year-old forward enters the third season of his comeback.

Former linemate Jaromir Jagr hopes to rebound in Washington, where the five-time NHL scoring champion had a disappointing 79 points in his first season with the Capitals.

Once the All-Star game comes, an old format will be reintroduced. With two Olympics featuring NHL players in the books, the league decided to scrap the North America vs. World format and return to an Eastern Conference-Western Conference matchup for the first time since 1997.

''We think it worked well, particularly in the Olympic years, but we think in terms of fan identification with players in the game, it makes sense to go back to a more traditional format,'' Bettman said.

The Los Angeles Kings are dipping into their history and returning a crown to their sweaters, sporting an updated version of the jerseys worn in their first season, 1967-68.

Royalty truly will be on display right before the regular season begins. Queen Elizabeth II will drop the ceremonial puck Sunday in a preseason game between San Jose and Vancouver.

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