The NHL always seems to be reviewing new ways to create offense, reduce injuries and increase excitement for fans, and this off-season looks to be no exception. The general managers of all 30 NHL teams usually table various ideas, and those ideas are mulled over by the NHLPA and the “competition committee.” If both sides can find agreement, the league ratifies the new rules and usually implements them for the next season.
There are three big ideas that are getting traction this year, including a modified overtime format to reduce shootouts, a challenge system for controversial plays and a revamp of the all-star game to provide more excitement for fans. All of these would be interesting to see reflected in NHL 16, but depending on how elaborate some of this gets, it might be something that has to be patched in.
The big push is to reduce the number of shootout games in the NHL, as the once-popular gimmick is now seen as a bit of a crutch for teams that aren’t as well-rounded as some of the league leaders. With NHL games already going for five minutes of 4-on-4 overtime before the shootout, the idea seems to be that it will give the open ice even more of a chance to shine. The two proposed models are: let the whole five minutes be 3 on 3 or have a seven-minute period that allows a split between 4-on-4 and 3-on-3 action. Wherever the rule falls, it’s going to mean more open lanes for creative passes and dangerous shots.
For NHL 16, it’s already pretty easy to take advantage of the open ice afforded by overtime, so having even more of it is going to be a big help for those on offense. With the puck carrier being the QB in the offensive zone, it just allows for so many one-timer and wrister chances in the slot. Defenses will most likely have to collapse into a very small box or triangle to avoid the deep bomb, but that’s going to allow for some side door plays on the half boards. Then again, with the sped-up clock of most games, this gimmick won’t last more than a few chances.
With football, the coach’s challenge allows for a risk-reward situation where a coach is looking to risk a timeout in order to have the right call made. It also adds drama to the proceedings, as there are those great moments where everyone is waiting to see which way the officials will fall on a close interception or end-zone score. Hockey is looking to get into this as well, but without the flag tossing. The idea would be that the coach would have to initiate the challenge by calling the ref over on certain plays. Overtime plays would automatically be reviewed.
What’s really crazy is that the NHL only has one timeout per team per game, so that means you would have to have your timeout in order to initiate challenges. It’s an interesting wrinkle, and I wonder if it won’t be tweaked before the challenge system sees the light of day. Regardless, the aim is to review goaltender interference calls as well as pucks going over the glass for a delay of game penalty. These two calls have not been reviewable at all before now, and they often cause massive momentum swings in a game.
For NHL 16, it would be really wild to have to manage your timeout (which boosts the energy of your players if used) in order to challenge plays. It’s hard to say how this system could be implemented, as it seems sports games often fudge some calls in order to bait you into challenging. As it stands currently, NHL 15 has referees reviewing high-stick goals and pucks that are kicked in, but that’s about it. This new rule would require some expanded AI logic, presentation and a challenge mechanic from the pause screen, and I could see EA struggling to implement this in time for release. With how many wacky goalie interference calls NHL 15 has, though, it would be nice to have some way of reviewing them.
All-Star Game Revamp
The other idea that’s coming into focus in recent days is a retooled All-Star Game that would possibly involve breaking up all of the voted and appointed all-star players into small teams, where they would play a March Madness of sorts — a tournament that played down to crown one winner. The conceit would be to create a feeling of inertia and meaning to the proceedings, but one wonders if that might just be a big slog to get through. Conversely, they could just make the game worth home advantage in the Stanley Cup Finals for the winning conference, but that would require going back to conference teams in the All-Star Game.
This is another idea that’s hard to see the EA team implementing in time for NHL 16’s release, but it really depends on how elaborate any retooling is. If it was a tournament format, the game already supports that kind of functionality on a basic level, and it would just mean that there would have to be some kind of basic player draft to get things going. It would be kind of a neat fantasy element to help give the All-Star Game some meaning, and it even dovetails nicely into HUT, with a mix of players and scenarios being possible.
None of these rules are set in stone, and it’s possible that only one of them will make it for next season (and NHL 16). The league has always been hesitant to do anything too drastic that messes with the history books (increasing net size, messing with overtime in the playoffs), so we get some of this stuff that exists on the fringes. The 3-on-3 overtime could provide a lot of excitement in the real rinks and the virtual ones, and the coach’s challenge really makes a lot of sense considering how many calls get blown. We’ll have to see what makes the cut in June, and then maybe EA can jam them in for release — or soon after with a patch.