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The National Hockey League rules are the rules governing the play of the National Hockey League (NHL), a professional ice hockey organization. Infractions of the rules, such as offside and icing, lead to a stoppage of play and subsequent face-offs, while more serious infractions lead to penalties being assessed to the offending teams. The league also determines the specifications for playing equipment used in its games.
The rules are one of the two standard sets of ice hockey rules in the world. The rules themselves have evolved directly from the first organized indoor ice hockey game in Montreal in 1875, updated by subsequent leagues up to 1917, when the league adopted the existing National Hockey Association set of rules. While designed to govern play of games organized by the league, the NHL's rules are the basis for rules governing most ice hockey leagues in North America.
The rules differ slightly from the rules used in international games organized by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) such as the Olympics. The IIHF rules are themselves also based on Canadian rules of ice hockey dating back to the early 20th Century. The NHL and IIHF differ in the treatment of fighting and in playing rules, such as icing, the areas of play for goaltenders, helmet rules, officiating rules, timeouts and play reviews.
Near each end of the rink there is a red goal line spanning the width of the ice. It is used to judge goals and icing calls.
New since the 2005–06 NHL season, after testing in the American Hockey League, is a trapezoid marked behind each goalie net. The goalie can only play the puck within that area or in front of the goal line. If he plays the puck behind the goal line and not in the trapezoid, a 2-minute minor penalty for delay of game will be assessed by the referees. This rule is widely referred to as the "Brodeur rule", after New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, whose puckhandling behind the net is believed to be the cause for the rule. In 2014, the NHL adjusted the size of the trapezoid by two feet on both sides of the net
In the National Hockey League, between stoppages of play, teams have 18 seconds (five seconds for the visiting team, eight seconds for the home team, five seconds to line up at the faceoff location) to substitute their players, except during TV timeouts. TV timeouts are two minutes long, and occur three times per period, during normal game stoppages after the 6, 10, and 14 minute marks of the period, unless there is a power play, a goal that has just been scored, or the stoppage was as a result of an icing. Each team may also take one 30 second time-out, but it may only be taken during a normal stoppage of play.
A goal is scored when the puck passes entirely across the red line painted between the goal posts and below the crossbar. A goal may be disallowed under the following circumstances:
When a regular-season game is tied at the end of regulation, it goes into a 4-on-4, five-minute overtime period after a one-minute rest period with teams keeping the same attacking direction. If a goal is scored during this period, the game ends and the team that scored the goal wins the game. If there is no scoring in the five-minute overtime, the game goes into a three-round shootout with the home team given the choice of shooting or defending first. This sequence ends when one team mathematically has more shootout goals than the other, thus winning the game. If neither team emerges victorious, the shootout continues one frame at a time until one team scores and the other does not, in which case the team that scores is given the win. A team that loses a game in overtime or the shootout receives one point in the standings; the awarding of game points to losing teams is a point of debate among fans and the media.
Shootouts are not used in the playoffs; instead, a playoff game tied at the end of the regulation enters a 20-minute 5-on-5 sudden-death overtime. The game continues indefinitely in this format until a goal is scored; the team that scores immediately wins the game. Additional 20-minute overtime periods are played as necessary until the winning goal is scored. In this case the teams switch sides as usual between periods, with a 20 minute intermission (normal length) between periods.
In ice hockey, play is said to be offside if a player on the attacking team crosses the offensive blue line and into the offensive zone before the puck (unless the defensive team brings the puck into their own zone). A violation occurs when an offside player touches the puck. If a player crosses the line ahead of the puck but his team is not in possession of it, the linesman will raise his arm to signal a delayed offside; when all players from the offside team leave their offensive zone ("tag up" in the neutral zone) the linesman washes out the delayed call. When an offside violation occurs, the linesman blows the play dead, and a faceoff is conducted in the neutral zone. During the 2004-05 lockout, the league removed the "two-line offside pass" rule, which required a stoppage in play if a pass originating from inside a team's defending zone was completed on the offensive side of the center line, unless the puck crossed the line before the player. The removal of the two-line offside was one of several rule changes intended to increase overall scoring, which had been in decline since the early 1990s. The only time a player may precede the puck into the attacking zone with the puck behind in the neutral zone is if none of his teammates are in the attacking zone and the player with the puck has control of the puck in the estimation of the linesman (e.g. short-sticking/spin-o-rama).
Icing occurs when a player shoots the puck across both the center line and the opposing team's goal line without the puck going through the goal crease. When icing occurs, a linesman stops play if a defending player (other than the goaltender) crosses the imaginary line that connects the two faceoff dots in their defensive zone before an attacking player is able to. Play is resumed with a faceoff in the defending zone of the team that committed the infraction. Icing is not enforced for a team that is short-handed. If the goaltender makes a move from his net to play the puck, the icing is immediately waved off (in contrast to minor league and international hockey, where the goaltender must play the puck for it to be waved off). Icing can also be waved off if, in the officials' opinion, the defending team had a viable opportunity to play the puck before crossing the goal line. After an icing, a TV timeout cannot be called.
Following the 2004–2005 lockout, the icing rule insists that the team in violation of icing the puck is not allowed to make any line changes before the following faceoff.
The Trushinski bylaw says players who are blind in one or both eyes are ineligible to play. The rule is named for Frank Trushinski, a minor league hockey player for the Kitchener Greenshirts. Trushinski lost his sight in one eye in a game in 1921, but was allowed to continue playing. In a later game, he suffered a skull fracture which cost him most of the sight in his other eye.
A penalty is a punishment for infractions of the rules. A referee makes most penalty calls while the linesmen may call only obvious technical infractions such as too many men on the ice. In the NHL, the linesmen may also stop play due to player injury, and may report to the referees during any stoppage in play, any circumstances pertaining to major, match, or misconduct penalties, abuse of officials (physical or otherwise), unsportsmanlike conduct, or double-minor penalties for high-sticking causing injury, that were not detected by the referees.
During a penalty, the player who committed the infraction is sent to the penalty box. Small infractions are deemed minor penalties, and the player is kept off the ice for two minutes of gameplay. A larger infraction such as high-sticking that causes the victimized player to have a visible physical injury is deemed a double-minor, and the perpetrator is kept off the ice for four minutes. More dangerous infractions, such as fighting, are deemed major penalties and have a duration of five minutes. The penalized team cannot replace the player on the ice and is thus shorthanded for the duration of the penalty. Normally, hockey teams have five skaters (plus the goaltender) on the ice. If a minor or major penalty is called, play becomes "five-on-four"—five skaters versus four skaters.
This situation is called a power play for the non-penalized team and a penalty kill for the penalized team. A team is far more likely to score on a power play than during normal play. If the penalized team is scored on during a minor penalty, the penalty immediately terminates. A double-minor is divided into two separate two-minute minor penalties that are served consecutively. This means that if a goal is scored by the team on the power play before the first minor is over (before the two-minute mark of the power play), the first minor ends and the penalty clock goes down to two minutes. If a goal is scored during the second minor (after the two-minute mark of the power play), the penalty ends. Unlike minor penalties, major penalties must be served to their full completion, regardless of number of goals scored during the power play. When a penalty is about to be called, an official will raise his arm to signal what is referred to as a "delayed penalty". Play will continue until the offending team touches the puck, at which point, the official will blow the play dead and assess the penalty. If the team committing a penalty yields a goal and is already shorthanded because of a minor penalty, the penalty will be called when the goal is scored, and the team scoring a goal will be awarded a fresh power play. Furthermore, when goals are scored, penalties come off the board in the order in which they were called (if multiple penalties have been called).
The offending team cannot touch the puck during a delayed penalty. This usually results in the opposing team replacing their goalie with an extra forward until the offending team touches the puck, since the offending team must touch the puck in order to score on the empty net. This situation, however, can result in an own goal. For example:
There are exceptions to the rule where a team cannot replace a player on the ice after a penalty: mutual majors for fighting, where there are two participants in a fight, will result in each person receiving five minutes, but the penalties will not affect the on-ice strength of either team (play remains five-on-five), unless a player is deemed to be the instigator of the fight, in which case that player will receive an additional two-minute minor. There are also "coincidental" minors in which the penalties called against both teams are simultaneous and equal in length, so that neither team receives a power play, with teams skating four-on-four.
After the 2004–05 NHL lockout, a new rule was instituted that imposes a minor delay-of-game penalty on any defensive player who directs the puck out of bounds (e.g., over the glass into the stands or into the safety netting). When the puck is shot into either of the players’ benches, the penalty will not apply.
There are also game- and 10-minute-misconduct penalties which are reserved for infractions such as continued disputing of a call with an official or for intent-to-injure penalties. A player receiving a misconduct penalty does not cause his team to play short-handed unless he also receives a minor, major, or match penalty in addition to the misconduct penalty.
Various combinations of penalties may also result in match-ups such as 5-on-3, 4-on-3, 4-on-4 or even 3-on-3. A team, however, may not have fewer than four players (including the goaltender) on the ice at any point in the game.
After a penalty is assessed, play resumes with a face-off in the offending team's defensive zone under most circumstances.
The maximum number of players on an NHL roster is 23.
In August 2010, the NHL held an "R & D camp" at the Toronto Maple Leafs’ practice facility, where rule changes under consideration were given trial runs. Scrimmages at the camp, featuring some top players eligible for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, experimented with changes such as two-on-two overtime, shallower goal nets, a referee viewing the play from an elevated off-ice platform, and a rink with three face-off circles instead of the traditional five.
The following table lists some of the key differences between NHL and IIHF rules.
|Rule or Term||NHL||IIHF|
|TV/Commercial timeouts||Three per period||Two per period (IIHF games)|
|Rink dimensions||200 feet (60.96 m) by 85 feet (25.91 m)||60 metres (200 ft) by 25–30 metres (82–98 ft)|
|Radius of goal crease||Truncated 6 ft (1.83 m) semi-circle||Full 180 cm (5.9 ft) semi-circle|
|Goaltender trapezoid||Goaltender may only play the puck behind the goal line within the trapezoidal area behind the net||No such rule (Goaltender may handle the puck anywhere behind the goal line)|
|Protection of Goalkeeper||No such rule (An attacking player may stand in the goal crease)||Play is stopped if an attacking player stands in the goal crease|
|Faceoffs||Visiting team puts their stick on the ice first||Defending team puts their stick on the ice first|
|Penalty shot||The player fouled either must be in control or could have obtained control of the puck. Only the player fouled must take the shot; if he cannot due to being injured on the play, another player that was on the ice at time of penalty must take it.||The player fouled must be in control of the puck. Only the player fouled must take the shot; if he cannot due to being injured on the play, another player that was on the ice at time of penalty must take it.|
|Game misconduct penalty||10 minutes||20 minutes|
|Match penalty||10 minutes||25 minutes|