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Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara (L) hits Montreal Canadiens Max Pacioretty into a glass stanchion during the second period of NHL hockey play in Montreal, March 8, 2011. Pacioretty suffered a broken vertebra and severe concussion on the play. Picture taken March 8, 2011. REUTERS/Shaun Best (Shaun Best/Reuters)
Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara (L) hits Montreal Canadiens Max Pacioretty into a glass stanchion during the second period of NHL hockey play in Montreal, March 8, 2011. Pacioretty suffered a broken vertebra and severe concussion on the play. Picture taken March 8, 2011. REUTERS/Shaun Best (Shaun Best/Reuters)

David Shoalts

NHL moving toward a safer rink Add to ...

There will be a new look in the NHL this season thanks to its research and development camp.

None of the changes will be the result of any experiments with the playing rules that drew most of the attention over the two-day camp, but all of them will have at least some impact on the game.

The one sure change is the addition of curved, spring-loaded glass at the end of the players’ benches. Mike Murphy, the NHL’s senior vice-president of hockey operations, said Thursday they “have already been approved and are now ready to be installed.”

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They will replace the straight glass panels and padded stanchions at the end of the benches that have played a role in many player injuries. The cry went up to replace them last season when Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens was seriously injured when he was ridden into a stanchion by Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins. Players hitting the spring-loaded curved glass will bounce off it rather than suffer a sudden, jarring collision.

Other measures to be adopted this season all concern goals – both the kind that are scored and the net kind.

Expected to be approved are a verification line in the goal net to assist in video reviews of goals, a high-definition camera in each net for the same purpose, clear plastic skirts on the goal netting to replace the old white skirts to make it easier for referees to see if the puck crosses the goal line, and thinner netting will be used to make it easier for the high-definition cameras from above and in the net to pick up the puck and the goal line.

None of those ideas involve a rule change, which makes it easier for them to be implemented. Officially, since they concern making video reviews of goals easier, they do not require the usual protocol of approval from the league’s general managers, the competition committee and board of governors. But the changes were, or will be, run by all of those groups.

Murphy and other NHL officials are not sure just when some of the measures, such as the thinner netting, will be brought in because of logistical challenges such as manufacturing and distributing it to all 30 NHL arenas.

The NHL would also like to use a shallower net this season but that is uncertain for two reasons, even though its use at the development camp received good reviews. First, it does involve a rule change since the dimensions of the net are in the rule book, and second, the manufacturers may not be able to produce enough nets for the start of the season. But if the nets become available, the league could fast-track the approval process.

The new nets are 40 inches deep instead of the usual 44, which is to create more room behind the net for the players.

“It gives defencemen a little more room behind the net and it gives the skilled player a little more room to stuff the puck [into the net]” Murphy said.

The verification line is a simple yet effective change that is certain to defuse more than a few controversies this season.

It is a green or yellow line (the colour has not been chosen yet) painted three inches behind the goal line in the net. It will be used in video reviews to help determine if the puck crossed the goal line.

Too often, the referee’s and the camera’s view of the puck and the goal line is obscured by players or their equipment. With the verification line, if the puck is touching it and can be seen while the goal line is obscured, it is obviously a goal since the puck cannot touch the verification line unless it has already crossed the goal line.

The league will also make sure there is a high-definition camera in each net. Previously, net cameras were used only in the Stanley Cup semi-finals and final and when they were provided by the television networks. The difference with the new cameras is they will be higher on the middle post in the net in order to see more of the goal line.

“We liked it so much [from the playoffs]we’ll put it in all games in all rinks,” said Brendan Shanahan, the NHL’s senior vice-president for player safety and hockey operations. “It’s mounted in a way that if a player slides into the net and hits it, it breaks away but it doesn’t fall to the ice.”

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