The American Hockey League will make some big rule changes in 2014-15, and as we've learned in the past, the AHL is often used as a testing ground for this stuff before it reaches the NHL level.
Hybrid icing was the big recent example of that. The new icing rule -- which originated in the USHL and the NCAA -- went into effect in the NHL prior to the 2013-14 season, one year after it was implemented at the AHL level as a test.
So these new AHL rules introduced Thursday for 2014-15 could be far-reaching. Let's run through them.
Longer overtime, with some 3-on-3 play
NHL general managers have debated whether or not they'd like to see 4-on-4 expanded longer than the current five minutes for regular season games as a way to cut down on the number of games decided by the shootout. There's also been talk of moving to 3-on-3 play for a portion of OT.
The AHL will test both ideas.
They will extend the 4-on-4 sudden death overtime period from five minutes to seven minutes in 2014-15. Playing strength will be 4-on-4 until the first whistle following the three minute mark of the period. After that whistle, they'll play 3-on-3 until the end of OT.
If the game is still tied after the seven minutes, they'll go to the usual three-player shootout to decide things.
The consensus seems to be that while shootouts are exciting and that we're never going back to tie games in NHL, the league would benefit by having more games decided by actual hockey and not a glorified 1-on-1 skills competition. It'll be fun to see it play out at the AHL level.
Two fights and you're out
There's an overall trend in hockey at all levels towards less fighting. USA Hockey and Hockey Canada have considered an outright ban at junior levels, and the USHL has talked about it as well. Fighting already is banned in the college game; in the Canadian major junior ranks, the three leagues have taken steps to curb fighting, if not outright stop it.
Beginning in 2014-15, if you fight twice in an AHL game, you'll get a game misconduct. The current rule at the NHL level is three fights and you're out of the game.
Keep your helmet on
The emphasis on player safety continues, primarily with head safety. New in the AHL in 2014-15, players must keep their helmets on during game play or they'll receive a minor penalty.
Currently at the NHL level, you're not required to replace your helmet if you lose it during play. But now in the AHL players will be forced to either leave the ice or put the helmet back on immediately (with the chin strap fastened!) or they'll be subject to two minutes in the box.