By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The NHL is changing its rules in a way that could have a sneaky-huge impact on the Bruins this season, particularly guys like Patrice Bergeron. And his linemate Brad Marchand, likely along with many players across the league, is not happy about it.
The changes are coming at the faceoff dot, where Bergeron is routinely among the very best in the league in terms of efficiency. It’s not a rule change so much as a crackdown; referees are enforcing proper faceoffs more strictly. Two straight faceoff violations result in a minor penalty, which means the crackdown has resulted in an uptick in delay of game calls to start the preseason.
Marchand did not hesitate to rip the league’s changes, which were implemented in the Bruins’ preseason opener against the Canadiens.
“This faceoff rule is an absolute joke,” said Marchand after practice on Tuesday at Warrior Ice Arena, via the Boston Sports Journal. “That’s how you ruin the game of hockey by putting that in there, so they’re going to have to do something about that because we can’t play this year like that. It’s brutal.”
If players can’t adjust by the start of the regular season, increased faceoff violations would certainly lead to more power play goals, but could negatively affect the pace of play on the ice. The crackdown is designed to curb “cheating” at the faceoff dot, which has been common for years but rarely enforced with any kind of authority. Many centers would previously drop to their knees and win faceoffs with the back of their gloves or “time” their stick swipe perfectly. Now, players who take faceoffs will need to have their skates and stick set at designated spots on the ice before the puck is dropped or they’ll be kicked out, and two straight violations will result in penalties.
Bergeron is, perhaps inarguably, the very best faceoff man in the NHL. Over the past five seasons, he’s tops among all players with at least 5,000 faceoffs taken with an outrageous 59.3 percent success rate. Jonathan Toews is second at 57.2 percent. Bergeron has also been called out for “cheating” at the dot, which he rightfully brushed aside as something that’s “part of the game” when the Leafs complained about it during their 2013 first-round playoff series.
“If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying, right? That’s what everybody says,” Bergeron said in 2013, via the Boston Globe. “I think that’s what we’re all trying to do. I got kicked out [Monday] a few times as well. Sometimes you anticipate a little too fast when the linesman’s going to drop the puck. You go too fast and you get kicked out. It’s a part of the game.”
Obviously, Bergeron will need to make the same adjustments as everyone else at the faceoff circle this season, so his success rate in that department is worth monitoring. But the veteran center is so great at faceoffs in part because he’s versatile and unpredictable; he doesn’t have a go-to move or commit blatant violations as often as you might expect. So it’s fair to assume that he will continue to be among the best in the league at that particular skill.
That still won’t change the fact that players aren’t happy about the faceoff crackdown so far – and if the added penalties and slower games spill into the regular season, fans won’t be happy about it, either.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @Dolloff985 and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.