Wider Lines and Trapezoids: The Rule Changes of the 2004-05 AHL Season

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Let’s go back in time, shall we?? Back to the season that wasn’t for the NHL, 2004-05. Yes, the lockout year was one that still burns eternal for some people, but since then it’s been….alright, right??

In any case, that year also brought about an interesting design of the AHL, too. With the NHL out of commission, the AHL changed a heck of a lot in terms of their rules during that year. First, the most drastic of changes– which was doubling the width of the red and blue lines from 12 inches to 24.

“I think the reasoning behind the wider lines was to improve game flow by adding space to the neutral zone and reducing offside plays,” said Jason Chaimovitch, the Vice President of Communications of the AHL in an email. “The blue lines and red line went from 12″ to 24″ wide, and the goal line was moved back from 13′ out to 11′ out. The neutral zone went from 54′ to 58′ and it became easier to stay onside, in theory.”

While the look was anything but pleasing to those people who don’t like change, the idea of the wider lines, in hindsight, makes sense. It’s also something that would probably greatly reduce the offsides video reviews that seem to be popping up all over the NHL.  The biggest thing, however, was that the two-line pass violation was still in effect, but with the wider lines, the theory of less of those being called should be there.

Ryan Suter was in the AHL at the time with the Milwaukee Admirals and while he played with the wider lines, he didn’t seem to notice all that much. “You didn’t really notice the changes that much. I guess it still seemed like the same game for the most part,” Suter told The Tennessean in July 2005.

Patrick Sharp, who played with the Philadelphia Phantoms said, “It gives you a little more speed in the neutral zone. That is good for a forward like myself. Now you can really stretch those blue lines and go for the home-run passes.”

The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins as a whole liked it with then GM Craig Patrick saying the “fat lines” made the zones bigger and better, while defenseman Rob Scuderi said it kept more pucks in the zone and kept the forecheck going.

The wider lines did appear in some games in the 2003-04 season, mostly on Canadian rinks, as those teams seemed most comfortable with adapting their ice surface. The players, coaches, and other involved gave it a positive review; thus allowing the AHL to fully adopt it during the 2004-05 season.  In the end– it was not across the board welcomed by the NHL, as they scrapped the wider lines at the end of the 2004-05 season.

On top of the wide lines, the tag-up offsides was re-instituted, no-touch icing was brought in, the shootouts became a thing again, and then there was that one rule that was a seven-week trial to start: the goalie trapezoid.

“I remember going over to the Olympia here in Springfield when a bunch of players, officials and hockey ops people were on the ice trying to figure out what the lines should look like. That’s where the trapezoid was born,” reminisced Chaimovitch. However, at the onset, some people were a bit outspoken about the trapezoid.

Then Hamilton Bulldogs goalie Olivier Michaud thought the worst of the trapezoid. “For a goaltender, it will mean that you’ll be less involved during the game,” Michaud told the Hamilton Spectator in Februrary of 2004. “But it’s going to be dangerous for defensemen because of the checking. There will be injuries because of it.”

Michaud’s goaltending partner, J-F Damphousse believed that he didn’t think doing something like that was possible. “Goaltenders have worked hard learning to handle the puck and you can’t penalize a goaltender for working hard at his game. You can make the equipment smaller if you want, but I don’t think you can apply this rule,” stated Damphousse in the same Spectator article.

Long-time AHL goalie Neil Little had the same worries about his teammates when talking to the Courier-Post in October 2004, as the trial had started: “These defensemen are going to get run through the glass. Those forwards are going full tilt and I can’t go out there to help them out. We played a (preseason) game the other night and it was a freak show. It’s going to cause all sorts of turnovers.”

Rochester Americans goalies Ryan Miller and Tom Askey were against the no-touch zone, while Hershey Bears goalies Peter Budaj and Tom Lawson were in favor of it. There were others that were in favor of it when all was said and done. Kevin Klein, who was with the Milwaukee Admirals at the time, was very much in favor of it from a skaters standpoint. “It was huge because as a defenseman you’ve got to get on your horse right away and track down pucks in the corner because the goalies can’t play it,” Klein said in July 2005. “When you get a good-skating team like ourselves, you can jump on teams and keep offensive pressure on them.”

From a coach’s standpoint, Mike Kitchen— then coach of the St. Louis Blues– was in favor of the rule change to the goalie movement. “I don’t mind the goaltending rule at all,” Kitchen told The Globe and Mail in December of 2004. “It keeps them from wandering out in the corners and protecting the puck. You can’t hit the goalies, so they get pretty bold by wandering all over.”

“We did a bunch of things that year: Shootout, stricter interpretation of restraining fouls, and stricter supplementary discipline on attempt to injure cases,” mentioned Chaimovitch. “The bottom line is that once the NHL started playing again, we needed to mirror what they were doing. With the portability of our players (more than 350 call-ups every year), it’s important that the rule book is the same in Hershey on Saturday as it is in Washington on Sunday.  The most notable result of that was the icing rule. We played no-touch icing in ’04-’05 and it was well received, but the NHL didn’t adopt it so we switched back to touch icing in ’05-’06.”

It was a drastic change from the norm. Not to mention the blue-ice experiment in Buffalo for the Rochester Americans games (which was very experimental and only approved for a couple games), but you can still see the changes today. The tag-up offsides and trapezoid were brought into the NHL when the lockout ended, while the others are just a fun memory for us all. But, who knows what could have happened if the NHL adopted the wider lines. Could the world class players been able to be more creative?? Would it have slowed down the speed of some of the younger players coming in?? Would there be reviews for interference as much as we have now?? The world will never know.

Thanks to Jason Chaimovitch for his help in this. Follow him on Twitter: @JChaimo

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