The NHL has made some changes in response to COVID guidelines, one of which could make for some challenging calls.
Arenas will no longer have glass behind the player benches. The goal of the change is to allow for more circulation. From the NHL:
Removal of Shielding Behind the Bench: To allow for air flow to more easily move away from the benches where Players and Coaches are in close proximity to one another during games, effective today, Clubs/Arenas will remove the partitions of shielding that are behind the home and visiting team benches.
Bench area has a new look with there being no glass, as per the NHL’s COVID protocols. pic.twitter.com/9GL6vQPo6s
— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) February 4, 2021
Of course, that glass is also important when it comes to pucks going out of play.
It’s a penalty to clear the puck over the glass from the defensive zone. That includes the section of glass behind the player benches. From Rule 63.2:
[A minor penalty shall be imposed…] (iii) On any player who shoots or bats (using his hand or his stick) the puck directly (non-deflected) out of the playing surface from his defending zone, except where there is no glass. The determining factor shall be the position of the puck when it was shot or batted by the offending player.
If contact with the puck occurs while the puck is inside the defending zone, and subsequently goes out of play, the minor penalty shall be assessed.
When the puck is shot over the glass ‘behind’ the players’ bench, the penalty will be assessed;
There’s no longer glass behind the bench, but the penalty still applies. Now it’ll be up to the linesmen to make that determination as to whether or not the puck would have cleared the bench glass.
Effectively, a player can be penalized for ‘puck over glass’ without actually shooting the puck over the glass.
The NHL’s other changes include physical distance, time spent in the arena, and air cleaning:
From the NHL:
Limitation of Time at the Game Arena: In order to minimize (to the extent practical) the period of time for possible exposure and transmission of COVID-19 while Players are gathered at the arena, effective today, Players and Coaching staff are being advised, whenever practicable, to arrive at the Game arena no more than 1 hour and 45 minutes before puck drop, except to receive necessary treatment or to engage in preparations in advance of the Game. On game days (and non-game days), meetings shall be conducted virtually, to the greatest extent possible. Further, Players should leave the arena as expeditiously as possible after the conclusion of each game.
Physical Distancing in Team Spaces: In order to reduce to the extent possible the number of Players in a room at the same time, each Club shall take steps to utilize (or create where necessary) additional locker room space for the home and visiting teams, such that physical distancing of a least six (6) feet between players at each of their stalls is accomplished. Each Club shall communicate its specific plans to the League in this regard, by no later than Wednesday, February 10. The League will provide information regarding portable locker room stalls to Clubs that will be building out new space to meet this requirement.
Air Filtration and Air Cleaning: The League is considering adoption of a requirement for Clubs/Arenas to deploy portable air cleaners with HEPA behind the Player bench areas, in order to improve indoor air quality and mitigate airborne viral transmission. The League will send a further communication to Clubs/arenas once it has specific requirements in this regard.
Look sharp, stripes. You;’ll need to keep an eye out for those pucks going out of play — including their trajectory behind the benches.
With puck tracking temporarily shelved, there’s currently no available tech solution to help out. Of course, the league can always take some of that protective netting and string it up at glass height behind the benches to provide a reference point.
Let’s hope that isn’t necessary.