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How one forward's power play rewrote hockey's rules

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In the National Hockey League, players often shoot a dirty look at a referee after drawing a penalty.

These days, opponents and even his Detroit Red Wings teammates occasionally glance with the same disdain at veteran winger Brendan Shanahan.

"I can handle it," Shanahan said after practice at the team's Joe Louis Arena the other day. "I expected it ... that a few players might make it personal with me."

Shanahan was referring to the NHL's new rulebook. It was, after all, his instigation that led to the league reevaluating a game that even professional players described as "chess matches" - low-scoring affairs in which the most talented players were mugged on their way to the net.

After the NHL cancelled last season because of a labor dispute, league executives radically rewrote the game's rulebook. Gone are the goaltenders' Michelin Man-like pads. Passes across two lines, previously whistled as offside, are opening the game up. League officials have limited goaltenders' ability to handle the puck, moved the blueline to create space in the offensive zone, and, most controversially, instructed referees to strictly enforce rules penalizing players for hooking and certain types of holding.

Though the new version of the game has increased scoring and brought fans back to the arenas, several stars have expressed displeasure with the new rules. And with Shanahan.

Sports leagues have been known to rewrite rules because of individual athletes. Wilt Chamberlain's dominance prompted the National Basketball Association to widen the key. Major League Baseball lowered the pitcher's mound after Bob Gibson posted an earned-run average of 1.12, a number right out of the deadball era. But the NHL's makeover had nothing to do with Brendan Shanahan's performance.

Rather, it traces back to an initiative he organized in the fall of 2004. While the NHL and its players association were staring each other down in collective bargaining sessions, Shanahan extended invitations for a two-day summit meeting on hockey's future.

At the time, few envisioned that it would have much of an effect on the game. Many accused the winger of grandstanding. "Some people told me that, with the lock-out, this was the wrong time to do something like this," Shanahan says. "I thought it was absolutely the right time - even the only time - to do it."


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