I was going to post the description of the changes on the Thrashers' web site, but this summary and analysis to be much better. Scott Burnside wrote some good material during the lockout and the fact that he's a terrific hockey writer based in Atlanta only increases his appeal.
Overall, I'm happy with the changes, since they are all changes that have been bandied about for several years, but the NHL, seemingly oblivious to its decline in popularity and captured by its purist elements, never had the guts to go with them. As a great man sings, when you ain't got nothin', you got nothin' to lose.
The reduction of goalies' equipment is the most important change, in my mind, because save percentages have gotten completely out of whack and shooters have almost no net to shoot at, not through any skill of the goalie, but rather because they look like the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man. The expansion of the offensive zone will also make offense a little easier.
I'm skeptical about two of the changes. First, I agree with the idea of calling hooking and obstruction as they are defined in the rule book, but I've heard the claim that those penalties are going to be called dozens of times now and the fact that the NHL is still having to emphasize a crackdown to its officials should tell you how effective those previous efforts have been. I can't wait for Pat Quinn, the Canadian Ted Kennedy, to start launching whiny fusillades every time one of the dinosaurs on the Maple Leafs tries to play defense the "old-fashioned" way and gets called for muggery. The fact that obstruction/hooking crackdowns tend to occur at the start of the season and are forgotten by the playoffs, the time when interest in the NHL is at its highest, only increases my skepticism that the emphasis will help with the NHL's popularity. One factor that does make me mildly optimistic is the fact that the NHL is going to more form-fitting uniforms, which will make obstruction a little harder.
I'm also not overly happy with the restrictions on goalies playing the puck because it will increase the incentive for teams to play Philly-style dump and chase, which isn't aesthetically pleasing at all. Call me crazy, but I much prefer a rush through the neutral zone than the pattern of cross the red-line, dump the puck in, mug the opposing defenseman behind the net, throw the puck in front, and pray that one of your teammates is there to bludgeon the puck into the net.
I am happy with the changes that weren't made, namely expanding the size of the nets, which seems to me to be a cheap way to increase scoring without requiring more skill on the part of the players, and expanding the playoffs, since 16 is a nice number and there's no reason to go higher in a 30-team league.
One other point: the new schedules will increase games against divisional opponents, which should help the Thrashers somewhat since they aren't in a strong division. On the other hand, I'm sure that fans of Tampa, Florida, Carolina, and Washington are all saying the same things.