Throw the Book at Them: NHL Rules Enforcement 2013

by Jacob Saltiel
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Book’em, Charlie
from TheStar.com

Snowing the Goalie and Post-Whistle Facewashing

On Saturday, an amusing snowjob by Tomas Plekanec turned ugly for Habs fans when referees Brad Meier and Brad Watson assessed him a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. The Leafs scored the game winning goal on the ensuing powerplay while Habs fans were likely still cursing out their tv monitors or nearby ushers. This reaction is understandable, since prior to the lockout, snowing the goalie was tolerated by officials and completely infuriating to irate defencemen whose responses were almost uniformly to crush.*

The NHL rules enforcement committee had a meeting about this common sequence of events, and the result is that NHL instigators will no longer be able to use snowing the goal as a reliable way to goad opponents into taking penalties.

Kerry Fraser, to many in the Toronto-area a hack of a referee, is now an excellent columnist for TSN.ca, answering fans questions about rules. Writing specifically on the above-mentioned incident, he had this to say:

“During the officials training camp held prior to the startup of this shortened regular season the referees were directed to set a firm standard from the very beginning so that this ‘cheap’ tactic [i.e., snowing the goalie] does not snowball! Additionally, players that enter a scrum and grab the face shield or utilize a ‘stinky glove’ face wash in an attempt to incite their opponent run the risk of being assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty without warning.”

These two circumstances listed above are not subtle changes to rules enforcement. Considering how often post-whistle skirmishes include face-washing and bearhugging faces between players, this could result in plenty of penalties as officials no longer have to issue warnings before putting someone in the box.

If you’re a fan of the Bruins, this rule-change sucks. Based on the anecdotal evidence from watching several Habs-Bruins games over the years, it seems that it’s an explicit tactic of the Bruins to intimidate by engaging opponents in post-whistle shenanigans. While tough play in hockey is great, it should happen between the whistles during gameplay. There’s nothing tough, or ‘old-timey’ about jumping players after the whistle, and before this re-enforcement of the rules, it was too easy for teams to get away with either a warning or coincidental minors.

These two tweaks aren’t really rule changes, since the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was always supposed to cover this kind of post-play shenanigan, but it’s good to see the NHL do something about it.

Gloving the Puck and One-handed Slashing

This one should be obvious to anyone who’s watched more than one of the games in the new season, but players can no longer close their hands on the pucks after faceoffs.

According to this article straight from NHL.com, the rules have been changed to disallow what was previously acceptable. Faceoffs had turned into 1-second wrestling matches as it was fine for centres in to grab the puck and throw it behind them to their defence.

In addition, it’s also a penalty to close one’s hand on the puck anywhere in the rink, where before players in their defensive zone were allowed to make hand passes. It’s unclear why this was ever allowed, as it seems like an unfair advantage for defending teams, particularly in a sport that has ongoing debates about how to increase scoring.

Removing the advantage of defending teams from throwing the puck isn’t just about creating more offence, it’s also about rewarding players for actually using their hockey sticks- what an absurd notion! Chances are good that what fans want to see is players skating upright and using their stickhandling to create plays- not men in hockey gear scrabbling on the ice to play catch with a  puck. Therefore, any rule change the discourages skaters from using their hands on the puck is a good one.

Not to be overlooked, at the bottom of the aforementioned article is an explanation about how slashing is being cracked down on in a big way. As you can see from the video they supply to illustrate their point, Del Zotto doesn’t really give it to Kennedy that hard, rather he gives him a series of little hacks as he skates around the ice. The intention of Del Zotto is try and interrupt Kennedy’s puck possession by getting a piece of his stick, but he repeatedly gets Kennedy in the hands. It’s excellent that the NHL wants to crack down on this, as there is no reason to reward players who cannot establish body-position on the players they are defending by allowing them to wave their sticks instead.

This should result in a ton of penalties to careless defencemen and backchecking forwards, and could result in more scoring from powerplays, and also more free-flowing play in general. For Habs fans, this rule will probably require some adjustment from Subban whenever he returns. He loves to hack at players at all over the ice.

Taken together, these enforcing the rules on the books and changing the other two named above should result in more flowing hockey and less camera-time on garbage after whistles. I doubt anyone will miss that part of the game. Well, anyone outside of Boston or Rangers fans in New York, whose teams seem to specialize in that kind of rule-bending play.

***

*This statement is not founded on any sociological surveying or some kind of statistic.

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