Marty Turco of the Stars talks to NHL referee Marc Joanette during a break. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
I’m a little unsettled by two of the league’s three newest rulebook additions.
The first: The first power play faceoff will automatically be taken in the penalized team’s zone.
The most difficult part of the power play, especially for dump and chase teams, is to get the puck in – and controlled in - the attacking zone. Now, right off the bat, the team with the man advantage doesn’t have to worry about half of that problem and is essentially handed a scoring opportunity.
Not to mention it takes the speed of a rush completely out of the equation.
As free agency looms, you can be sure faceoff specialists everywhere will be picking up the tab tonight.
The second: "Any contact between opposing players while pursuing the puck on an icing must be for the sole purpose of playing the puck and not for eliminating the opponent from playing the puck. Unnecessary or dangerous contact could result in penalties being assessed to the offending player."
While I’m on board with eliminating the need for players to hurl their carcasses into a solid, reinforced wall to decide if the whistle should be blown, this rule isn’t rigid enough.
The NHL product is better now than it was before the lockout, largely because of the crackdown on obstruction, but a more serious problem was created when discretion was taken out of the hands of the referees.
Without the refs being able to call penalties as they see fit, small incidents – such as a tap on the shin pad being called one play, but not the next – are whistled down more inconsistently and stand out to any critic.
The fact is, some of those cheap little calls are difficult to detect and because the NHL pressures its officials to be strict on stick work, no precedent can be set in a game and those small “chippy” shots gain far too much influence on the outcome.
If this rule doesn’t scream for the use of discretion, I don’t know what does. I don’t believe the officials are to blame for inconsistency. The root of any grievance fans have with NHL officiating starts at ridiculous alterations – like this one – that meddle with a referee’s ability to call the game.
In the name of keeping the excitement of a fast chase and the small chance a scoring opportunity will come out of it, the league and the competition committee are throwing the referees to the wolves on this one.
The NHL wants a penalty to be a penalty, to call plays by the rulebook and to have no gray zone. So when making up a new rule, why not start from the bottom and actually draft the amendment in two shades?
Either go to no-touch icing, or don’t.
The third: If the puck is shot off the goal frame, post or crossbar, the ensuing faceoff will be in the attacking zone.
Up until now, if an attacking player took a shot that hit the crossbar and the puck went out of play without touching a defending player first, the faceoff would come out of the zone.
This one just makes sense. Why penalize a team for coming within an inch from scoring?
The third rule legitimately increases the opportunity for goals, but there is a difference between opening up the game and creating scoring chances – which I thought was the mission statement – and simply setting up glorious scoring opportunities.
I wonder why the league won’t implement no-touch icing. The rule would create more end-zone faceoffs, rendering the new power play faceoff rule redundant. It would also eliminate the “unnecessary or dangerous contact” of an icing chase without implementing a nonsensical rule that is just going to make your referees look bad.
The league did a good job on the third rule, but the first two rules worry me a little, because they’re moves that allow games to be manipulated by the men behind the curtain.
Rory Boylen is THN.com's web content specialist. His blog appears Thursdays.
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