Players like the Red Wings' Johan Franzen have had to fight through more obstruction in this year's Stanley Cup final. (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)
Two minutes or not two minutes? That is the question.
There has been much chatter the past week about an obstruction crackdown slip during the Stanley Cup final. After many, many months of vigilance, the referees suddenly decided to let ‘em play.
The short-term, myopic benefits are fewer whistles and power plays. The big picture downsides are stunted skill displays, confusion and a greater potential for huge controversy.
Like most hockey followers, I don’t want to see a penalty parade. I have a higher tolerance for innocuous hooks, holds, interference and defensive desperation when the Stanley Cup is on the line.
But relaxing a standard everyone has come to understand and accept is fraught with peril.
For starters, increased obstruction robs us of artistry. Goals such as the back-hand stunner Evgeni Malkin scored on Carolina’s Cam Ward become more difficult to execute if his stick is being held or an opponent has picked him out of the play.
Fuzzy boundaries, meanwhile, invite abuse. When players see what they (and their opponents) can get away with, they’ll test the limits en route to chaos. Either the line will get pushed back to unacceptable obstruction levels or we‘ll see patchy, inconsistent calls that could unfairly influence the outcome.
Worse still, a horrible non-call could come at a crucial time of a deciding Cup game. Imagine a tied Game 7, late in the third period. A glorious scoring chance at one end is thwarted by a hook or hold, but the refs feel they can’t blow the whistle because they haven’t all series on similar plays, let alone at a dire moment. The opponent goes the other way and scores. It casts a long shadow over what should be a shining moment in the sun.
The solution is simple: revert to the strict standard immediately. Define the boundaries very clearly to the teams so there can be no surprises or confusion, then follow through consistently. It’s basic parenting 101.
Speaking of confusion, what’s the deal with the mixed message coming out of the GMs meeting in relation to a headshot rule?
On the one hand, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli indicated to reporters the discussion is far from over: “It's an ongoing discussion," Chiarelli said. "It was a little boisterous here.
“It's a hot-button issue. We feel we're making progress. We'll continue to track it. We've gone over the blind hits, all those different scenarios. There is no easy solution."
Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke was unequivocal. When it was suggested the players might fight for a rule, he said, “They can bring that fight for it if they want. There is no appetite in this group. None whatsoever.”
Don’t be surprised if the players indeed bring it on at competition committee this summer. According to reports, nearly 80 percent of the NHLPA membership wants a headshot rule, aimed at curbing deliberate blows to the noggin.
This will be a good test of the partnership between management and the union, perhaps providing a bellwether as we inch closer to the CBA’s expiration.
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PRODUCER: Ted Cooper
Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every Friday.
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