GMs’ faceoff proposal should put clamps on cheaters

Ken Campbell
Faceoff

Zdeno Chara, faceoff specialist. Perhaps we should get accustomed to hearing that if a rule proposed by NHL general managers ends up seeing the light of day.

One of the more intriguing developments at the GM meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., was a proposed rule which would see players who are now kicked out of the faceoff circle for cheating on the draw instead be required to move back 12 to 18 inches with the draw taken again. The thinking is that, faced with the prospect of losing a ton of leverage and likely losing the draw, players will think twice about trying to cheat in the first place.

If the player were caught cheating on the faceoff again, he would then face a two-minute penalty. No word on whether or not he’d be immediately ordered to have his head examined as well.

It would take some adjustment, but it’s an idea that has some real merit. The problem with the NHL is often not the rules, but the fact that they have so little teeth and such inconsequential penalties. Jordan Nolan cold-cocks Jesse Joensuu of the Edmonton Oilers during a scrum in front of the net. The NHL acknowledges that Joensuu had his arms restrained by the linesman and had no way to defend himself, then proceeds to give Nolan a measly one-game suspension. Big whoop. It’s hardly a deterrent to keep Nolan or anyone else from doing the same thing again.

But this is a real deterrent, for a couple of reasons. Imagine the skate of shame the center would have going back to bench after losing the draw in his own zone and having his team scored on because he had to move a foot-and-a-half back on the draw. And guys who take faceoffs are concerned about their faceoff winning percentage – contracts and reputations are on the line here – which is why many of them cheat in the first place.

It will probably also discourage teams from sending a winger into the faceoff circle for the draw in hopes of getting both players kicked out, which then leaves the natural center to enter the circle to take the draw. And, best of all, it just might keep fans from tearing their hair out and yelling at linesmen to “drop the #$@%^&* puck!”

Your trusty correspondent, for one, does not buy the notion that NHL linesmen are on some kind of power trip every time they drop the puck. They closely monitor and police the faceoffs because they, like everyone else in hockey, realize how vitally important they are to the outcome of the game. How many times do you see a team get killed in the faceoff circle and win the game? Today’s game is all about puck possession and zone time – at least that’s what the stats guys keep telling us – so starting with the puck is imperative. And there aren’t too many games that don’t feature at least one goal that is the direct result of a center cleanly winning the draw.

As much as GMs hate the shootout, they can’t seem to come to a consensus on what it will take to avoid them as much as possible. Ken Holland’s 3-on-3 initiative seems to have lost a lot of steam and the players don’t seem to have any appetite for playing any more than 65 minutes. The league loves the shootout and it isn’t going anywhere, so that’s a non-starter. The GMs proposed that teams change ends to force them into a “long change” situation in overtime, but that’s about as small a tweak as you could possibly make. Going into last night’s game, 13.98 percent of games had gone to a shootout, which is the third highest percentage since the skills competition was introduced.

The GMs also proposed widening the hash marks to keep more distance between wingers on the draw, which would theoretically allow for more movement and offensive chances. And speaking of offense, the GMs wisely proposed to redefine “a distinct kicking motion,” which would allow pucks directed into the net by skates to stand provided the player’s skate remains on the ice.

That would take a lot of the subjectivity out of those situations and allow more legitimate goals to stand. After all, why should a player be penalized just because he moved the position of his foot?