Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Want the NHL to just call the rulebook exactly as written? Be careful what you wish for

I kind of love the NHL rulebook.

I don’t love everything in it, and I certainly don’t always love the way it’s called, especially when my team is playing. But I’ve always been fascinated by this document that’s existed for a century while being subject to constant tinkering, with brand-new rules living alongside ones that have sat untouched for decades.

Unless you’re an NHL official, you’ve probably never bothered to read through the thing. But you should, because it’s packed with oddities and loopholes and sub-loopholes. I get into some of them in my book, like the rule that can force the players to officiate their own game, and I’ve written over the years about some of the weird exceptions most fans don’t know, like how a goalie can still play the puck outside of the trapezoid if he keeps one foot in the crease.

But these days, everyone seems to be mad at the rulebook. It’s too complicated or not complicated enough, and we’re either using way too much replay review or nowhere near enough, depending on how your favorite team’s most recent game just turned out.

There are really two ways you can approach a sports rulebook. You can view it as a guideline, a sort of starting point that lays out the basics of how the game should work and then leaves it to the officials to figure out what they’re actually going to call. Or you can view the rulebook as the law of the land, to be followed to the letter.

I’ve always been a fan of the first option. But I’m increasingly getting the sense that I’m in a small minority and that most fans are solidly in the second camp. And I have to admit that approach holds a certain appeal, especially given how this postseason has gone. Why not get rid of the interpretations and gray areas and selective enforcement and just call the rules as they’re written? I hear it all the time from other fans, media and even the occasional coach and player: Stop “managing the game” — whatever that means on a given night — and just call the damn rules.

It’s a convincing argument. So convincing, in fact, that I think they’re winning me over. I’m ready to switch sides. I’m going to become a rulebook absolutist.

After all, as I’m often told, rules are rules, and we have to get it right. So just call the rulebook exactly as written. The whole thing. Every word of it.

Man, it feels good to say that out loud. So now that we’re all on the same side here, let’s reacquaint ourselves with seven rules from the actual NHL rulebook that we’ll now be calling each and every time, exactly as written.

(Thanks to our friends at Scouting The Refs for their help with this post.)

Rule 67.3: Goalies freezing the puck after a glove save

How it’s typically called: If a goalie snags a shot with his glove, the whistle blows pretty much immediately. Every once in a great while, you’ll see a goaltender glove a long shoot-in, and the referee will wait to see if he wants to play it. But unless he makes a move to put the puck back in play, the whistle blows and we get a faceoff in the zone.

But the rulebook actually says: “A goalkeeper who holds the puck with his hands for longer than three seconds shall be given a minor penalty unless he is actually being checked by an opponent.”

In other words, unless an opponent is right there and actively trying to get the puck, the goaltender isn’t allowed to just freeze it to end the play. If a goalie snags a shot and has a reasonable opportunity to play it, he has to do so. The rulebook is actually pretty explicit on that, going on to explain that “the object of this entire rule is to keep the puck in play continuously, and any action taken by the goalkeeper which causes an unnecessary stoppage must be penalized without warning.”

The weirdest part of the rule is the three-second limit. When was the last time you saw a referee wait three seconds before blowing his whistle when the goalie gloves a puck? I’m not sure it’s ever happened.

What that would look like: Remember in “NHL ’94” when you’d always try to keep the play going even though that meant accidentally passing it to your opponent for an empty-net goal at least once a period? Apparently that’s what the rulebook wants.

How we’ll enforce it: Any time a goalie gloves a shot and holds on for a whistle, we’ll have to let coaches challenge to see if any player was checking him at the time. If not, it’s an automatic minor penalty, because rules are rules, and we have to get it right.

Rule 14.1: Adjustments to goaltender equipment

How it’s typically called: If a goaltender has a problem with his equipment — let’s say his helmet, glove or a skate blade — he lets the ref know and heads over to the bench, and we all wait patiently for a few minutes until it gets sorted out.

But the rulebook actually says: “No delay shall be permitted for the repair or adjustment of goalkeeper’s equipment. If adjustments are required, the goalkeeper shall leave the ice and his place shall be taken by the substitute goalkeeper immediately.”

Huh. Apparently, every one of those goalie/trainer powwows we’ve seen over the years was technically illegal. The rule is pretty clear: Any equipment problem has to be taken care of off the ice, with the backup goalie taking over in the meantime. By the way, this one is so important, it actually appears in the rulebook three separate times, also showing up in 63.2 and then again in 65.2.

And what if the goalie tries to sneak in a quick adjustment? It’s a penalty. No, really: “For an infraction of this rule by a goalkeeper, a minor penalty shall be imposed.” And note that the rule doesn’t even mention the trainer — it applies to any adjustment at all, even one the goalie does on his own.

What that would look like: Lots of backup goalies coming in cold because a mask got dented or a strap on a glove or pad came loose.

How we’ll enforce it: Any coach who sees a goaltender even looking at his equipment can demand that he immediately be removed from the game, because rules are rules, and we have to get it right.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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