Thursday, April 1, 2021

Too-many-men penalty shots, stick curve suspensions, 3-minute power plays, and more weird NHL rules

It’s been a rough week for NHL officials. After last week’s Tim Peel scandal, and the NHL’s subsequent decision to permanently remove one of their longest serving referees from the job, everyone seems to be watching the calls and non-calls with extra scrutiny. When even Jack Edwards is sounding kind of reasonable, you know people are fed up.

Hell, you could do a better job than the guys the league has now. At least you know the rulebook!

Or … do you?

I mean, do you really know it? Because it’s weird. I’ve pointed this out a few times over the years, and whenever I do people accuse me of making stuff up, or doing a bit. I’m not. I’m just reading the rulebook, sometimes very literally, and telling you what’s in there. Or in some cases, what isn’t.

So today, I thought it might be fun to take a break from yelling about the NHL’s officiating, and spend some time remembering how weird the rulebook they’re working from can be. I don’t really have a theme here other than “this stuff is strange” and I’m not trying to make any grander point. I just think this stuff is fun, and maybe you will too. Let’s learn five weird rules I’m betting you may not have known about.

An illegal stick curve can be an automatic suspension

The only thing NHL fans love more than complaining about the referees is complaining about the suspensions coming from the Department of Player Safety. But while most of the suspension calls do have to come from the DoPS, there are a few instances in the rulebook that call for automatic, no-questions-asked bans. That includes serious infractions like leaving the bench to start a fight or physically assaulting officials. But it also includes stick measurements.

Yes, Rule 10.5, the noble stick measurement. A rule that most fans know, even if many of them have never actually seen it used. Players are limited in how deep a curve their stick can have, and there’s an entire process laid out in the rulebook for how a measurement is conducted. But it’s one of the few rules in the book that’s not up to the officials to call; instead, the rule is only ever invoked when an opposing coach requests it (at the expense of a delay-of-game penalty if he’s wrong).

That’s probably smart, since we don’t want referees constantly stopping the game to measure every blade that look suspicious. But for reasons nobody’s quite clear on, asking for a measurement has become one of those things that coaches just don’t do, with whole seasons going by without anyone even trying. That’s despite the fact that just about everyone agrees that there are plenty of players using illegal curves for at least some of each game. You’d think coaches would look to exploit that in a do-anything-to-win NHL, especially when Jacques Demers won a Cup with a well-timed measurement. But nope. It’s almost a forgotten rule.

And that’s why it might surprise you to learn that the NHL rulebook includes an entire section on the escalating penalties for repeat offenders — and those penalties get pretty darn severe.

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