Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry Fraser wants to answer your emails at firstname.lastname@example.org!
I have one question that has been bugging me all year and I just had to ask. In Sunday's Sharks vs. Red Wings game - near the end of the first period - Johan Franzen goes off for slashing, but Joe Thornton also goes off for diving (unsportsmanlike conduct). If the referee knows that Thornton dove, then why did Franzen also get penalized? If you could clear this up it'd be great!
Thanks - Kevin G., Louisiana State University
Kevin: As I watched the play I saw Joe Thornton place his stick in the feet of Franzen causing the Red Wing to fall awkwardly into the boards. Knowing that Franzen is dealing with an ankle sprain and judging by his reaction with a solid swing of his stick to Joe's leg, it really hurt him. The fact that Franzen attempted to play after that tumble but couldn't is further evidence to the damage that was done by Joe. This doesn't excuse Franzen's stick swing but only helps to understand it better.
Joe deserved a tripping penalty for his action. Franzen certainly deserved a slashing penalty for his retaliation. I have to believe that the referee did not read the trip as it occurred and that he must have thought that the slash hit Thornton in a protected area of his shin pad and as such Joe's reaction was one of embellishment (diving). This certainly wasn't the case as a camera shot showed Thornton's face in the penalty box. Franzen's slash obviously carved some meat off the ham bone. Joe is really a tough guy and I saw pain on his face as tried to shake it off in the penalty box.
So in a perfect world let's deal with a legitimate penalty that is observed by the referee. He identifies it as a penalty by raising his arm to signal the delay. At this point the player that was legitimately fouled just wants to make sure that the ref got a good look at it so he embellishes his fall or end result of the play. It is at this point Kevin that the referee will assess the initial infraction and also an unsportsmanlike penalty to the actor for his poor performance in what should have been just a one act play. The message is then clearly sent that the referee identified the initial penalty so don't attempt to embarrass the referee or the game by diving. The coach and teammates of the diver are never too happy with their player that took away a power play through such a needless penalty. Hope this helps…
Your recent answer about the instigator rule inspired this one. With the introduction of the new head shot rules, do you think the elbowing penalty has been made obsolete? I don't ever recall anyone getting an elbowing penalty for anything other than a hit to the head.
Cheers - Stef Barnes, St. John's, NL
Hey Stef: Good insight here because in 30 years in the NHL I never gave an elbowing penalty to a player for connecting with anything other than the “mush” of an opponent. Unless a major change results from meetings this summer to ban hits to the head completely (which some GM's have publicly stated is their desire) the elbowing penalty will remain separate from any revised Rule 48—Illegal Check to the Head. As we saw in the Kunitz chicken wing elbow to Simon Gagne in the first round, that infraction fell into the language of rule 48 without defining it as the elbow that contacted Gagne's head. It was simply a blind side hit where the head was targeted and the principle point of contact.
All infractions committed have a varying degree of violence. That is why the referee has the latitude to impose a minor, major, major plus game misconduct or match penalty on the majority of the physical fouls and stick fouls. Even restraining fouls such as hooking and interference can be increased to a major and game misconduct depending upon the degree of violence or a resulting injury.
I believe the elbowing penalty will remain in the books. Besides the need to clearly define the infraction it's a cool signal for the referee to make.
Kerry: Enjoy reading your column - keep it up! My question is how much does a player's or coach's 'reputation' factor into how or when you make a call or let something slide? With players, I'm thinking about the guys that could be categorized as divers, instigators and yelpers. With coaches, I'm thinking about the guys who always seem to challenge calls to support their own players, even when it is obvious that there is no basis to do so.
Cheers, J.P., Saskatoon
J.P. - Human nature can take hold here if someone is always in your face, demonstrates disrespect or attempts to embarrass the referee through diving. Some people are just easier to get along with; others are just complete pain in the butt. Personality conflicts can also be a factor as to whether a coach, player and official establish and maintain a good working relationship. When there is a negative factor at work the official has to dig deep to overcome the natural human tendency to “get even”. As the old saying goes, “paybacks can be a _itch.” The opposite is also true and the good guy that's cooperative and seldom says anything might catch a break when one can be offered. Here's a couple of examples.
Tim Kerr was an annual 50-goal scorer with the Philadelphia Flyers through the ‘80's. He stood out as a giant of a man back then at 6'3” and 225 pounds. More than his physical stature or goal scoring prowess, Tim Kerr was the nicest, easy going guy you could ever hope to meet on or off the ice; with the exception of one shift in a game in the Philadelphia Spectrum when he unloaded on me.
I always check out the press notes before a game to see if there is anything to be aware of from previous meetings between the two teams playing that night, special player milestones and who's hot and who's not. The notes that night identified that Tim Kerr was in a scoring slump. He hadn't lit the lamp in eight games. That was beyond a slump for Tim, it was Death Valley. That usually means the player is pressing, chokes his stick a little tighter and the players frustration level could be something I might have to deal with.
The Flyers were attacking the net when a pass attempt came to Tim Kerr as he was in tight to the goal crease and in full flight. The pass was in his skates and he kicked the puck ahead in an attempt to put it on his stick. I saw the puck go directly into the net from the kick as it appeared Kerr missed it with his stick. I immediately waived off the goal. Tim Kerr went ballistic. I had never heard the level of profanity that spewed out of Tim let alone directed at me. A misconduct penalty was certainly warranted but instead I moved away from him because I had done my homework and knew how taking a goal away that he thought he scored would affect him. More importantly, Tim Kerr got a break in this instance because he was never a problem and this outburst was just an anomaly due to his current struggle.
The very next shift Tim Kerr came up to me and sincerely apologized for his outburst. He then calmly said, “Kerry, I want you to know that I did nick that puck with the toe of my stick blade.” I replied to this giant oak tree standing before me, “Tim, if you said you touched that puck then I believe you touched it because you are an honest man. All I can say is I'm sorry.” He said forget about it.
Following the game I asked Flyers GM Bobby Clarke if I could look at the replay of that disallowed goal. Sure enough Tim just ticked the puck with his stick as it was about to cross the goal line.
On the other side of the equation was Chris “Knuckles” Nilan. He was a tough customer that stood up for his teammates and certainly took his share of penalties. More than his share from me if you heard Chris tell it. I have to admit that I watched players like Chris Nilan a little more closely because of the way he played the game. He developed a well earned (and well deserved) reputation. One night in the Boston Garden, Chris and his Montreal Canadiens were in town to play the rival Bruins.
Chris was on the ice with Ricky Middleton and my radar went on high alert; especially when they collided in the Bruins end zone down low. As play moved up ice with the Bruins on the attack Nilan saw me looking at him with Middleton within striking distance. I then turned my focus up ice in a head fake move and quickly back again in Nilan's direction just in time to see Nilan jam the butt end of his stick into Nifty Middleton's mouth clearing out the front row of chicklettes. The match penalty I assessed required a hearing in Montreal before V.P. of Discipline Brian O'Neill.
When asked by Mr. O'Neill if Chris had anything to say for himself after my report of the incident was read, Chris aggressively said, “Yeah, I've got something to say. Fraser has it in for me. He gives me more penalties than any other referee does. Every time I'm on the ice he watches me. Just to prove it, if Fraser had of been watching what he should have in Boston (the play up ice) he wouldn't have seen me butt end Middleton in the mouth.” Candiens GM, Serge Savard just about spit out the coffee he was sipping and intervened by saying, “Mr. O'Neill, that's not what Chris meant to say.”
Bryan responded by saying, “Chris, there isn't a referee in this league that would be worth a pound of salt if he didn't watch you every time you were on the ice given you reputation.”
During your career especially the last few years I have to say that you were my favorite ref. This was because I felt that you were fair for the most part which is something coming from me being a Flames fan. I was sad to hear of your retiring but glad to see you on TSN as this is a great outlet for you and a learning experience for us. There have been times even in these playoffs where I have noticed that the play gets stopped when a player gets injured where other times the play goes on. I was wondering if there is actually a rule covering this or if it is the referee's discretion?
Thanks - Andrew Lane
Andrew: There is actual a rule and protocol involved in stopping the play for an injured player. Rule 8 basically provides for a stoppage of play when the injured player's team gains possession of the puck. If the injured player's team has possession of the puck at the time of the injury play would be stopped unless his team was in a scoring position. In all cases where it is obvious that the player has sustained a serious injury play may be stopped immediately by the Referee and/or the Linesman.
With all the "acting" that is going on out on the ice in attempts to draw penalties it can be difficult to determine if a player has sustained an injury or not. I took the approach if it didn't appear to be life threatening play on. The old school adage is to never let the other side know you were hurt. I am old school as well.
In 1982 I worked an Oilers game in the Northlands Coliseum. About 10 minutes into the game Paul Coffey intercepted a breakout pass and pounded a slap shot attempt back into the end zone. Problem was I was 20 feet away and directly in his path. The full slapper (no chedar here) hit me right in the ankle. The puck then ricochets over the boards and out of play. No lying on the ice or rolling around for me even though it hurt like hell. Coffey could really pound it and I tried to force a smile as Paul came right over to apologize.
We resumed play and by the end of the first period I believed my ankle was broken. I never took my skate off between periods and kept walking to trying and keep some mobility in the joint. The "never let 'em know your hurt mentality" that was engrained in me by father would not allow me to leave the game. Back then the game had just one referee and there were no backups in the building even though 16,000+ Northlands patrons all thought they could do a better job.
I finished the game and when I took my skate off the foot immediately blew up like it was being injected by an air compressor. X-rays confirmed that the end of my fibula had been broken off. I was casted a week later when the swelling subsided and was out of action for the next 8 weeks. I don't think I'm a hero—just old school.
My modern day message is to all the tough guys out there that are faking injury or flopping in an attempt to draw penalties. It's time to go back to school boys—the good old fashioned way.
I enjoy your column, and think it goes a long way toward reducing the dismissive negativity that is heaped on officials by humanizing their efforts and dilemmas. Does the NHL meet with referees prior to the onset of the post-season to go over how much more intensely - or viciously - teams will play in the playoffs? Are the officials given playoff-specific directives on how to call this more intense style of play, and if so what are they?
Thanks, Duke Albertson
Dear Duke of Albertson: It is my hope to share a different perspective for the hockey fan to consider on just how difficult the job is. One human trait that we all share is to ere. Thanks for your recognition on behalf of the guys in stripes who do their very best to minimize mistakes in the most difficult sport to officiate in the world.
The day after the regular season schedule concludes an e-mail is sent out to all the officials which contain the names of those selected to participate in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If your name isn't on the list you can break out the golf clubs. A conference call is also scheduled by the Officiating Department and Hockey Operations for those selected to be conduct prior to departure from their home base to begin the round. During that call some administrative issues are laid out relative to travel, curfew and general playoff deportment. Referees and linesmen are paired to begin the round and will move from series to series as their assignments dictate.
This call is more of a pep rally than getting into the specifics of any particular series but reminders on expected standards of enforcement are discussed.
Specifics of how the teams match up, results of previous meetings over the season, some anticipation as to what to watch for are all discussed during pre-game meetings conducted by the series supervisor/officiating manager that is assigned by the League to each series. A playoff manual is also distributed to the officials when they arrive for their first game of the playoffs.
The meeting is normally held at 12:00 Noon on the day of the game. As a series evolves, so too does the message that is delivered to the officials assigned to the game. Since officiating crews move from series to series it is important for the series supervisor to bring the new crew up to speed on all developments to that point in the games.
Team management (coaches & G.M.'s) have a proper channel to direct their concerns or complaints. While that is generally filtered through the series supervisor, Hockey Operations personnel or Terry Gregson, V.P. of Officiating would likely also be contacted if a team felt something serious in nature needed to be addressed. "Gamesmanship" in an attempt to influence and manipulate the officials through discussions with the series supervisor is one of the primary objectives here. Some coaches and managers attempt to get their point across with the supervisor and hope that the seed they plant takes root with the officials. It can be a separate game within the game. The intelligent supervisor and officials will not be affected by this attempt at programming but I have seen where it has had an effect.
Each game has a heartbeat. Sometimes the officials are called to slow the beat that is on the verge of racing out of control—to bring the temperature down. Most of the time it should be left to beat at on its own rhythm without applying the paddles or heart massage. Playoff hockey takes on a life of its own and quite often it's the fans that require the heart medicine.
John McCauley, former Director of Officiating, my mentor, friend and father of excellent NHL referee, Wes McCauley, once told me that the most successful referee is the one that can control the game without having to lay the hammer down. He also said that the most entertaining hockey game is the one played with "controlled mayhem." We've seen examples of both this playoff season. Everything is shaping up for fantastic conference finals and Stanley Cup.
Stay tuned to TSN for all the insider information. C'mon Ref!