Fraser: It's up to the NHL to solve the 'game flow' issue

Kerry Fraser
11/10/2011 2:30:22 PM
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Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry Fraser wants to answer your emails at cmonref@tsn.ca!

Hi Kerry,
During tonight's game between Tampa and Philly, there were stretches of 'play' where Philadelphia refused to attack. It appeared to be a protest against Tampa's defensive strategy. Hockey is known as the world's fastest most exciting sport, and I'm assuming the fans in Tampa Bay didn't buy tickets in hopes of seeing the teams stand motionless and stare across the ice at each other. As far as I know, there's no rule against Tampa's defence. My question is, couldn't one of the referees have called a delay of game penalty against the Flyers? When is delay of game called aside from when the puck goes over the glass? Where is the line drawn? It seemed to me the Flyers were delaying the action.
Matt Jeppesen
Hi Kerry,
Been a big fan since I was a kid growing up in Edmonton in the 80's - one of my earliest hockey memories is my parents talking about your hair!
One of many emails you're getting about the 1-3-1 forecheck of Tampa at home against Philly. I have two questions:
1) Is blowing the play dead is the wrong move here? It's probably unprecedented to some degree, but in the second instance, Pronger definitely had the puck in motion.
2) Why was Philadelphia 'penalized' by having the faceoff in their zone? If Tampa was covering the Flyers' forwards effectively and the Flyers had no play to break out of their zone, the faceoff should have at least gone outside of their zone.
Vancouver, BC
I'm sure you're going to get a lot of questions regarding the Philly vs. Tampa game last night.
Why did the ref stop the play? Why wasn't a delay of game issued the second occurrence?
Hi Kerry. I was hoping you could shed some light regarding the whistle in the first period of play during last Wednesday's Philadelphia/Tampa Bay game when Chris Pronger put the game into a lull for a good minute or more by basically standing still and failing to advance the puck out of the defensive zone while Tampa just sat back and watched. I've never seen anything quite like that before! I really hope you can explain the ruling on this.
Thanks in advance,
Kevin Laliberte - McLennan, Alberta

Note to the entire hockey world:

The hockey brain trust had better come up with a well thought out solution to this 'game flow' dilemma before the next puck is dropped and sits motionless in Tampa! I am sure we all agree that this non-action is bad for the game and can only result in people either turning the channel on their television or not renewing their season tickets; neither of which is acceptable.

Let's examine what is presently available in the rule book for the referees to deal with in this game situation; specifically Rule 63.1 - Delaying the Game and 72.1 - Refusing to Play the Puck. While rules are often designed to penalize a team for some form of wrongdoing or violation, in this case it might just be difficult to determine which team is most at fault. I'll let you be the judge and offer your suggestions to the League for a remedy.

Both rules are vague and non specific in dealing with what took place last night on U.S. national television from Tampa. In general terms there is a thin thread in the spirit of both rules that can be applied. The most drastic (and abuse of authority in my judgment) would be for the referee to impose a delay of game penalty against the puck possession team (Flyers) under rule 63.1; 'A player or team may be penalized when, in the opinion of the Referee, is delaying the game in any manner.' To me, this would be akin to making an announcement over the Public Address system that any further littering of the ice by the fans will result in bench penalty to the home team.

Rule 72.1 - Refusing or Abstaining from Playing the Puck was applied last night through the general spirit of the rule which states; “The purpose of this section is to enforce continuous action and both the Referees and Linesmen should interpret and apply the rule to produce this result.”

There you have the 'spirit' of the rule. The letter of the rule covers hand pass, high stick of the puck; icing and failing to touch the puck on a delayed penalty as we discussed the other day and not what transpired last night.

I would go so far as to say that stopping play when Philadelphia was passing and cycling the puck within their defensive zone, without pressure from Martin St. Louis, gives this application new meaning since 'continuous action' versus continuous motion is not clearly defined. The rule doesn't state that the puck must be advanced but just that continuous action is to be enforced. Passing and moving the puck are both action words, albeit without pressure from within their own defending zone.

Tampa could be deemed most culpable for the lack of pressure that results from their 1-3-1 defense set up between the blue lines. The relative stationary posture each Lightning player assumed could better describe a lack of continuous action. All 'word-smithing' aside, Tampa clearly gains an advantage if the rule continues to be applied as it was last night.  A forced end zone face-off gives them at least a 50 percent chance of gaining puck possession from a key location face-off win in their attacking zone.

This brings us to the bigger question as to which team is most at fault or in violation and how does the League address this moving forward? Is it right to legislate within the rules, forms of illegal defense or the method of breakout that each team is allowed to employ?

At least the NBA thought so when they created a rule called “Illegal Defence” which initially prevented playing Zone Defense as opposed to man on man. This subsequently was been changed to the “Defensive Three Second Violation” that doesn't allow a stationary fixture in the paint to clog up the lane or allow penetration. The shot clock was also implemented to prevent a lack of offensive effort.

Putting their current labour issues aside, you can check out the specifics of each rule if you wish. What I believe is worth noting here is the action taken by the NBA when they deemed a negative element of defense had entered their hardwood and threatened to stifle some of their game's entertainment value.

In the NHL's post lockout era strong measures were taken to eliminate obstruction and create speed through the neutral zone on the attack which includes the forecheck. In the first period last night we watched a game of chess. 

Should the NHL ban certain methods of defending such as the 1-3-1 employed by Tampa. While we're at it do we throw out the neutral zone trap and left wing lock and strip the New Jersey Devils and Detroit Red Wings of their Stanley Cup victories for employing those systems to their advantage while some fans cried b-o-r-i-n-g?

Should we create a rule that penalizes a team that fails to pressure (Tampa) by blowing the whistle and taking the puck all the way into their end for a face-off  and attempt to gain puck possession from the hand of the linesman in their own zone? How about giving one team or the other a penalty for delay of game; but which one? Would equal culpability be determined and as such drop the puck at centre ice?

I have posed lots of questions for you to consider here with no clear black and white answer.

One thing is certainly clear to me. The NHL has to step up and determine what is an illegal form of defence - combined with excepted and accepted methods of pressure on the puck - that standing back and waiting is not allowed and part of the 'continuous action' nor is passing the puck back and forth in your defensive zone without advancing the puck.

The ball now rests clearly in the NHL's backcourt...

Chris Pronger (Photo: The Canadian Press)


(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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