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Hi Kerry, love your column - keep em' coming!
With the NHL GM meetings going on, there are a lot of proposals for rules changes. We talk about all the adjustments that players have to make with new rules, but how much of an adjustment do refs have to make? Was there ever a rule change that you really had to program yourself to know in a new season and did you catch yourself making a possible mistake because the rule change was so dramatic?
Thank you for the opportunity to discuss some proposed rule changes that are being discussed at the General Managers meetings. There are a couple of them which I believe make sense and would achieve a positive effect. Let's start with player safety; an area of primary concern for me as a referee.
I have witnessed two rule differences (hybrid icing and no trapezoid behind the goal) work extremely well in the U.S. College ranks both as a volunteer supervisor/observer for former colleague and current Referee-in-Chief of the E.C.A.C., Paul Stewart and as an analyst with NBC Sports Network on Friday Night Ice (College hockey broadcast Nationally).
Hybrid icing maintains a race for the puck but greatly reduces the potential for players being thrown violently into the end boards. In the hybrid icing procedure an imaginary line is drawn from the end zone hash marks through the faceoff dots. This in effect becomes the finish line on a race for a potentially iced puck.
The linesman will position himself so as to determine whether the defending or attacking player crosses this “finish line” first on a race. If the defending player crosses this plane first then the whistle is immediately blown and icing signaled (no touch required.) If on the other hand the attacking player is in the lead and crosses the plane at the faceoff dots the linesman waives off icing and the puck becomes playable.
By extending the finish line some 20 feet from the goal line and 31 feet from the end boards, time and space is created should a player lose an edge or be physically contacted by his opponent. Additionally it eliminates the requirement for the defending player to touch the puck to complete the icing if he were to win the footrace to the faceoff dot. If the attacking player gains the plane first and icing is nullified it again provides time and space for all players to continue to attack the puck. This rule just makes too much sense and needs to be passed.
Presently the trapezoid restricts the goalkeeper's ability and skill to play the puck behind the goal line and more importantly to assist his defenceman on a puck that has been dump into the end zone. The defenceman is placed in a vulnerable position as he turns to retrieve the puck against the end boards as his opponent attacks with unobstructed speed on the fore-check.
The potential for injury will be greatly eliminated if the hybrid icing rule is implemented. If that be the case it would be most likely that the trapezoid will remain in place. Restricting the goalkeeper's ability to play the puck outside of the trapezoid can create additional offense through puck possession gained on the fore-check. Wandering goalies can also create the potential for additional offense when they mishandle the puck.
I don't believe goalkeepers that develop their puck handling skills should be penalized to the degree that the current trapezoid encumbers them. I propose a compromise. Extend the markings of the trapezoid an additional three feet (3') from the outside of each goal crease to result in a distance of eight feet (8') versus the current five feet (5'). The additional space will still keep the goalkeepers out of the corners but allow for the decision to wander and demonstrate their specialized puck-handling skills in a more expanded area.
I don't believe discussions to reinstitute the red line will gain sufficient support at this time. If part of the objective is to create more offense through forced turnovers by tightening up that area I believe it will just do more to clog the area and reduce the speed of the game through the neutral zone. There will be no more exciting stretch passes that spring players on breakaways and we have enjoyed since the lockout. The game is fast; let's keep it that way.
If the red line is once again implemented for the purpose of the off-side pass rule, look for the return of increased obstruction through battles in closer quarters. Some players, coaches, GM's and fans are insisting the refs standard on restraining fouls has already been drastically reduced. This will happen if the red line is reinstated.
It has been discussed to allow review on goalie interference but looks like nothing will change at this point. You know my position on this. From the discussions at the GM meetings it has been reported that instead of adding goalkeeper interference to the review process, a consultation between the officials is the preferred remedy by Terry Gregson, V.P. of Officiating.
I will tell you without hesitation this will solve nothing. Unless things have changed it was encouraged to consult and assist your partner when a call of this nature was made to gain all perspectives on the play. Here's why it seldom works.
Remember Tommy Wingles game winning goal in overtime for San Jose that was disallowed when Ollie Jokinen bumped into his own goalie (Mikka Kiprusoff) in the crease? That call was made by the referee at the red line after consultation with the referee on the goal line that didn't see the play.
How about NY Rangers disallowed tying goal with three seconds remaining in regulation time when Marian Gaborik was put into goalie Martin Brodeur by Devils defenceman Anton Volchenkov when he stuck the blade of his stick into Gaborik's skate blade holder. You could consult with every official on the ice and none of them would have been able to detect that impossible call other than through video replay.
Shall I mention a Bruins goal that was disallowed when Rich Peverley was incorrectly flagged for goalie interference on Ryan Miller of the Sabres outside the crease or Sam Gagner accused of goalie interference in yesterdays column. I could continue but I think you get the idea.
Interference on the goalkeeper is presently the most difficult call that a referee has to make. The call needs to correct because it is potentially game changing, series changing and Stanley Cup hoisting! What if any one of the calls I just listed (or several others that I could have) results in a series ending or Cup winning goal? The answer is obvious; goalkeeper interference will be allowed for review next season! Why wait?
Katie, you asked if there was a rule that was so dramatic that I needed to program myself to know. In all the rule changes that I experienced from the 1970's through 2010 one stands out above all else and that is the standard on restraining fouls to eliminate the dreaded obstruction! This was a philosophical change for the way the players were coached and taught to defend/cheat and for the way that we allowed it take place. We were given non hockey terms and buzz words like “water-skiing” (the art of hooking onto an opponent with your stick and stopping you feet from moving while the ‘boat' [the opponent] pulled the skier up the ice; “free-hand” (take one hand off your stick and put it on an opponent and instant penalty); “catch and release or open palm bump” (just a touch and let go particularly with an open hand—that was allowed; “stick parallel to the ice” (any stick in the midsection or hands of an opponent regardless of change of possession or detainment resulted in an expected penalty); and so forth…
Considering where we came from and the number of seasons that “obstruction” was mandated for us to eliminate there was never success until after the lockout season. This finally occurred when all factions bought in (management, players, coaches and officials). Prior to that happening there was always at least one of the groups that caused a mutiny. Pressure was eventually exerted on the referees not to call so many penalties. Players never got too concerned about the edict that was handed down annually because they believe it would go back to the “old way” within a month or so. They were right. It always did.
The mutiny seems to be occurring once again. Power play stats have diminished annually since the return from the lockout season. The referees are again being accused of slipping in the expected standard relative to restraining fouls. It is time for the referees to regain control of the restraining tactics and put the players on notice that if they commit the crime they will do the time. This will be accomplished not by overreacting but by calling the expected standard on a consistent basis throughout the game regardless of the score and the time. It must be done immediately and not as we get any closer to the playoffs. It will be too late to restore order at that point.