While the delay of game penalty tends to show itself at the worst possible times, I don't think there are many who disagree with a rule against intentionally clearing the puck over the glass. You shouldn't be allowed to do that. That said, the fact that the defensive zone version of this penalty penalizes blatantly accidental clears is dizzying nitwittedness of the highest order.
Wednesday night in Vancouver, Colorado Avalanche defender Matt Hunwick got called for perhaps the most nonsensical penalty I've seen in years. The lone man back on a 2-on-1 midway through the second period, he found himself in the precarious position of trying to prevent Henrik Sedin's inevitable saucer pass across to Alex Burrows.
Hunwick succeeded, bringing his stick up from under Henrik's ankle-high pass and deflecting it away. It was a good defensive play. Unfortunately, the deflected puck sailed up over the glass. Bad, bad, bad.
7 times out of 10, Hunwick flat-out misses that puck. 1 of the other 3 times, he deflects it up into the stands. But this was that time, and when the puck was next dropped, Hunwick was sitting in the box with a delay of game penalty.
Said Adrian Dater, via Twitter: "Of the many bad calls I've seen in NHL this year on both sides, that delay of game called on Hunwick was the worst."
I don't disagree with Dater that the call was absurd, but the problem is that it wasn't the wrong call; it was by the book.
The stupid, stupid book.
Here's the delay of game rule for all three zones, via NHL.com:
A minor penalty for delay of game shall be imposed on any player or goalkeeper who deliberately shoots or bats (using his hand or his stick) the puck outside the playing area during the play or after a stoppage of play.
But here's the same rule, adjusted for defensive-zone situations:
When any player, while in his defending zone, shoots or bats (using his hand or his stick) the puck directly (non-deflected) out of the playing surface, except where there is no glass, a penalty shall be assessed for delaying the game.
You'll notice that the word deliberately has been removed, immediately nullifying any opportunity to use discretion on the play. Even if it's nigh-impossible for the puck to have been cleared over the glass intentionally, as it was in Hunwick's case, it's still a penalty.
That word matters. Without it, there's no wiggle room whatsoever. Wiggling is important. Have we learned nothing from LMFAO?
What amazes me is that, if Henrik's pass gets to Burrows without coming back down to the ice -- if Burrows bats it out of mid-air and scores -- it's a highlight-reel goal. Pretty much any time a player is able to get a stick on a mid-air puck and direct it to the goal, everyone oohs and aahs. Why? Because we're all fully aware of how difficult it is to control where the puck goes once it's off the ice, even for a professional.
And yet, Hunwick and other defenders get penalized for it. It's absurd. How can a play be a highlight-reel rarity at one end and an automatic penalty at the other?
Like I said at the beginning, I don't mind the penalty when it's intentional. I don't even mind the penalty when there's an outside chance it could have been intentional. But when it couldn't possible be anything other than pure, dumb luck, when even an ounce of reason says that was a total fluke, why is that a penalty?
s/t to Dani for the video.