Getty ImagesInstead of Brendan Shanahan's Research and Development Carnival of Fun this summer, the NHL is doing a small-scale "rules summit" at its headquarters in Toronto; which is a bit like downgrading from Disney's EPCOT to the American Banjo Museum.
This week's summit is laser-focused on the rules currently on the books, as the general opinion is that interference and obstruction crept back into the game last season, and especially in the postseason. (So much for framing obstruction as a way to curb concussions in a red-line-less NHL.)
Indeed, interference penalties alone went from 985 called in 2010-11 to 893 called in 2011-12.
As Colin Campbell told the Canadian Press before the summit:
"Personally, I don't think the hooking and holding has slipped," said Campbell. "I think we have to find out what we want with interference on the forechecking and interference off the faceoff."
The league's former disciplinarian thinks the discussion might branch off to other rules like slashing. "Anything that stops a player from scoring," he said.
Yeah! Ban goalies!
Oh, they mean in a penalty sense. Which is a good starting point, but doesn't address all the officiating ills of the League.
One of those ills is being discussed this week, and it'll be interested to see if anything significant emerges from it … or if the GMs, coaches and players will simply snap their heads back and flail their arms around.
We're of course talking about embellishment.
Tuesday's session, which included plenty of video examples, honed in on interference calls and how some of those infractions have crept back into the game after the post-lockout crackdown of 2005. The session also turned its focus to the enforcement of slashing rules and embellishment.
Those items, as well as a broader discussion about where the game stands, will be on today's agenda. Any consensus on those issues is likely to be heard after today's second day of meetings.
Dave Tippett, head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, took part in the last lockout-centric rules summit — from which revolutionary changes to the NHL's game play emerged — and is participating in this round.
He was a leading voice against embellishment in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season … which, of course, was a tad ironic given the Triple Lindy his goaltender pulled when Andrew Shaw ran him.
"Personally, I've talked about this in a lot of meetings with [GM Don Maloney], our general manager, that the game is turning a little dishonest and it's embellishment by players," Tippett said. "When it's done well, it's very hard for the referees, very hard, because if you fall down near the boards or you drop your stick or you throw your head back, you're putting the referee in a very tough situation."
No doubt Tippett was referring to the dropped stick on Radim Vrbata's slashing penalty late in the game which all but killed any chance for Phoenix to tie it. Kings center Anze Kopitar's stick was knocked loose by Vrbata on the play. Or did Kopitar drop it?
Both Campbell's note from the summit and Tippett's complaint from the postseason point to a specific type of embellishment: Less the head-jerking hysterics on a high stick than the completely deplorable trend in the NHL on slashes. Whether it's the dropped stick or a pair of gloves hurled to the rafters, it's prop comedy to draw a call and, sadly, the gullibility of on-ice officials.
Is there an effective way to police that? Tough to say. Now you're asking officials to make a judgment call about a judgment call, compounded by the fact that there could be an injury on the play.
But in the end, what these rules summits are asking is for referees to be bolder in their officiating. To call ticky-tacky interference penalties again before the game's offense becomes a clogged drain. To not allow hooking and holding just because it's a playoff game.
And, in the case of embellishment, to show some valor in calling out a player who exhibits none in attempting to draw a call.