November 11, 2011
Everyone and their mother has had a take on the Philadelphia Flyers' stall tactics against Guy Boucher and the Tampa Bay Lightning 1-3-1 system, but there were two recent reactions that deserve a little more attention: Those of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and former NHL referee/hair model/lightning rod of angst Kerry Fraser.
Bettman's take on his XM Home Ice radio show on Thursday, via NHL.com:
"Did I like it? No. Is it the most horrible thing I've ever seen on the ice? No. But I do think it has now added another agenda item to the general managers (meetings) next week. The officials whistled down play when there was no puck movement and it was appropriate."
(Ed. Note: My gawd do we need to know what the most horrible thing Gary Bettman's ever seen on the ice actually is.)
As far as the referees' actions:
"I think under the circumstances they reacted appropriately," Bettman said. "It reminded me of when Sean Avery(notes) was waving his stick in front of Marty Brodeur, and they said, 'OK, we think that's unsportsmanlike conduct. We haven't seen that before, so it is unsportsmanlike but we're going to warn you and tell you if you keep it up, that's the penalty that we're going to call.' And that's what they did, and I think that's kind of what we're dealing with now.
"What we don't like to do is just make it up as we go along and not give any warning, and knee jerk. So on that basis, it's one of the things we deal with and we'll react and respond to it."
This all very insightful stuff from the commissioner. If only because when you take Fraser's reaction into account, its seems that referees really don't mind making it up as they go along, despite how the rulebook reads.
Fraser writes an interesting column over on TSN that explains the nuances of the NHL rulebook and how referees choose to interpret them. Predictably, the Flyers' tactics vs. the Lightning were front and center on Friday.
Here is how the former NHL official would have handled the situation, and what the rulebook actually allows an official to do.
FRASER: If a player "abstains from advancing the puck" then Fraser would warn him and then blow the whistle for a faceoff nearest to where he puck is located. According to Fraser, this is due to "rule reference: 72.1 - This would take place after no longer than 10 seconds of inactivity NOT 30 seconds."
RULEBOOK: Check out Rule 72.1 …
72.1 Refusing or Abstaining from Playing the Puck - The purpose of this section is to enforce continuous action and both Referees and Linesmen should interpret and apply the rule to produce this result.
Do you see the word "advancing" in there? No? How about in the rest of Rule 72? No? Could this be because the entire rule relates to players who refuse to touch the puck with their sticks rather than players who are in possession of the puck? Why, yes.
FRASER: We're just going to cite this one verbatim …
Prior to the linesman conducting the face-off you and I would both go to the offending team's coach at his players' bench. This is what we would say, "Coach whether you hate the other team's defensive system or not they are entitled to defend however they wish so long as their players don't violate any rules while doing it. The team that has puck possession must advance the puck through continuous motion as per rule 72. Please advise your players to do so when they gain possession of the puck.
RULEBOOK: Actually, Kerry, that's [expletive], because nowhere in Rule 72 does it mandate that a team must "advance the puck." If you're claiming that "continuous motion" equals "advancing the puck," then we'd politely ask if this can be considered "continuous motion" in any logical interpretation, because it's clearly not advancing the puck:
Of course it can. The announcer even says "keeps the puck in motion here."
FRASER: "The next time (and each subsequent time) that we have to stop play because your team refuses to advance or play the puck a delay of game penalty will be assessed under rule 63!"
RULEBOOK: We looked at Rule 63(!) and here's the great thing about Rule 63(!) — it literally spells out about three dozen scenarios by which a player or team can delay the game. None of them are even tangentially close to what the Flyers were doing. So we can only assume that you're talking about Rule 63.3(!) which deals with a bench minor:
63.3 Bench Minor Penalty - A bench minor penalty shall be imposed upon any Team which, after warning by the Referee to its Captain or Alternate Captain to place the correct number of players on the ice and commence play, fails to comply with the Referee's direction and thereby causes any delay by making additional substitutions (including, but not limited to, continually substituting goalkeepers for the purpose of stalling or delaying the game), by persisting in having its players off-side, or in any other manner.
We're guessing the "Or In Any Other Manner" clause gives an official the right, in Fraser's eyes, to penalize the bench for any reason. Like if your goalie keeps covering the puck to cause faceoffs in the defensive zone, and the referee is angered by this completely legal thing, he can warn the bench and then assess a penalty because he feels it's delaying the game.
If you think this theory is preposterous, and that the rulebook protect legal plays like that of the Flyers, well then you have read the kicker from Kerry.
FRASER: To hypothetical coach: "If you have any issue with this you can take it up with the League but right now this is how it is going to be."
RULEBOOK: (Sheds a single tear, bids loved ones goodbye, jumps into fireplace.)
Again, as Gary Bettman said, "what we don't like to do is just make it up as we go along." The rulebook says nothing about "failure to advance the puck" with regard to the Flyers. The rulebook says everything about "continuous motion," which is what the Flyers had after the first warning. The rulebook may or may not give broad powers to a referee with regard to delay of the game penalties; either way, Fraser believes it's their job to fill in the blanks in that rulebook rather than the job of the NHL, NHLPA, the GMs and the competition committee.
Score one for the "they just make it up as they go along" crowd.