April 14, 2008
Had it been Alexander Ovechkin waving his stick around in front of a goaltender's face, it would have been hailed as the greatest innovation for power plays since the dump-and-chase. Had it been Patrick Kane, it would have been praised as the next generation of NHL players reinterpreting the rule book. Instead, it was super-pest Sean Avery of the Rangers irking Devils goalie Martin Brodeur by using his stick like a toy sword and waving his hands around to distract his nemesis. Everyone in hockey had a strong opinion about the legal and moral implications of Avery's Game 3 shenanigans (video here), but only a few pundits were brave enough to state the obvious: Had it not been Sean Avery, this incident would have been audacious at best and comical at worst. But it was Avery, so the NHL made a rare rule "clarification" in the postseason today:
"An unsportsmanlike conduct minor penalty (Rule 75) will be interpreted and applied, effective immediately, to a situation when an offensive player positions himself facing the opposition goaltender and engages in actions such as waving his arms or stick in front of the goaltender's face, for the purpose of improperly interfering with and/or distracting the goaltender as opposed to positioning himself to try to make a play."
As Scotty Hockey points out, it appears the NHL has actually endorsed Avery's brand of taunting as long as "his ass is to the netminder." Which is great news for those of us who believe Avery's antics were legal, innovative and ultimately effective; as he penetrated the depths of Brodeur's mind where only visions of double-cheeseburgers had previously dared to tread. Perhaps this is the libertarian response to the incident, but there's absolutely no reason to legislate against Avery's actions: Let his teammates like Chris Drury judge him or let a slap-shot from the point to the back of head educate him or let one of the Devils make him pay the price. The Game has a way of sorting these things out for itself.