November 29, 2010
The silly thing about the "Avery Rule" violation called on Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger(notes) last Friday was the alarmist tone taken by those who claimed it had to be called, lest the NHL become infested with offensive players doing the John Cena "you can't see me" hand wave in front of goalies' faces.
The sillier thing was the notion, voiced by everyone from Don Cherry to Justin Bourne, that Pronger should be better than to flap his arm like a whooping crane with one good wing to distract Miikka Kiprusoff(notes). Suddenly, the guy who steals the game puck from the winning team should be a paragon of virtue? It's a miracle Pronger hasn't done this previously (or that it hasn't been caught on tape). Or that he didn't just drop an atomic elbow on Kipper and be done with it.
The silliest thing, however, was the NHL's explanation for the call, in which a league that adhered to a strict constructionist view of the rulebook on serious issues like hits to the head suddenly can ignore its own verbiage in order to justify a novice official's mistake.
In case you were in a food coma or in line at the local Best Buy last Friday, here's the Pronger incident from the Flyers' 3-2 shootout loss to the Calgary Flames:
And here's Pronger's delightfully combative comments on the penalty:
There's been some strife about the timing of the call vs. when Pronger committed the "penalty," but that sort of thing happens on goalie interference penalties from time to time.
Of greater concern is what's actually in the rulebook. Matt from The 700 Level emphasized one aspect of the Avery Rule that would seem to leave Pronger's actions above the law:
"An unsportsmanlike conduct minor penalty 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," Colin Campbell, the NHL director of hockey operations, said in a statement.
Philadelphia Inquirer writer Sam Carchidi caught up with Terry Gregson, NHL director of officiating, and asked him about that disconnect:
The infraction is not in the NHL's 2010-11 rule book. Instead, under Rule 75, there are generalities listed under "unsportsmanlike conduct."
"We don't list everything that constitutes unsportsmanlike conduct -- because, to tell you the truth, there may be something we miss," Gregson said. "So, it's general and all-encompassing."
Gregson said when the rule was first created, after the Rangers' Sean Avery(notes) waved his hands and stick to block Devils goalie Martin Brodeur's(notes) view in a 2008 playoff game, it stated that a player would be called for unsportsmanlike conduct if he distracted the goalie illegally while facing him.
He added that the rule also applies if the player has his back to the goalie -- as Pronger did. "It's about the act, not whether or not he's facing the goaltender," Gregson said.
Well, that's [expletive].
Lost in the controversy over Avery antics in 2008 was that he wasn't penalized for waving his stick in front of Martin Brodeur. That's because what he did was what Carey Price(notes) at the time called "an unwritten rule."
Which is to say it was bad form, but not against any rule.
Carolina GM Jim Rutherford reiterated that in an interview with ESPN after the Avery incident:
"That's not something that anyone writing the rule book has anticipated, and I don't think that we view that as part of our game," said Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford, an NHL goalie for 13 seasons. "With that being said, Sean Avery didn't do anything to break any rules.
"With every rule that is written or how we try to change the game, somebody gets creative. Sean has gone beyond being a little bit creative on this one," he said.
So save the "sprit of the rule" or the "open for interpretation" garbage. They needed to amend the rulebook for Avery, and did so by specifically defining the penalty as one called on a player facing the goaltender. Pronger didn't violate that rule.
If you want to say what Pronger did was illegal, then you have to make it illegal by amending the rules; just as the NHL did with Avery, and we haven't had someone swinging his lumber like a freshman in color guard since then.
As we said earlier: It's hard to swallow the NHL saying "it's general and all-encompassing" with regard to unsportsmanlike conduct having refused to be that liberal with its interpretation of charging when players ended up on stretchers on a one-per-month clip.
Until, of course, they changed the rules to make blindside hits illegal. Because when acts are outlawed, they can be whistled as a penalty. Otherwise, you're just making it up as you go along, or protecting the mistakes of AHL refs like Ghislain Hebert.
The Flyers were jobbed here. Case closed.