March 10, 2009
Toronto Maple Leafs Coach Ron Wilson has always had a mischievous streak, which is one of the reasons why his entry into the Toronto media hive collective was so highly anticipated.
Know this about the NHL: Plenty of people know where the bodies are buried when it comes to players using illegal sticks. Or at least they think they do. Whether it's by observation or scuttlebutt among players, you could have one of these stick measurement requests every game. Hell, the announcers on the following clip called out Alexander Ovechkin for using one; but that's probably because he's not Canadian and he celebrates too much ...
It's an unwritten rule, however, that these stick measurements aren't a tactic implemented all that often in the NHL. It's a bit of a dishonorable Hail Mary pass for a coach; which is why Wilson called for the measurement down 2-1 with 2:16 left in the game. (Gotta get those points in Toronto. Who really needs a higher draft pick anyway, right?)
The greatest part of the following clip is about 50 seconds in, when Spezza manically attempts to swap his stick out for another or break it to no avail. From Jefflered on YouTube:
"It might be the thickness of the stick or the toe-curve." Hey, whatever gets it done.
Up next, the NHL stick rule and the hilarious back and forth between Wilson and Spezza after the game.
From the Toronto Star, here's the logic behind and the aftermath of the stick measurement:
The Leafs were still playing to win and coach Ron Wilson said he tried to reward that effort by getting his charges a power play by pointing out Spezza's doctored blade with Ottawa clinging to a one-goal lead.
"Our players competed like heck," said Wilson. "I wanted at the end to give our guys a chance to win, they tried so hard. The guy is using a stick that's not only illegal but dangerous. I had an opportunity to call it, so I did."
"Real dangerous, I guess," said an annoyed Spezza sarcastically. "They told me (the blade) was too skinny. I shave them down to be skinnier."
The problem, as officials found, was indeed that the height of Spezza's blade was below regulation as it approached the toe. Wilson said he's been aware all season that the centre was using an illegal stick. "Unfortunately, our power play stunk so what are you going to do?" said Wilson.
Indeed, the Senators killed it off and went on to win, 2-1.
From the NHL, here's the rule on the stick blade:
The blade of the stick shall not be more than three inches (3") in width at any point between the heel and ½" in from the mid-point of the tip of the blade, nor less than two inches (2"). All edges of the blade shall be beveled. The curvature of the blade of the stick shall be restricted in such a way that the distance of a perpendicular line measured from a straight line drawn from any point at the heel to the end of the blade to the point of maximum curvature shall not exceed three-quarters of an inch (3/4").
Again, the "danger" inherent in Spezza's blade is likely just in the hyperbolic mind of Ron Wilson. Unless he was worried that a skinny blade might be injurious if Spezza went Tyler Kennedy on his lumber ...
Which brings us to this point: Why should the NHL even regulate these things if tons of players are using illegal sticks and everyone usually looks the other way on them? Plus, illegal sticks would appear to generate offense; for a League that's done everything from legalizing previously illegal passes to drawing geometric shapes behind the net to restrict goalie involvement, what's a little more tradition trashing for the sake of goals, right?
Something that's come up is why the league even has these rules. I can understand regulations preventing someone from sharpening their stick-blade into a shiv, which is probably the intention of this particular rule, but the curvature limits should seriously be reconsidered. If banana blades help people score, and the NHL wants more goals, why not change the rule?
On the Team 1200 Senators' post-game show, analyst Mike Eastwood hypothesised that at least one player on each NHL team is likely playing with an "illegal" stick, particularly the better players. If that's the case, then the league needs to make a decision: Change the regulations, or mandate stick-checks before every game. A penalty is only as strong as the degree to which it's enforced, and there's no sense looking past a player's infraction 99 per cent of the time, until they're called on it.
It's hard to argue for the future validation of what is illegal equipment today. But there may be merit in the all-or-nothing argument: Either you enforce the rule for all players, and not just when it's convenient, or you don't.
That said ... there's something rather comical and devious about the tactic Wilson used last night and other coaches have used in similar spots late in the game. If a player knowingly uses an illegal stick, then having a coach turn that into a late-game power play is hockey karma ... even if it breaks the "code."
Finally, here's Steve Dangle on last night's game. As only Steve Dangle can be: