NHL Rules Debates, Stanley Cup News And More!

Marc Elliott

KETTLE RIVER…. This off-season promises to see some fairly serious rule change debates in the National Hockey League, and for at least a couple of the topics, these are overdue and must be addressed. I refer to NHL Rule 61 for starters, and it will probably get a lot of attention. Rule 61-Slashing, 61.1, Slashing-Slashing is the act of a player swinging his stick at an opponent, whether contact is made or not. Non-aggressive stick contact to the pant or front of the shin pads, should not be penalized as slashing. Any forceful or powerful chop with the stick on an opponents body, the opponents stick, or on or near the opponents hands that, in the judgment of the Referee, is not an attempt to play the puck, shall be penalized as slashing. Ok? What do you think? I have seen every Stanley Cup tourney game this year outside of two that I missed because of travel. This is easily one of the more brutal playoffs I have seen in some time. 

As good as I believe the NHL officials usually are in trying to officiate the best and fastest game in the world, I have to say that there have been several blatant missed calls in each series, stick fouls seem to be at an all-time high and the referees seem to be caught between a let them play and decide the game or call everything by the book mentality. Usually there exists a blend of the two within every game. In the first couple of periods the ref’s will call it tight and then if it’s a close game in the third they will open up the established standard for that game. Most times the players understand that and play accordingly, sometimes they don’t and take unfair advantage of that officiating group and then there is some pretty ugly hockey on display. 

Within the slashing rules debate is whether or not to eliminate stick slashing from Rule 61.1. You have seen it and I have, a puck carrier is skating up ice apparently going in for a high percentage scoring chance and suddenly gets his stick slashed and it breaks and the ref’s arm goes up. It’s a case where he doesn’t have a lot of choice. Add to the fray that today’s high tech two hundred buck composite sticks seem to break at the least expected time and you have a debatable matter. In addition, I could slash your pricey plastic stick in the 1st period and nothing will happen until late in the game when you go to take an important shot in a critical situation and poof! There goes two hundred samolis and your potential goal into the dumpster! 

This is a far cry from the days when I could go to the local hardware or sporting goods store before the season began, grab six Northland Lou Nanne model sticks off the rack for a buck seventy five each and I was set for the winter. I recall when the Swedish company, Jofa, started selling their sticks in the Twin Cities. Kokesh Sporting Goods in Hopkins was the first store to get them in, they were very light and very strong. But they were five bucks a copy. Give me six! So, whether you had an “expensive” or inexpensive stick back then, if you knocked it out of an opponents hands or even broke it, I don’t recall any penalization taking place. You were responsible to hold on to it and protect it. Simple.

So the debate is about whether or not to remove the stick slashing part of the rule. My real opinion is to get rid of these composite sticks and go back to good old fashioned timber, but that’s not happening, like ever. Change the rule, get rid of the stick slash penalty. The other debate relative to the slash is about all of the hand and arm chopping taking place and the resulting injuries. My first thought is that I’m kind of sick of this taking place in any games at any level. It’s NOT a hockey play. And it’s not being called enough. We may have to have one season where we have a “course correction” such as when the league moved to get rid of hooking and holding. For the most part that’s out of the game now, it’s time to do this too. Then…. Is the NHL ever going to come up with enough courage to permanently BAN checking from behind? With the major focus on head trauma and so forth, why is this allowed?  Any answers out there?

I AM WATCHING THE Nashville-Anaheim tilt right now and the Preds and Ducks are now tied up at 3-3 in the middle of the 3rd frame. A victory this eve sends the Preds to the SC Final for the first time ever. Their fans are revved up beyond belief. I’ve got to experience that before and it’s a pretty good experience. Many analysts have been of the opinion that the Preds speed game might be wearing the Ducks down and sapping their energy for the 3rd periods and late in the games. I tend to agree with that but this game is do or die for the Ducks and they have to turn off that signal in their mind that tells them they are tired and running low on juice. I have believed that the Preds would get it done tonight and advance but it will not be easy, and an OT or two wouldn’t surprise me… 

THE PENGUINS-OTTAWA series resumes Tuesday night and the Pens, at 3 games to 2, have a chance to close out and advance. Both sides have taken a pounding within these first three rounds and the SC tourney, as you may have heard before, really is a battle of attrition. The Pens are missing so many D-men right now that I’m thinking they have reached down as far as some Pittsburgh area high school clubs for some roster fillers. But considering how many players they are missing, to think that they are on the verge of another SC Final appearance is truly amazing and a testament to their depth. The Pens also seem to be paying extra attention to American collegiate players as they have more rostered former college players then any other NHL club. 

This begs for yet another interesting debate, and one that I might entertain sometime shortly after the tourney concludes; will NCAA hockey at some point takeover Canadian Junior Hockey in the volume of players developed for NHL teams? Hmmmm… PEACE