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March 2, 2006

Clearly, This Rule's a Bad Idea

(WASHINGTON, DC) -- A defenseman takes control of the puck in his own zone and promptly sends it over the glass and into the stands. 

Under new NHL rules, that's a penalty. Cut and dry. No doubt about it. Open the sin bin and send him in. 

Or at least that's the way it used to be. 

Quietly, over the Olympic break, the league's general managers agreed that Rule 51(a) needed some amending. That's the regulation that states "a minor penalty shall be imposed on any player or goalkeeper who delays the game by deliberately shooting or batting the puck with his stick outside the playing area." 

The general managers decided to add a shade of gray to a previously black-and-white rule: "a puck shot out of play will now be judged by the route the puck leaves the playing surface, not the final destination." 

I e-mailed a few hockey beat writers seeking help in decoding this new regulation. The best interpretation I received was that "now, apparently, on-ice officials can use discretion" when calling a non-goalie for delay of game. Specifically, the general managers said that the four on-ice officials can "converse to get the correct call on where the puck left the playing surface." 

But don't these "route" vs. "destination" arguments fly in the face of the spirit of the original rule?

Defensive players were prohibited from sending the puck into the seats to ensure that it wouldn't be a cheap way to relieve offensive pressure in the attacking zone, or get his team a line change. 

With the new icing rule forcing tired defensemen and forwards to remain on for the face-off if they ice the puck, the "delay of game" rule eliminated what would have been a popular way to circumvent that stipulation. 

Now, it appears, we have another issue of "intent" in the new NHL. 

I hate "intent." I hate it every time I strain my eyes to witness a "kicking motion" on a goal off a skate. I hate it when a sure-fire icing call is waved off because the player "intended" to pass to a teammate down-ice. And I hate it now that a simple delay of game penalty can be turned into a prolonged debate because one official sees the offending player's "intent" differently than the other three. 

There's another rule in sports that deals with the "intent" of a player. The NFL calls it "intentional grounding." It's one of the single most frustrating, inconsistent and enigmatic calls an official can make. Any rule the NHL implements that reaches the migraine-inducing levels of that football boondoggle is an ill-conceived one. 

Again, there's no problem with the initial defensive zone "delay of game" rule. Especially when it forces a team like Minnesota — one of the league's most-penalized teams for defensive delay of game this season — to avoid implementing Lemairean countermeasures when the offensive heat gets too intense. 

But as the NHL has shown time and time again, no good idea is safe from some foolhardy tweaking. 


The best news for <b>USA Hockey</b> during its brief appearance in Torino? Forward Keith Tkuchuk was only a minus-5 on the score sheet... and a plus-3 in the waistline after two weeks surrounded by heaping platefuls of Italian food. 

Tkuchuk has a no-trade clause with the St. Louis Blues. That means he can veto any deal that would land him in an NHL arena that doesn't have at least three Burger Kings within walking distance... 

There's no real measure for the loss of <b>forward and captain Keith Primeau</b> to the Philadelphia Flyers. Primeau, who is still shaking the aftereffects of a concussion he suffered four months ago, brings a veteran postseason savvy to a team that lost a significant amount of it in its salary-slashing off-season. But there were real questions about the kind of player Primeau would be if he did return. He only had nine regular season games in the "new" NHL, not nearly a large enough sample to analyze how effective the 15-year veteran would be — though he did have seven points in that stretch. Then there's the postseason, where Primeau can either look like a Conn Smythe candidate (16 points in 18 games back in 2003-04) or an empty jersey (2 points in 13 games during the 2002-03 playoff run). 

Perhaps it's just best for all parties involved that Primeau wait until next season to attempt a comeback; the Flyers haven't exactly had the best track record when it comes to post-concussion captains and the playoffs...

<b>Why the Leafs Aren't Winning, Reason No. 13,398</b>: Toronto has five players in the bottom 15 for plus/minus within its own division. Entering this week and against the rest of the Northeast Division: Jeff O'Neill (minus-18 and minus-18 overall), Jason Allison (minus-17 and minus-11 overall), Darcy Tucker (minus-12 and minus-6 overall), Aki Berg (minus-11 and minus-17 overall) and Alexander Khavanov (minus-9, minus-5 overall). In contrast, Ottawa has six players in the top 15 of the divisional plus/minus rankings...

<b>Lou Lamoriello</b> announced he will finish the season behind the New Jersey Devils' bench, and why not? After Wednesday night's game against Philly, the Devils were 17-9-1 under Lamoriello, so they clearly don't need a kick in the pants via a coaching change. And ringing in a new coach for the final 24 games of this season wasn't going to make or break a potential Stanley Cup run; one that's going to rest on whether New Jersey can find a dependable offensive player not named Elias, Gomez, or Gionta... 

<b>Quick Question</b>: Can hockey writers crucify ex-players and ex-players' wives for gambling away huge amounts of money while supporting the Pittsburgh Penguins' effort to get in bed with slot parlors in order to fund a new arena? 

And what about the NHL, which is financing an internal investigation into potentially illegal betting, but which endorsed raising arena money from a company that exploits those addicted to the legal kind? 

When is gambling not gambling? When Mario's involved? 

Finally, The Palm Beach Post reports that the <b>Florida Panthers</b> will post losses of about half of the $5.5 million the team claimed it lost in during the cancelled 2004-05 season. Majority owner Alan Cohen had previously claimed to have lost $20 million in 2003-04 and the two years preceding it. 

On the surface, this would appear to be a victory for the Gary Bettman "cost certainty" crowd. But since the lockout ended, the Panthers have been the league standard-bearer for aggressive marketing. The team increased season ticket sales by nearly 2,000 before the season began, offering everything from personalized jerseys to exclusive concerts. Regular season ticket packages have been both inventive and affordable. Basically, the team has worked overtime to get old fans back to the game and new fans into the Panthers. 

Perhaps that commitment to hockey fans, rather than a revamped economic landscape, was the solution all along.

Greg Wyshynski, also the Sports Editor of The Connect Newspaper, is a columnist for and the Washington Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine. 
His book, "
Glow Pucks and 10-Cent Beer: The 101 Worst Ideas in Sports History" is now on sale.


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