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Molinari: Enforce the Rules … and Improve Them, Too

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Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby

Just a few days ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins might have been heartily in favor of a major rule change that absolutely no one has proposed.

Or ever will.

You know, the rule that says the team that wins a game is the one that gets the most points in the standings.

Given that the Penguins were in a 0-6-1 skid when they ventured into Washington last Wednesday, it’s understandable if they’d lobbied hard for that one to be tweaked. Or abandoned.

But now that their situation has stabilized a bit — they took five of a possible six points out of the three-game road trip that ended with a 5-4 overtime loss in Montreal Saturday — it isn’t likely to come up in conversations around the team offices. (Not that it ever did, of course.)

The league does, however, have some rules and practices that should be revisited, and adjusted. Or discarded. Among them:

Don’t punish victims

At first blush, immediately punishing a player for an egregious act — especially one that targets and injures an opponent — seems perfectly logical. Justice delayed is justice denied, and all of that.

That makes a lot of sense in general society. It does not necessarily do the same in hockey.

Consider this hypothetical: It’s mid-March, and the New York Rangers, who are challenging for first place in the Metropolitan Division, are playing the Penguins.

In the second period, Sidney Crosby launches a forearm into the head of unsuspecting New York defenseman Jacob Trouba. No penalty is called (not that such a thing ever would go unpunished in real time, of course), but Trouba is unable to finish the game, and actually has to sit out the following one.

Because the league never would let any player, especially one with a reputation as a head-hunter, get away with such a grievous hit, Crosby is suspended for three games.

Trouble is, two of those are against Carolina and New Jersey, teams the Rangers are competing with for the top spot in the Metro. Without Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ chances of beating either drop significantly, indirectly hurting New York.

Doesn’t really seem fair, does it?

Here’s a simple solution: Give the team whose player was targeted by the suspension-worthy hit the option of determining when the league-imposed penalty takes effect. The punishment must be served in consecutive games, but otherwise, the aggrieved club can dispense justice as it sees fit, whether that’s to benefit itself or hurt the club whose player caused the issue.

One other possibility: Compel him to serve his entire suspension against the team whose player he assaulted. In the example above, make Crosby sit out the next three Penguins-Rangers games, even if some are in the playoffs or don’t happen until the following season.

Use your head

Executives, coaches and players talk about the importance of eliminating head shots from the game, especially with the growing body of evidence about the potential long-term impact of concussions on an individual’s quality of life.

But while hits to the head aren’t necessarily encouraged, there does seem to be widespread acceptance of them as, at least at times, an unfortunate byproduct of a game played at high speeds that requires participants to make split-second decisions about things like where and how to deliver a check.

Simple solution to getting rid of them: Make them all illegal.

It doesn’t matter if one is completely accidental, like when a shoulder driven into the sternum of an opponent rides up his chest and strikes his chin, or maliciously intentional.

The severity of the punishment, anything from a minor penalty to a long suspension, can be tailored to the details of the situation, but players have to learn that hits to the head will not be accepted.

They’ve adapted to countless rules (and cultural) adjustments over the years — remember when bench-clearing brawls and stoppages for two-line passes were integral parts of the game? — and they’d get accustomed to a ban on all hits to the head, too.

Radical? Perhaps. So is being unable to dress yourself or remember your kids’ names when you’re 45.

Do what the good book says

This has been suggested one or two (billion) times over the years, but referees should enforce the rulebook the way it is written. Period.

It shouldn’t matter if it’s the first shift of the preseason opener or overtime of Game 7 in the Stanley Cup final. If there’s a clear infraction, call it.

An official who decides he doesn’t want to possibly determine the outcome of a game by assessing a penalty in a particular situation is doing exactly that by not making the call.

Allowing a guy to get away with a hook or hold or trip isn’t “letting them play;” it’s letting one team gain an advantage by operating outside the rules.

Make up your mind … quickly

There are video reviews in almost every sport that seem to last longer than some celebrity marriages, and taking three or four or five minutes to determine whether an official’s call (or non-call) was correct disrupts the flow of the competition and gives TV viewers incentive to see what might be on another channel.

Of course, the whole point of such reviews is to make sure that the official in question got things right, but if reaching that conclusion requires a frame-by-frame examination of the video that drags on much more than a minute — if that — the original call should stand and play should resume.

Sure, that might mean that an incorrect call might stand occasionally, but if someone scores a goal despite being offside by the width of an ice chip or a receiver is deemed to be out of bounds even though there actually was a blade of grass between his foot and the sideline, the sport in question isn’t going to be shaken to its foundation.

Besides, if a player is upset with a replay ruling of that sort, he can always take it out on an opponent. Perhaps with a head shot that likely will go unpunished.

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DaGama
DaGama
18 days ago

The folks running the NHL think most race car fans watch to see the crashes. Unfortunately nothing is going to change soon with respect to hockey player safety.

Jeff Young
Jeff Young
18 days ago

Hull’s skate was in the crease. Buffalo got robbed. (I don’t think we should hold our breath waiting for consistency.)

joe Cursi
joe Cursi
18 days ago

Dave,

Let’s be real! The league, refs, or the Klingons are not hurting the Pens!

When do we remove Letang from the PP? Petry could be even worse however he at least will take a shot or two. Zucker at net front. And Rust back with Geno.

Sincerely,

Albert “Insanity” Einstein

P.S. Please explain to the mouth breathers.

Last edited 18 days ago by joe Cursi
JICS
18 days ago
Reply to  joe Cursi

Let’s do it, so we can have an effective PP again!

Pete
Pete
18 days ago

When will the league get rid of the goons that run DPS? Sadly, not soon enough.
I think the rule should be that you miss as many games as the person you injured if your hit is determined to be worthy of suspension and the injured player misses games.

D Schock
D Schock
18 days ago

While you’re rewriting the rule book, how about a half-minor assessed in addition to the goal if a team is able to score on a delayed penalty? If a player gets whacked on a clear breakaway but still manages to score, give him the penalty shot, also. Or, in the case of the Pens recent pp, allow the offended team to decline the penalty.

Alan Smith
18 days ago

See Ovie throwing questionable hits around lately! It is always a blind shot! Other sports seem to respect one another more than some NHL players do! No place for it!

Chalkdust
Chalkdust
18 days ago
Reply to  Alan Smith

Amen. Most of his hits are borderline charging penalties as seen in the last Pens game. As Dave said in his article, just enforce the rules.

Rob
Rob
18 days ago
Reply to  Alan Smith

Yeah he’s a cheap shot artist. Wish someone would lay him out once and for all.

Mark Miller
Mark Miller
18 days ago

Good luck with that, most fans enjoy seeing an opposing player hit and taken out of a game. Unfortunately the fans love seeing violent hits, not saying that they approve just like seeing the other guy taken out.

Nathan
Nathan
18 days ago

Hockey is a contact sport — and the action is continual. Things are going to happen. But hits like the one Ovi dished out the other night are the ones that need to be outlawed because of the potential for serious injury. It was not a simple check into the boards. That was a proactive and unnecessarily brutal hit. Football penalizes for unnecessary roughness, and for head shots. Hockey can do the same. Penalties are always going to be a judgment call, but if they would simply introduce an unnecessary roughness penalty, that would help get rid of some of… Read more »

Vince Gori
Vince Gori
18 days ago

Dave, your discussion points make a lot of sense, but we know will never happen. Teams like the Rangers and Caps are notorious headhunters and rarely get punished. I’ve seen Ovi run that same setup train wreck of a check on a player engaged with another and never get called. Trona, and Wilson are notorious headhunters who seem to always escape punishment. In the old days an unpunished foul was dealt with by answering to the enforcer no later than the next game. This usually occurred even if the perceived foul wasn’t real. Remover when Orpik had to answer to… Read more »

Rob
Rob
18 days ago

I remember and being at those bench clearing brawls.Remember when the Pens had Marty McSorley. I can still visualize watching him during a bench clearing brawl pounding a player to the ice and when the player was down on the ice as well. He was brutal…

Jstripsky
Jstripsky
17 days ago

Pat LaFontaine should be the head of player safety.