Cancel the NHL rulebook – the Stanley Cup playoffs’ weirdest controversies

12:48 PM ET

Greg WyshynskiESPN

Every NHL postseason produces indelible, memorable images. Mobs of teammates celebrating an overtime goal. Players finally hoisting the chalice over their heads after years of chasing it. Tearful loved ones watching it all from the stands, in victory or defeat.

But if there were one image that captured the spirit of the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs, it would be this:

Two referees and two linesmen, huddled up on the ice after a controversial call, attempting to suss out what they just witnessed or to conjure up the justification for a specious decision. Players are puzzled. Fans are restless. Confusion reigns.

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This has happened countless times during the past month. Sometimes it’s after a goal has been waved off. Sometimes it’s after a penalty was called on a bang-bang play. There was even one time in San Jose when officials called a major penalty because someone saw copious amounts of blood on the ice and assumed a player had been cross-checked in the head. The NHL had to apologize for that one.

But on several occasions during this year’s playoffs, officials have huddled together before speaking to the NHL Situation Room about a play that left everyone baffled about what was called (or not called) and why it was called (or not called).

This entire postseason has felt like a series of pop quizzes about subsections of the rulebook, and a referendum on whether they make sense.

Here’s a look at several moments in the postseason that required explanation, and whether we should just go ahead and cancel those bylaws.

April 28: Behind the net kick

Devon Toews scores a wild one from behind the goal line, but it’s ruled a kicking motion and called off. Good goal? ���� pic.twitter.com/OtEG3H4G9S – Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) April 28, 2019

The ruling: No goal. Devon Toews of the New York Islanders scores in Game 2 of their second-round matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes, knocking the puck off his skate, and then off goalie Petr Mrazek and into the net. The officials decided that Toews used a “distinct kicking motion” and ruled it no-goal, leaving coach Barry Trotz exasperated on the bench.

The confusion: Was that a distinct kicking motion? What if Toews wasn’t trying to kick the puck to the net? And what if the puck deflects in off the goalie? Said Toews: “I was trying to kick the puck to my stick, and it ended up in the net. I don’t know the ruling, but I trust they made the right call.”

The rule: We’ve all known that goals are disallowed “when the puck has been kicked using a distinct kicking motion, i.e. when the player propels the puck with his skate into the net.” Did you know that goals could be overturned “even if the puck, after being kicked, deflects off any other player of either team and then into the net?”

Cancel the rule? Were it up to me, players should be able to score goals by any means necessary. Look at what Toews did! Kicking the puck into the net actually required a great bit more skill than, say, having the puck deflect off one’s face. But I understand I’m in the minority, and that the bogeyman of 10 skaters wearing knives on their feet kicking their legs around the goalie is an image that’s hard to overcome. So we’ll say no, don’t cancel the rule. He kicked the puck in, by the letter of the accepted law.

April 30: Continuous play

GOOD GOAL! Jake DeBrusk gets the B’s on the board! #NHLBruinspic.twitter.com/WQO3JZBiXF- Binge Sports (@BingeSports) May 1, 2019

The ruling: Good goal for Boston. Jake DeBrusk of the Bruins shot the puck and it appeared the play was dead before the puck crossed the goal line. In fact, the referee standing right behind the net emphatically waved his arms to indicate that there was no goal scored.

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The confusion: Given the timing of the whistle and the fact that the referee waved off the goal, it appeared to be a classic case of “intent to blow,” i.e., the referee ending the play in his mind before blowing the whistle and before the puck crossed.

The rule: The Situation Room initiated the review, and “The ruling was made in accordance with Rule 38.4 (ix), which reads in part, ‘The video review process shall be permitted to assist the Referees in determining the legitimacy of all potential goals … include situations whereby the Referee stops play or is in the process of stopping the play because he has lost sight of the puck and it is subsequently determined by video review that the puck crosses (or has crossed) the goal line and enters the net as the culmination of a continuous play where the result was unaffected by the whistle (i.e., the timing of the whistle was irrelevant to the puck entering the net at the end of a continuous play).'”

Cancel the rule? No. “Intent to blow” is a scourge on the NHL, and any rule that upholds good goals — which the DeBrusk goal certainly was — is only a good thing.

May 2: The netting

Puck hits the netting but nobody notices, Panarin capitalizes to get the Jackets on the board pic.twitter.com/2KyTDHE0RB- Heart of NHL (@HeartofNHL) May 3, 2019

The ruling: Good goal. Artemi Panarin of the Blue Jackets scored after the puck hit the netting. After the puck hits the netting, Oliver Bjorkstrand corralled it and put a shot on net, and the rebound slid to Panarin, who put it past Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask.

The confusion: A puck going into the netting and then resulting in a goal would seem like a rather cut-and-dry thing for video review to overturn, no?

The rule: “Video review shall only be permitted on goals that hit the spectator netting if the puck is directed immediately into the goal. For pucks that hit the spectator netting undetected by the On-Ice Officials, ‘immediately’ shall mean the following: a) When the puck strikes the spectator netting and deflects directly into the goal off of any player; b) When the puck strikes the spectator netting and falls to the ice and is then directed into the goal by the player who retrieves the puck. In both of the above scenarios, the NHL Situation Room must have definitive video evidence of the puck striking the netting in order to disallow the goal.”

Cancel the rule? Of course. The puck left the playing surface. Were it not for the netting, the puck would be in the crowd. This isn’t like playing Wiffle ball in your front yard, and your buddy hits the ball into a tree and you have to still play it as it bounces off the branches. This is an easy, simple loophole to fix.

May 5: The Bishop injury

Ben Bishop takes a slapper to the collarbone and the Blues score while he’s down pic.twitter.com/AFVhPPUCcE- Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) May 5, 2019

The ruling: Good goal. A Colton Parayko shot injured Dallas goalie Ben Bishop, who was down on the ice when Jaden Schwartz of the Blues scored into a gaping net. There was no whistle for the injury.

The confusion: Why wasn’t the play whistled dead when Bishop was clearly shaken up, especially when one considers how the officials usually err on the side of overprotecting the goaltenders?

The rule: The refs can stop play if they feel the injury to a player is severe. Otherwise: “When a player is injured so that he cannot continue play or go to his bench, the play shall not be stopped until the injured player’s team has secured control of the puck.” The Bishop injury didn’t rise to the level of “severe.”

Cancel the rule? No. Without the benefit of an on-ice MRI machine, the refs had no idea what the extent of Bishop’s injury was in that moment. Plus, he remained in the game for another 33 seconds before getting pulled for “performance reasons,” so the refs would have looked rather bad had they whistled down the play.

May 6: The McAvoy hit

Bruins’ McAvoy lays out Blue Jackets’ Anderson with a controversial hit late in the second period of Game 6

Thoughts on the minor penalty call? �� pic.twitter.com/zSMqrhLOKM- Hockey Night in Canada (@hockeynight) May 7, 2019

The ruling: Charlie McAvoy gets a two-minute minor penalty for an illegal check to the head of Josh Anderson of the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 6.

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The confusion: The principal point of contact was the head, and McAvoy drove into Anderson. The idea this was just a minor penalty was a joke — this called for a five-minute major.

The rule: Welp, turns out there is no five-minute major for an illegal check to the head, only a minor penalty or a match penalty (which would have included a five-minute major), to which this play did not rise in severity.

Cancel the rule? Yep. This play should have resulted in a major penalty. According to former referee Kerry Fraser, “When the rule was implemented, the NHL Officials Association wanted it this way given the inconsistency of suspensions in this area and rescinded game misconducts that the refs called. We preferred to let Department of Player Safety handle it.” Great! Player Safety ended up suspending McAvoy for one game, which in no way helped the now-eliminated Blue Jackets. Let the officials call a major for this rule when applicable.

May 8: The Landeskog thing

Deboer and the #SJSharkspic.twitter.com/PDxwkUtq73- Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) May 9, 2019

The ruling: No goal for Colorado Avalanche in Game 7 vs. San Jose. Colin Wilson‘s goal that would have tied the game was overturned via a San Jose coach’s challenge. It was ruled that Gabriel Landeskog was offside while standing near the Colorado bench door, waiting to complete a change. “I would say it’s pretty rare,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said with an exasperated laugh. “In a Game 7, even more so.”

The confusion: Aren’t players that are changing basically non-playable characters? The “too many men on the ice” rule applies to players during a change that actively play the puck or hit an opponent. Landeskog had no bearing on the play at all. He was scenery. This was like overturning a goal because of an ad on the boards.

The rule: “After reviewing all available replays and consulting with the Linesman, the Situation Room determined that Gabriel Landeskog did not legally tag up at the blue line prior to the puck entering the offensive zone,” the NHL said. “The decision was made in accordance to Rule 83.3 (i), ‘All players of the offending team clear the zone at the same instant (skate contact with the blue line) permitting the attacking players to re-enter the attacking zone.'” Basically, Landeskog’s skate touched the blue line to kill the delayed off side, but then he stepped back into the zone before the puck arrived. Or at least that’s what the C-grade-quality pixelated video indicated.

Cancel the rule? No. Landeskog himself admitted that he needed to hustle faster to get over the boards, or be more cognizant of the play. “It’s a clumsy mistake, you know? ‘Get off the ice.’ If I could have done something different on that play, I would have jumped the boards a lot quicker,” he said. The real issue here is the egregious, myopic use of the coach’s challenge for offside plays. Landeskog leaving on a change had no impact on what should have otherwise been a good goal. Video review of offside was supposed to eliminate the egregious offenses, not have the War Room count pixels. This was less an indictment of the rulebook — it’s further evidence that the offside review is what needs cancellation.

This last offense is a reminder that for all the frustration over these myopic readings of the rulebook and time wasted looking at an iPad near the penalty boxes, some good can come from these debates. The offside video review has never been less popular than it is now, and it takes high-profile incidents like the Landeskog one to rally opinion makers toward its abolition. Which is exactly how we got into this pickle in the first place with that Matt Duchene offside in 2013, when everyone saw an injustice and declared it necessary to correct future ones. Now we can correct the correction.

The fact is that the playoffs are like a magnifying glass for the rulebook. We see what works. We see what needs to be refreshed, changed or outright canceled. Like the Brett Hull “skate in the crease” situation in the Dallas Stars‘ Stanley Cup win over Buffalo in 1999, which was a controversy so torrid that it helped end video review of crease violations that summer and eventually the entire “skate in the crease” rule. Did it help the Sabres that night? Nope. Did some good come from it? Upon further review, yes. Such are rules controversies in the playoffs.



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