Thin Air – Coaches Comma

A few thoughts from around the league.

- There’s a lot of hand wringing over the Vancouver Canucks and John Tortorella. The question is whether or not he is the right coach for the Canucks considering their current slide and doubtfulness of making the playoffs. Frankly, Tortorella is one of many problems the team has, which started after game seven of the Stanley Cup Final in 2011. Note that I did not say game six. The slide of the Canucks started with the mishandling of the Luongo situation, and only got worse as time went on.

I’m not sure Tortorella is the right coach for most teams. You had better have the right mix and type of player to deal with him. He might be a brilliant hockey mind, but he brings his baggage with him, and expects everyone to be his bell hop. I don’t believe that his antics behind the bench, in the press conferences, or near the Calgary Flames locker room helped his cause at all.

- One of the things that works against Tortorella is something I think every coach at the NHL level fights: every coach that has come before in the player’s lives. By the time a player has reached the NHL, how many coaches have they had? If they were lucky enough to crack an NHL roster in the early stages of their career, they might not have the lineup of minor league coaches that most of your lower draft picks have had. Still, no matter the player, they have had a bunch.

Kids are coached in hockey starting around age five, and I believe that most coaches, systems, and even parents would start earlier if they could. Every aspect of their game has been criticized, refinded, taped, played back, discussed, evaluated, and most likely shoved down their throats. It’s like that guy at the office who has been there for twenty years, and some new manager comes in to really shake things us. And all that guy is thinking is, you’re just the next guy who is going to tell me I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m going to still be here after you are long gone.

The player’s know how to play hockey. They also know when a coach is full of it, and when they actually know what they are doing. I’m not so sure it’s a matter of a coach losing the room. I think coaches in general are losing the room, because there is way too much coaching. They have practically lost the room as soon as they gained it.

Maybe it’s time to have a three coach rotation. One a hard ass, one a player’s coach, and one in the middle. Rotate them every few weeks. You know, a Coaching-Go-Round. When players tire of one, bring in the next type.

- Can we talk about two rules everyone hates, but I think are absolutely necessary? The first is Intent to Blow. You know, that maddening moment when a puck crosses the line, and the ref says the play ended moments before? I think it’s a generally good rule, even while I understand why it pisses people off.

The two issues with the rule is that it is only used in circumstances when something is going to be waived off like a goal. The other is it brings into question the integrity of the ref. Only they really know when they decided to blow the play dead.

Perhaps we can solve this issue with a sort of video replay. When Intent to Blow is the ruling, play a video of the scene for the ref to watch, and ask him specifically when the play was blown dead. If the puck is in the net after he says the play is dead, you have a goal. Also, the apparent grey line of exactly when the intent was is eliminated. I’m sure it isn’t as simple as this, but why not give it a shot?

- The other one is the delay of game penalty for the puck over the glass. From a pure safety standpoint, I like this rule. I don’t know if a single puck has not gone into the stands because of this rule, but it stands to reason that players think a little more about not putting it over the glass.

I don’t like games being decided on this penalty, but I don’t think anyone enjoys a game ending on a power play of any sort. The rule here to stay. The refs tend to get the call right, and that’s the important thing.

- I talked about the #ImagineAvs video already. But the tl;dr version is this: I would not compare it favorably to the fashion show in Slap Shot. But at least they are trying something.

- Elliotte Freidman, in his 30 Thoughts column, mentioned that Ryan Kesler penciled Colorado as one of six destinations he would have allowed a trade to. So let me get this straight. Kesler wanted to go to a Patrick Roy coached team from a John Tortorella coached team. I think that says a lot right there, about both coaches.

But actually, what surprised me was that he thought there was a place on the roster he would fit. The Avalanche are carrying enough centers, so many that they had to move Nathan MacKinnon to wing. Where would he have gone? Fourth line? I’m guessing the only thing the Avs would have been willing to give up would be Paul Stastny, which did not happen, and wouldn’t be enough to land Kesler anyways.

- How much depth do the Avalanche have? How about this: Paul Carey was called up from Lake Erie. Who is Paul Carey? Beats me. Lake Erie have been to the playoffs once since the team was formed, and didn’t make it out of the first round. The depth issue needs to be addressed soon. You can’t carry just enough forwards forever.

Blues vs Avs: Another Reason the Goal Should Have Counted

In the Avalanche’s 3-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues, the game winning goal was one surrounded by controversy.  Maybe surrounded isn’t the right word.  Briefly huddled around?  Anyways, here it is, in case you missed it:

The NHL Situation Room blog explained the decision this way:

At 14:07 of the second period in the Blues / Avalanche game , video review was inconclusive in determining if the net was completely dislodged before the puck crossed the goal line. There for,  the referee’s call on the ice stands. Good goal Colorado.

78.5 (x)  When the net becomes displaced accidentally. The goal frame is considered to be displaced if either or both goal pegs are no longer in their respective holes in the ice, or the net has come completely off one or both pegs, prior to or as the puck enters the goal.

The question of whether the net was off it’s pegs was inconclusive, so the “call on the ice” stands.  Two things about this:

First, there was no call on the ice.  If there was, it was done in secret.  The ref neither signaled goal or no goal (wash out).  That is academic, but interesting to note.

The second thing is another rule that could have been applied, from section 25 of the NHL rulebook, Awarded Goals, and rule 25.2, which states:

25.2 Infractions – When Goalkeeper is On the Ice – A goal will be awarded when an attacking player, in the act of shooting the puck into the goal (between the normal position of the posts and completely across the goal line), is prevented from scoring as a result of a defending player or goalkeeper displacing the goal post, either deliberately or accidentally.

I think we can safely say that this is what happened.  Not only did the Blues players take the net off it’s moorings, they carried the puck in with them as well.  You could say that the puck wasn’t shot by an Avalanche player, but you could say that a shot was what put the puck into the defenseman (OK, it was a pass) in the first place.  And if you check out rule 78.4, Scoring a Goal, the second paragraph states:

A goal shall be scored if the puck is put into the goal in any way by a player of the defending side. The player of the attacking side who last touched the puck shall be credited with the goal but no assist shall be awarded.

If the net had stayed on it’s moorings, the goal would have counted.  The Blues knocked it off, and therefor the right call would have been to award the goal anyways.

The unfortunate part is that this was the game winning goal.  Had the Avs tried to score in the third period, rather than sit back and defend a one goal lead, they might have scored another goal or two, and St. Louis fans might feel a little less screwed over by the call (which they weren’t, really).

The Avs have won seven in a row at home, which is a stark contrast to the beginning of the season.  Maybe they can keep it up against the Tampa Bay Lightning, who were shellacked by the Sharks tonight.

Research, for the win.

Research!

(I don’t photograph well)

Bad Timing Does Not Make a Bad Rule

Rule 32.2, which is basically the “intent to blow” rule, is under fire at the moment. So we are clear on what the rule says:

As there is a human factor involved in blowing the whistle to stop play, the Referee may deem the play to be stopped slightly prior to the whistle actually being blown. The fact that the puck may come loose or cross the goal line prior to the sound of the whistle has no bearing if the Referee has ruled that the play had been stopped prior to this happening.

I can’t think of a scenario where this rule is going to be applied where everyone will be satisfied. For the most part, intent to blow the whistle is going to come into play when the goalie has frozen the puck (or frozen it enough to make the play stop), the ref loses sight of the puck, or the puck crosses the goal line. Can you think of a scenario where half the fans involved didn’t feel screwed over by the refs?

This week has seen two instances of the “intent to blow” rule applied and pucks in the net not counted as goals. It doesn’t help that the first example went against a wildly popular team with a vocal fanbase. The second occurrence was the next night, on a play that would have made the Maple Leafs the victors in the battle of the basement.

When this happens, the masses cry for the heads of the refs involved, sweeping changes to the rule book, and rant about how the league is against their team (when I hear this kind of talk, I just smile and nod, and realize that I am dealing with a nutter). Like I said, everyone isn’t going to be satisfied.

The cries have gone up. The non-skating masses who have never read the entire rule book have spoken (no, reading a rule at a time does not count, go get the rule book and read it cover to cover). It’s time to end the era if “intent to blow,” right?

Wrong. I now intend to blow your mind:

The rule is a good rule, and should stay.

Mind blown? No? Maybe?

When you read the text of the rule, all the reasons for the rule to exist are there. There is a human factor involved, and for the 59:59 of a game that the refs go unnoticed, there is no problem with that human factor. It’s that one or two seconds of indecision (or in the case of the Leafs – Canes game, about 4 seconds), those small mistakes, those little moments that the frothing fans want the entire thing blown up.

And sure, it makes for good blog fodder to be outraged, or to take the refs to task (a meme that goes back way past Al Gore inventing the internet), but it’s also generally uninformed as well. There are very few people who write about hockey who skate, play the game, or – god forbid they should intensely learn about the game – have taken a coaching or officiating course (USA Hockey and Hockey Canada provide seminars at the beginning of every season, and have plenty on manuals, guides, and casebooks for further study). I realize that there are people who can’t do these things (and I don’t mean the basic excuse making kind of can’t, I mean really physically can’t), and those people get a pass. And yes, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but this isn’t their site. Also, it doesn’t mean I am better than everyone else.

Name one sport that puts the refs in this much close contact at this high of speed with the players (and box lacrosse doesn’t count, since it’s basically hockey on grass with a ball). Basketball is a comparatively slow game, with very few scenarios in which a rule like this would be needed. Football and baseball are sports played from moment to moment. In hockey, the refs are trapped on the ice with twelve angry men who want to win at all costs. They are checked, hit with the puck, and do everything they can to get out of the way of the action while constantly monitoring the game. The speed of the game, along with the danger of being on the ice with the players, makes officiating hockey one of the most difficult jobs in sports (not to mention that they skate the entire game, unlike the players).

Here’s a simple example: How do you blow your whistle when you are falling down to the ice? A few players get tangled up with the ref, he goes down, but needs to stop play. This is a perfect example for this rule being put in the books in the first place. I bet if you tried hard, you could come up with a few yourselves.

Were these two games fine examples of the rule being applied? No, they were not. I don’t see a reason the ref in Carolina shouldn’t have blown the whistle any earlier than he did. But that doesn’t mean the rule is a bad rule. One or two applications that are unsatisfactory to the fans does not make for a bad rule.

Oh, and comments are turned off for this post. Take your ref bashing and start your own blog with it. The refs are expected to be professionals, but the players aren’t held to the same standards? Yeah, I’m not interested.

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Better Know a Rule: Kicking the Puck

For your playoff rules primer, I recommend watching a little bit of this video, provided by NHL.com, designed to cover their bases and keep fans who watch it from screaming at the refs, their TVs or their children, when a puck is waived off due to the puck being kicked in the net.

After viewing this video, you can also read my take on interference, from a while ago. I still think it holds up.

But beware. Don’t watch the video too long. It is mind numbing.

No Touch Icing: Another Solution

No-touch icing has been on the minds of the hockey pundits lately, and for good reason. After Kurtis Foster broke his leg slamming into the boards after a race for the puck, the issue was brought into focus again, and the call went out for change. The debate has simmered down a little, but there is still a little discussion to be had. And frankly, it isn’t a bad discussion to be had.

No-touch icing is already in use in the minor leagues (CHL and ECHL, for instance), and in USA Hockey, so it isn’t unusual. Much like the visor issue, the NHL is behind the curve again. The problem isn’t that it hasn’t been tried, the issue seems to be about excitement. The fans like the race to the puck. And broken legs and concussions be damned, there is going to be that race.

To me, the problem isn’t that there is a race for the puck. The problem is that it ends at the boards. If the race for the puck ended in the middle of the ice, there would be no problem. At worst, you would see the occasional twisted ankle, but major injuries would be gone (until someone did something really stupid, which seems to happen every year). It seems so simple a concept that it is easily overlooked. The race isn’t the issue, it’s where it concludes.

I’ve been thinking about compromise lately. How to keep the race alive, but bring it’s conclusion away from the boards. I have an idea.

I don’t know how many of you follow outdoor lacrosse, aside from unfortunate news stories. In the game, since you are dealing with a hard rubber ball thrown around with sticks that have nets on the end, the ball goes out of bounds quite often. The determining factor as to who gets possession of the ball afterwards is who is closer to the ball when it goes out of bounds. Actually, the determining factor is who’s stick is closer. It’s a race for the ball that is fast, hard and physical.
Here is how the rule reads from the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse rule book, Rule 4, Section 6 – c – 3:

3. When a loose ball goes out of bounds as a result of a shot or deflected
shot at the goal, it shall be awarded to the team that had an inbounds
player’s body nearest to the ball when it became an out-of-bounds
ball, at the point where it was declared out of bounds.

The same could be implemented in hockey, or at least experimented with. When the puck crosses the line, the linesman, or ref, depending on who was in better position, either blows the play dead for icing if the player from the defending team is closer, or waives off icing if the offending team’s player is the closest, and play continues. Most of the “battle” would happen in open ice, taking a lot of the risk out of the race for the puck. The race itself would conclude away from the boards, and there wouldn’t be the danger of positioning for a puck touch rather than a hockey play. Players skate in to the end boards differently if there is a play to be made, rather than stretching to touch the puck for an icing call.

I realize that it could be a photo finish to tell which player is closer to the puck or line, and mistakes are going to be made. Hockey fans are not a tolerant bunch when it comes to making mistakes, especially by the officials, so this could add a little more unwelcome scrutiny to the refs. Mistakes on icing are rare, and usually only detectable by HD video super slo-mo replay. That is why there would have to be some experimentation and testing involved, before bringing it to the game. Who can make the call? Can a ref cover for a linesman that is caught out of position? If two players were equidistant to the line when the puck crossed, icing could be waived off, or not, depending on what the NHL wanted in the rule book. Would it be who was closer to the line, or closer to where the puck crossed the line? How do you determine when to blow off an icing call if the players are close to the goal line? All questions to be answered, but all addressable.

What do you think? Do we really need to change the system? Is another rule change going to bring something better to the game? Is no-touch the only alternative? What do you think of lacrosse icing? Comments are always open.