by Mike Chen on 01/15/10 at 04:02 PM ET
The NHL has a not-so-pretty track record of going overboard comes to rule changes; in the past, they either made rules that seemed nonsensical (whoever thought a two-line pass would be a good rule?) or they wound up mucking up their own rules with crazy flowcharts of “if-then” statements for interpretation. Case in point—the ever-popular intent-to-blow rule.
It seems like just about every team has been screwed out of at least one goal with the whole intent-to-blow debacle, and it’s not getting any better. When we came out of the lockout, the first few years were all about rainbows and harmony when it came to the rules. The “new” NHL (with a logo going UP instead of down!) and the “new” rules (actually, just the old rules finally being called) made everyone as happy as Luke Skywalker buying power converters.
I’ll leave the rant about the return of obstruction for a more appropriate time, like the playoffs. I think we all know everyone’s big complaint is the whole intent-to-blow rule, and it makes me think back to the late 1990s when skates in the crease were all the rage.
In case you need your memory refreshed about this (which means you probably don’t live in Buffalo):
How many times did we see this whole skate-in-the-crease thing? So many that EA Sports even included it in their late 90s games—and there seemed to be a “human factor” variable in the game, because the computer refs would make the wrong call sometimes. I spent plenty of nights in college with my roommates arguing about how their virtual player’s skate was in my virtual goalie’s crease.
However, as awful and stupid as that rule was, at least it was a black-and-white rule that was supported by overhead video. It may have created countless groan-inducing moments, but at least it was a rule that seemed to be cut and dry. I mean, how could you screw up when you had a video image of someone’s skate in the crease?
(Insert appropriate Brett Hull joke here. Short aside—I remember right after the Stars won the Stanley Cup, the Sharks game presentation team got in big trouble when they had a pre-game video of SJ Sharkie breaking into the league offices to check out their records, only to find a giant asterisk next to the Dallas championship. The Sharks organization had to apologize, but I thought it was really freakin’ funny.)
So the crease rule was more annoying than anything else. It interrupted the flow of the game, it made fans hesitate to celebrate, and it really just seemed kind of a stupid way to try and protect the goalie. Plus, you’d think that in the time it was used, they would have had a moment when they used the “possession” rule used to justify the Hull goal (if they could have pulled up video and cited a previous precedent, I think everyone would have calmed down a lot more). The intent-to-blow rule, though, puts in that intangible variable of human opinion. It creates a gray area that is leaves things too loose to work in a game of split-second timing.
I suppose it comes down to what you think the refs roles are. Should refs merely enforce the rules, basically acting like human conduit for the words printed in the rulebook? If that’s the case, then the league should adjust the intent-to-blow rule to a more black-and-white version: play to the whistle. Or should the refs act as interpreters, using their best judgment and factoring in for human error when calling things? If you support that, then the logic (if not the execution) of the intent-to-blow rule is reasonable.
For me, I always think rules are rules in sports. If you let things slide into opinion and interpretation, you inevitably lose the objectivity that creates a fair playing field. Thus, I side with the group that wants something done about this intent-to-blow rule. If you’re going to keep it, add in some strict guidelines that make it tangible for everyone. When you get too much “interpretation” in the rules, you wind up inevitably throwing things in favor of one side or another—just like when the league inevitably relaxes it obstruction rules again, that will tilt things in favor of those who clutch-and-grab instead of skate and work for body position.
Rules are rules for a reason and they should be treated as such. Of course, until we can replace refs with NHL robots (maybe we can reprogram those old NHL on Fox robots), there will be some element of human error, but the league should try to minimize that in every way possible. Otherwise, it starts becoming about one guy’s opinion rather than two teams on the ice.
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