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Breaking the rules: NHL

Road to hockey's Hall paved with broken rules

Posted: Wednesday July 25, 2007 12:07PM; Updated: Wednesday July 25, 2007 2:04PM
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In more than a decade in the NHL, Brett Hull was as unabashed in his willingness to bend the rules as he was in attacking the net.
In more than a decade in the NHL, Brett Hull was as unabashed in his willingness to bend the rules as he was in attacking the net.
David E. Klutho/SI
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One St. Louis sporting icon, baseball's Mark McGwire, likely won't get into his sport's Hall of Fame because he's widely regarded as a cheater.

Another, hockey legend Brett Hull, suggests his career wouldn't be worthy of consideration for the Hall if he hadn't.

But Hull, who spent almost 11 seasons with the Blues, doesn't have to worry about being snubbed when he becomes eligible in two years, even if the author of 943 regular and postseason goals -- third most in NHL history -- was quick to rat himself out as an unrepentant rule breaker.

His transgression? A stick whose curve routinely exceeded the one-half inch limit set by the NHL. Hardly a sin the magnitude of those ascribed to McGwire. But in a sport that one player described as being nearly impossible to cheat in, the illegal stick curve appears to be a common, and even widely accepted practice.

"It's the stupidest rule on earth," said Hull, never one to hide his honest opinion. "It was put in to protect the goalies back when they did it, but now you can shoot a bullet at them and you can't hurt them, so I don't really understand why they need it. Obviously it's there, but it's something a lot of guys ignore."

For Hull, the possessor of the most deadly one-timer in league history, bending his blade -- along with the rules -- was the difference between an average career and one for the ages.

"I had an illegal stick all the time and it wasn't so much that I thought I was cheating, but, you know, I wouldn't have got 300 goals in this league unless I'd had that stick that I used. I couldn't shoot it without that curve."

How prevalent is this offense? Go down the list of the league's top snipers and many of them -- including Ilya Kovalchuk, Jaromir Jagr and Teemu Selanne -- were nabbed last season with an illegal curve. Ask around and the belief is that as many as one-in-five players regularly break the rule, secure in the knowledge that they're unlikely to be caught.

One player likened it to speeding. "You're on the highway and the speed limit is 60, but everyone is going 75. Everyone's doing it and the thinking is, if so many guys are speeding, I can get away with it, too. And if they only catch one, it's probably not going to be me."

For the advantage presented by an illegal stick -- the puck comes off the blade faster and, like a curve ball, can be more difficult for the goalie to track -- the punishment isn't exactly a deterrent. It's a two-minute minor penalty, the same as a hook, trip or crosscheck, plus a $200 fine.

Of course, there's always the chance that a player can be caught. That's why it is common practice, especially among elite scorers, to keep a legal stick on the bench for use in the critical stages of a game, which is when they're most likely to be called on it by an opposing coach.

In Hull's mind, that's the most palatable part of the rule.

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