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Drop the gloves during the playoffs with SI.com's writers in the NHL Cup Blog, a daily journal of hockey commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
12:46 PM ET, 6/03/06

Don't mess with delay of game rule

Posted by Allan Muir
The safest bet in hockey right now? Put the house, the kids' college fund and this weekend's beer money on the NHL's competition committee installing the delay of game rule at the top of its agenda this summer.

But just because it's going to be discussed doesn't mean it should. And it doesn't mean anything's going to change.

The Buffalo Sabres and their fans believe an application of the rule that penalizes a player for sending the puck out of the defensive zone and into the stands cost them Game 7.

They're wrong, of course. But that won't stop them from making enough noise to ensure that the rule is reconsidered. And the truth of the matter is that they're not alone. More than a few hockey people have expressed concern over the rule since the beginning, and they used the hypothetical of a delay of game call impacting a key playoff game as the reason.

That's exactly what happened, of course, when Brian Campbell launched a clearing pass into the crowd midway through the third period in a tie game. And Carolina made the most of the ensuing power play, scoring the winner with the extra man.

Of course, the whole point of this penalty, or the tripping call that put Justin Williams in the box five minutes later is -- get this -- to penalize the offending team. Buffalo paid the price for breaking a black-and-white rule and now they're whining about it.

If it had been Bret Hedican who sent the puck sailing over the boards instead of Campbell, you probably wouldn't hear a peep out of the Sabres or their fans, but that's the way it goes, right?

The thing to remember is that there were perfectly good reasons to put this regulation on the books in the first place. Time and again, savvy players took advantage of the previous lack of a defined rule to relieve pressure in the defensive zone. This was designed to force defenders to keep the puck in play, either by banking the puck off the boards or throwing it somewhere on the ice. Either result gives the opposing team a better chance to intercept the puck and counter-attack.

It's also important to keep the rule in context: it was enacted as part of a package intended to increase scoring in the NHL. Fair to say it worked.

Some are suggesting the rule be adjusted to allow for a discretionary read of the play by the officials, with wiggle room for what is deemed to be an "accidental" clear. That'd be a bad move.

Leaving it to the discretion of an official to determine whether a stick around the waist is a hook, or whether a pick is interference is one thing. Asking him to get inside a player's head to figure out whether he intended to send a puck into the stands is something else entirely.

Changing the rule because of one high profile application is ludicrous. It worked exactly as it was supposed to.

Leave it alone.
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