By now, every hockey fan has seen the spectacle of the Flyers-Lightning game last Wednesday, in which fans (including a national TV audience in the United States) were “treated” to a couple of instances of the Flyers refusing to bring the puck out of their own end and the Lightning refusing to forecheck. If you didn’t see it, you can guess what happened. That’s right, nothing. Many seconds of nothing.
Of course, the subsequent talk ran heavily towards what the on-ice officials did (blow the play dead a couple of times), didn’t do (penalize either team) and should have done (um…something other than what they did), as well as what the league should or should not do (most recommend a wait-and-see approach before any significant action).
Former NHL referee Kerry Fraser (love that first name!) weighed in on the subject on TSN’s website, where he argued that penalties could have been assessed (and that he would have assessed them), based on the fact that the team in possession of the puck (the Flyers) were not “advancing” it.
Well, Fraser’s use of the phrase “advancing the puck” (and his citing of two sections of the rulebook in support), led Yahoo Sports’ Greg Wyshynski (always worth reading and following on Twitter [@wyshynski]) to post a response on the Puck Daddy blog. To give you an idea of his position, the post is entitled “Kerry Fraser’s problematic take on Flyers/Lightning stalemate.” The gist of Wyshynski’s criticism is that the rule Fraser cites (Rule 72) never mentions the phrase “advancing the puck” and is entirely concerned with players refusing to touch the puck at all for various reasons (mostly to prevent a stoppage of play after a hand pass, high stick making contact with the puck, icing, etc.)
Wyshynski’s point is well taken, but I believe that the ultimate answer to the Flyers’ actions (inactions?) lies in the selfsame Rule 72. After all, the introduction to the rule states:
“The purpose of this section is to enforce continuous action and both Referees and Linesmen should interpret and apply the rule to produce this result.”
It is not much of a stretch to interpret “continuous action” as meaning a little more than just “keeping the puck moving.” I think that the examples given in Rule 72 are not more extensive simply because no one conceived of a team in possession of the puck not wanting to, well, play the game (except for short-term strategic reasons like ragging the puck on a penalty kill.) If the league wants to go the rule-changing (or, more accurately, rule extending) route, this is the place to do it.
And if you’re thinking “this would be a tough judgement call,” I can only say that’s the world that referees live in. Watch any hockey broadcast. The announcers pass judgement on the referee’s judgement ON EVERY CALL. I don’t think it will be difficult for the referees to see a case of a team doing the on-ice equivalent of picking up its toys and going home, and penalize them for it. Bench minor cures all.
What do you think? Comments, as always, as welcome.