A few years ago, the NHL made a number of minor rule changes in an attempt to speed up the game. Perhaps the most direct attempt at reducing the length of time it took to complete a contest was the introduction of the “hurry up face-off” procedure.
The rule reads like this:
76.3 Procedure – As soon as the line change procedure has been completed by the Referee and he lowers his hand to indicate no further changes, the Linesman conducting the face-off shall blow his whistle. This will signal to both teams that they have no more than five (5) seconds to line up for the ensuing face-off. At the end of the five (5) seconds (or sooner if both centers are ready), the Linesman will conduct a proper face-off.
Essentially, after the line changes are complete, the centers have 5 seconds to line up and be ready for the draw. Or else…
This inevitably led to a number of controversial decisions by linesmen to simply drop the puck before both teams were ready. On rare occurrences, this would even lead directly to a goal, like it did for the Panthers in Pittsburgh back in October of 2011:
Well, it appears as though times have changed.
As Don Cherry has so elegantly pointed out several times over the last year, there is an epidemic in the NHL today – linesman taking entirely too long to drop the puck.
In this case, it’s hard to disagree with him.
Between a fake drop, kicking one player out of the dot, another fake drop, kicking the other center out of the circle, arguing with both players about why they were removed, a third fake drop, and finally an actual face-off, the whole procedure appears to be taking longer than ever.
The officials themselves appear to be contradicting the spirit of the rule they’re meant to enforce.
And as a fan, it’s frustrating to watch.
The Snowball Effect…
Now don’t get me wrong, the importance of ensuring a perfectly fair face-off late in a closely contested game, deep in one team’s zone is obvious, but when players are being waved out of the draws incessantly during opening face-offs and neutral zone draws, some common sense needs to be applied.
What’s worse is that clever coaches are catching on to these linesmen’s habits and using them to their advantage, delaying play even further.
Remember how not allowing a line change after an icing was supposed to deter teams from dumping the puck down the ice and consequently speed up the game? Well, not anymore.
Next time you watch a game, count how many times you see a winger line up to take the face-off after an icing call. They’re purposely trying to get themselves waved out in order to buy more time for their tired teammates. Clever, no?
It’s Hard to Explain…
Having spent time living in Australia and Southern California, I have had the opportunity to introduce the sport of hockey to a lot of people who have never watched it before.
The most common questions I get?
“Why do they let them fight”, “What’s an icing?”, and “Why doesn’t that ref just drop the puck?”
Generally, I can fumble my way through an explanation of the first two, but to this day, that third question still leaves me stumped. My only response? “I really don’t know…”
It’s time for the NHL to re-establish the hurry up face-off and clearly explain to linesman and officials the reasoning behind it. What’s the point in forcing players to rush to the dot, only to have a linesman severely hold up the process?
Personally, I can live with the rare puck drop before my team is ready. What’s much harder to swallow is clear over-complication of the procedure and watching every face-off take 10-15 seconds longer than it should.