There have been over 200 slashing penalties called this preseason (which isn’t over)! I am all for more time on the power play, which means more hyped up crowds, but the other side of it is brutal.
This sport is a game of battles and stick checking with immense physicality. “You can’t even play hockey anymore,” former pro and current analyst Kelly Chase said last Wednesday.
Special teams is already such an important part of the game. Four of the top ten power plays last year were top 10 teams overall. The third best happened to be the Stanley Cup winning Pittsburgh Penguins. However, I am unsure whether this is a big deal or small deal, I am simply stating the apparent issue.
“Any forceful” or “powerful chop” with the stick on opposing player’s body is slashing. The rule has not changed, but the enforcement of it has in fact. It is an emphasis that is related to player safety. Reducing injury to star players is all good and well, but we still have to play hockey and battle, right?
Exaggerated, but understandable
791 minor penalties for slashing were called last season. Numerous went uncalled. The problem with slashing is that stick checking is such an engrained part of the game. “It’s tough for the refs to make those calls in games: you don’t really know how bad a slash is” said Johnny Gaudreau (who suffered a broken finger from a slash last season). Therefore, you either call everything that remotely reflects the rule or just the blatant slashes that obviously reflect the rule, which risks injury.
The league has decided to enforce any and all remote reflections of the rule. Johnny Gaudreau (“Johnny Hockey”) is one of the most marketable players in the NHL and Marc Methot is a force to be reckoned with on the back end for his team (Dallas Stars). The two of them missed considerable time last year because of hand injuries from slashes. Alexander Steen (a top-6 forward for the St. Louis Blues) has been out the entirety of training camp due to a slash to his hand behind the net. As frustrating as it has been to hear the whistle blow at an excessive rate this preseason, it may be warranted.
I do not want to see special teams take over the entire game with it being so important already. However, there are certain elements that could elevate the excitement level of the game from this change.
High Flying End-to-End Action
The youth movement has already been discussed and understood. Naturally, the game is going to keep getting faster for the audience. The lack of stick checks and more body on body board battles can take the speed of the game to new heights as well.
Buffalo and Toronto were the top two power plays in the NHL last year. The Leafs took their young high powered offense to the postseason as Buffalo continued their rebuild. This new enforcement of the slashing rule has given more teams extensive time on the power play, which can always swing a hockey game. Winning the special teams battle has a similar effect in hockey as it does in football. Teams could become increasingly more competitive this year, which would allow more playoff pushes to ensue if referees continue this trend all season.
More races to the postseason sounds exciting, but no one knows if it will be good for the game or if they will even happen. No one knows how this will play out if slashing penalties are continued to be called this way. We see the plethora of calls being made and we go crazy. That is all we know right now as well as hockey still being an exhilarating spectator sport. It will all work out just fine.
What do we want?
We want hockey. NHL fans will be getting hockey starting October 4th. There are conversations involving numerous topics every single year about what could make the game better. This is just another one of those conversations.
There are risks, rewards and sacrifices to be made in order to sustain products in the entertainment business. Decisions are made and discussed relentlessly in the offseason, during the regular season and the playoffs. The idea to enforce the slashing rule more so this year was clearly seen as an issue important enough by members of the NHL Front Office to act on.
Hockey will still be the same physical, intense sport that is brutally exciting to watch. I do not know how I feel about this slashing enforcement issue. I’ll let you know at the end of the season. I’m just ready for some hockey.
“From Our Haus to Yours”