In November 2016, dynamic Calgary winger Johnny Gaudreau suffered a fractured finger during a game in which he was slashed, by one count, 21 times by members of the Minnesota Wild.
Slightly more than a year later, the 24-year- old winger nicknamed Johnny Hockey was off to the best start of his career, ranking second in the NHL in scoring with 34 points through 23 games.
It is not a coincidence that, heading into the 2017-18 season, NHL officials placed an emphasis on stricter adherence to the slashing rule. Through the first 277 games of this season, 432
slashing penalties were called versus 147 such whistles over the same stretch in 2016-17.
“It’s just nice you don’t have to worry about that as much,” Gaudreau told Sportsnet. “The refs have done a great job with harping down on that a little bit more. It gives us a little more space
and time to make plays rather than worrying about breaking a finger or breaking a wrist or something.”
Gaudreau isn’t alone in enjoying the NHL’s effort to stop the chop. In the first quarter of the season, leaguewide scoring was up significantly over last season — which, if unintended, was certainly a byproduct of the plan put in motion in September.
Enforcing the Rule
On September 7, 10 days before the preseason opened, former NHL forward George Parros was named the league’s senior vice president of Player Safety. The nine-year veteran, an enforcer with 1,092 career penalty minutes, immediately laid down the law, reinforcing the notion that slashing would be a point of emphasis with both game officials and the league office.
“If they seem to be intentful or directed at the fingers and hands with greater force, we’re going to be looking to do something — fines, suspensions, whatever it might be,” Parros told NHL.com. “We’re going to try to change player behavior.”
NHL director of officiating Stephen Walkom, despite taking some flak during an especially penalty-laden preseason, was undeterred in his mission to protect players — and change player behavior.
“As far as slashing around the hands, they need to fear doing it. Keep your stick closer to the puck,” he told Sportsnet. “It will take time to change habits. That’s our mandate in preseason
and during the season and playoffs.”
Net Result? Goals
Just a third of the way through the season, the slashing crackdown has paid off in the way everyone except goalies hoped for — increased scoring.
According to analytics website fivethirtyeight.com, through the season’s first third:
- There were 31 games in which double-digit goals were scored in regulation, compared to 45 such games all of the previous season.
- The league goals against average of 2.76 through Dec. 19 was the highest it’s been in 10 years.
- While goalies are stopping a higher percentage of shots than they were a year ago (92.18 to 91.94) they’re facing more shots per game (31.6) than at any point since the 1980s.
It’s worth noting that more penalties (yes, the slashing calls are still up over last season) is producing more power plays, which produces more goals. That’s what the people want. Now, instead of enduring pundits suggesting the nets should be bigger (yeah, and let’s raise NBA nets to 12 feet while we’re at it), the NHL is enjoying the benefits of ensuring skill players have a greater opportunity to employ those skills.
Guest Author: AJ Lee is Marketing Coordinator for Pro Stock Hockey, an online hockey shop offering pro stock hockey equipment. He was born and raised in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, and has been a huge Blackhawks fan his entire life. AJ picked up his first hockey stick at age 3, and hasn’t put it down yet.