Toronto’s Kasperi Kapanen may not have known about throwing sticks, but it looks like he may have spent some time reading up on the NHL rule book.
The Maple Leafs winger was undoubtedly aware of the new NHL rule requiring players without a helmet to head right to the bench.
With Toronto pressuring the St. Louis Blues, Kapanen looks to establish position in the slot. A battle with Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo saw Kapanen’s helmet knocked off. The Leafs winger looked right at referee Jake Brenk – who appears to reply with an “Off!” – before heading right for the bench.
It’s important to note that a player can be penalized for intentionally knocking an opponent’s helmet off. In this case, it’s clear that Brenk felt the helmet displacement was incidental to the battle for position and not intentional on the play.
Thankfully for the Leafs, they were able to maintain possession. Clearly, though, Kapanen’s lost helmet impacted their scoring chances.
Edmonton’s Connor McDavid found himself in a similar predicament against the Vancouver Canucks earlier this season. McDavid lost his helmet in the defensive zone while the Canucks had possession. Rather than head to the bench for a change, McDavid recovered his bucket and attempted to rejoin the play. Vancouver took advantage of the brief man-advantage and scored.
From the NHL Rulebook, under section 9.6:
A player on the ice whose helmet comes off during play shall be assessed a minor penalty if he does not exit the playing surface, or retrieve and replace his helmet properly on his head (with or without his chin strap fastened), within a reasonable period of time.
It is reasonable if a player who is making a play on the puck or who is in the vicinity of the puck and engaged in the play at the time his helmet comes off, takes the opportunity to complete the play before either exiting the ice or retrieving and replacing his helmet.
The biggest gray area is in the league’s definition of ‘a reasonable period of time.’ According to the league, this is designed to give the officials flexibility before assessing a penalty. In practice, officials have been instructed to advise the player to get his helmet or get to the bench. If a player fails to comply and instead continues the play, only then will a penalty be called.
In McDavid’s case, you can hear referee Jake Brenk yelling, “Connor, Connor, put it back!”
We talked about the new lost helmet penalty on this week’s Scouting The Refs Podcast.
It’s clear that this rule is focused on safety, particularly when it comes to head injuries. The NHL doesn’t want to risk a helmet-less player suffering an injury on the ice.
Of course, the best solution: tighten up those chin straps. Don’t leave it up to the officials — or your opponent.