Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Calvert took a puck to the side of the head as he attempted to block a shot during Saturday’s game against the Vancouver Canucks. Elias Pettersson’s point-blank shot caught Calvert above his right ear, dropping him to the ice.
Pettersson let up on the play, stopping momentarily and gesturing to the officials. When he realized no whistle was forthcoming, he played on, glancing back to check on Calvert. The puck ultimately ended up on the stick of Canucks defenseman Alexander Edler, who fired the puck into the net to cut the Avs’ lead to 4-3.
Why was there no whistle to stop play?
Rule 8.1 covers injured players.
When a player is injured so that he cannot continue play or go to his bench, the play shall not be stopped until the injured player’s team has secured control of the puck. If the player’s team is in control of the puck at the time of injury, play shall be stopped immediately unless his team is in a scoring position.
In the case where it is obvious that a player has sustained a serious injury, the Referee and/or Linesman may stop the play immediately.
The rule is clear: it’s a judgment call. It’s up to the on-ice officials to determine, in real-time and without the benefit of multiple camera angles.
“It’s not the refs’ fault. It’s just a league rule,” said McKinnon, who ultimately scored the game-winner in overtime. “The guy is lying there, bleeding out the side of his head — and it’s Matt Calvert. He’s such a tough guy, he’s not looking for a whistle and faking it. If it’s a puck off the foot, let him lay there. A broken foot, it’s serious, but he’ll be fine. But a guy’s bleeding out of his ear? It’s pretty dangerous.”
Referee Justin St. Pierre (#12) was down low on the shot, while Garrett Rank (#7) was positioned just outside the blueline. In this case, the officials appeared not to be aware of the severity of Calvert’s injury. He remained down on the ice before being helped off by the medical trainer. Calvert is out indefinitely.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman recently commented on the Calvert play to Sportsnet.
“Generally [the rule allowing officials to stop the game] is applied with common sense and that’s what we encourage the officials to [use],” he said. “Obviously if the player is in real distress on the ice, the officials need to react. But those are tough situations to be in to evaluate in real time.
“What you don’t want — and this wasn’t the case [with Calvert] — you don’t’ want it being used for gamesmanship, where a game is stopped needlessly. Having said that, any time a player is in distress, the officials know they need to stop the game.”
Avs head coach Jared Bednar spoke about the play after the game.
“For me, we’re talking about head injuries and what not, and that’s the second time now in two weeks for us that a guy takes a puck in the face and is bleeding all over the ice and [the officials are] letting it go,” said Bednar. “He’s not moving so I just think we should blow it dead. Sometimes it’s a tough call to make because you’re trying to let the play go and seeing if he’s going to get up. But I think eventually you should just blow it dead.”
While Bednar may have been frustrated, he knows better than to confront the officials directly about the play. Not so for Brian Lawton, who made a trip to the refs’ room.
I broke a rule GMs know not to. I went to the officials room. They told me I know I shouldn’t be there. I said too bad walked into the room & said don’t care about wins & loses if ANY player is in danger stop play ASAP. Judgement call but player safety 1st! No exceptions.
— Brian Lawton (@brianlawton9) November 17, 2019
Clearly, had the Avalanche gained possession, play would have been stopped.
With the Canucks controlling the puck, the officials were left to make a snap determination on Calvert’s injury.
Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski weighed in on Twitter. “Has to be blown down. This play has to stop,” said Werenski. “To clarify, this is a tough spot for the refs based on the rule, it puts them in a tough position and I’m sure they don’t want to see anyone hurt on the ice. Have to find a way to make it more clear in situations like this.”
As currently written, the rule leaves it up to the referees and linesmen to determine the severity of a player’s injury, at least while the opposing team has the puck.
“My understanding is, if [the other team has] the puck with possession, you don’t blow the whistle,” said Canucks coach Travis Green. “Right or wrong, that’s the way the rule has been for a while. We got fortunate tonight. You don’t like to see someone laying down hurt like that.”
For that to change, look to the rulebook – not to the officials.