Vegas defenseman Zach Whitecloud hung his head as the Dallas Stars scored in overtime to clinch the Western Conference and punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final.
Whitecloud watched the series-winner from the penalty box, where he sat, serving his two minutes for the crime of shooting the puck out of play.
“I just feel terrible for the kid. Such a [lousy] penalty to begin with,” DeBoer said. “Not on him, but for that type of penalty to decide a game doesn’t make sense to me.”
Certainly, the blame does not fall on Whitecloud. The Golden Knights blew a 2-0 lead in the game, managing just one win in the best-of-seven series.
Not that it makes it any easier on the rookie defenseman.
Rule 63.2 is clear on delay of game for shooting the puck out of play:
A minor penalty for delay of game shall be imposed on any player who deliberately shoots or bats (using his hand or his stick) the puck outside the playing area (from anywhere on the ice surface) during the play or after a stoppage of play.
That rule has been on the books for years. Coming out of the 2004-05 lockout, the NHL increased the stakes, calling for a penalty for anytime the puck was shot directly out of play from the defensive zone, regardless of intent.
When any player shoots or bats (using his hand or his stick) the puck directly (non-deflected) out of the playing surface from his defending zone, except where there is no glass, a penalty shall be assessed for delaying the game. The determining factor shall be the position of the puck when it was shot or batted by the offending player. If contact with the puck occurs while the puck is inside the defending zone, and subsequently goes out of play, the minor penalty shall be assessed. When the puck is shot into the players’ bench, the penalty will not apply. When the puck is shot over the glass ‘behind’ the players’ bench, the penalty will be assessed. When the puck goes out of the playing area directly off a face-off, no penalty shall be assessed.
It was now an automatic penalty. No longer would the officials be tasked with judging a player’s intent.
The problem? Delay of game for puck over glass is one of the rare automatic penalties.
“I think it’s a terrible rule in that it takes judgment away from the officials. Deliberate should be a penalty,” said retired NHL referee Paul Stewart, who officiated over 1000 games in the National Hockey League from 1986-2003. “Late in the third period with bad ice, we should be able to use judgment.”
There have been 30 puck-over-glass penalties this postseason, three of them coming in overtime. Of those 30, seven resulted in a power play goal (23%).
It’s the automatic nature of the call that makes it the most-called penalty in playoff overtimes, tied with tripping and ahead of hooking, holding, and slashing.
Puck-over-glass penalties made up just 3% of the penalties called in the regular season. In the playoffs, that number holds steady at 3%.
Playoff overtime, though, is a different story. Through 21 overtime games, puck-over-glass calls make up 21% of the penalties handed out in the extra sessions.
“I hate this rule,” tweeted Don Cherry. “What a rotten way for Vegas to go out. The spirit of the rule was if someone flipped the puck over the glass on purpose than it was a penalty, not this. What if this was in the Finals?”
Last year’s Stanley Cup Final saw six delay of game penalties for puck-over-glass, making up 12% of the calls in that series. In fact, puck-over-glass was the only penalty called in Game 7 of that series. Only one resulted in a power-play goal, which happened to be the Bruins’ Game 6 game-winner.
Sean McIndoe opined on the rule shortly after its adoption:
The puck-over-glass rule was the perfect solution to the problem of players intentionally shooting the puck into the stands to delay the game, which would have been great except for one small detail — that problem never existed. On the list of things that hockey fans worried about pre-lockout, players intentionally shooting the puck into the stands as a strategic move ranked slightly behind thinking that alternate jersey designs weren’t ugly enough.
The rule has all sorts of built-in exceptions. If the puck touches the glass on the way out, it’s not a penalty. If it goes over the bench area (where the glass is lower) it’s not a penalty. If it deflects off another player, it’s not a penalty.
Those are all smart exceptions to make, because those sorts of scenarios would clearly be the result of bad luck instead of actual intent, and penalizing bad luck isn’t fair. But because intentionally shooting the puck into the stands almost never happened in the first place, virtually every call under the new rule is the result of bad luck. Any time the penalty is called these days, fans watch the replay and mumble “Yeah, he clearly didn’t mean to do that.”
And that’s what makes the rule so dumb. It solves a problem that didn’t exist by punishing players for something they didn’t mean to do. It’s practically random.
When the new rule took effect at the start of the 2005-06 NHL season, it wasn’t the only tweak to the rulebook.
The NHL made a handful of other modifications, including a critical change to icing. Teams would no longer be allowed to change players after an icing.
In one fell swoop, both icings and pucks out of play were made more punitive. Icings, slightly so by preventing a line change. The cost of putting a puck over the glass raised disproportionately.
Why make puck over glass so much harsher?
The NCAA treats puck over glass like an icing. Perhaps that’s not strong enough.
Perhaps allow teams a free pass, similar to what the NHL does on faceoffs. Tossed once from the dot, you’re good. Tossed twice, you get a delay of game penalty for a faceoff violation.
First puck over the glass results in a warning. The second, a penalty.
Of course, you could always leave in the “deliberately shoots” language, if the officials feel it was a clear-cut case of intentionally firing the puck out. Things certainly get muddy when you have officials attempting to determine a player’s intent. Any change to this rule should ensure the main focus is kept on the outcome – puck leaving play – over the intent, in most cases.
Some, though, see no need for a change.
“I love this rule,” said Ken Campbell of The Hockey News. “This forces defensemen to make skilled plays. It’s great for scoring.”
The Dallas Stars would likely agree.