If you’ve been watching any preseason hockey, you know that penalties have been a big part of the discussion. Calls have been up for infractions like slashing, which the NHL is actively cracking down on.
There are many reasons behind this, the most likely of which is optics.
When Sidney Crosby slashed Marc Methot’s finger off (so to speak), the vision of the defenceman skating down the ice with his digit ablaze in crimson was hard to shake. So, too, was the vision of Crosby not receiving a penalty on the play. There was no supplemental discipline, either.
The problem at the time was that there was no way to call it. And the reason for that was, as Johnny Gaudreau put it, there’s no way to know.
“I think it’s tough for the refs to make those calls in games: You don’t really know how bad a slash is,” said Gaudreau. “But if they can harp down or look at it a little more closely, I think it might cause a little less injuries. Guys won’t be missing substantial time. I think it’d be huge.”
And by the way, the Calgary Flame would know. Gaudreau missed two and a half weeks to fix a broken finger that he acquired after being slashed across the hand repeatedly.
The NHL has stated that it is taking a stronger stand on slashing going into the 2017-2018 season and that’s been evident in preseason play thus far. Officials have been instructed to call more of it.
And there has been more slashing in the NHL, especially after stricter enforcement of hooking and holding took place after the 2004-2005 lockout.
“Players started slashing in between the hands and on the hands and the whacking became hacking became something that became the norm in the game,” NHL director of officiating Stephen Walkom said. “It’s time to have a stronger enforcement to let the players know what they can and can’t do. If you’re going to be whacking a player’s hands six, eight feet from the puck, there’s a good chance that you’re going to be penalized if it’s seen by the officials on the ice.”
The task hasn’t been easy and some preseason games featured a parade to the penalty box. Walkom told officials to adjust their approach and focus on slashes to the hands and that may lead to a finer point on things, but change takes time.
The goal is to reduce injuries and open up play, in case it needed to be said. How that will pan out in the regular season remains to be seen, but don’t be surprised to see a few bumps in the road as the NHL and its players adjust once more.