Monday November 3rd, 2014

Despite years of debate, experimentation, failed implementations and, yes, even more debate, the NHL hasn't quite figured out how to perfectly govern its product. Sure, there have been scads of recent rules changes, most of them for the best, but there are more than a few regulations on the books that continue to have a negative impact on the game: the goalie-restricting trapezoid, the instigator rule and the automatic double-minor for drawing blood with a high stick.

Ugly, all of ’em, but as we were reminded twice last week, none of them are as game-alteringly brutal as the rule book’s intent-to-blow clause.

On Oct. 28, Lightning defenseman Radko Gudas chipped a rebound past Coyotes goalie Mike Smith to give Tampa Bay a 4–0 lead ... for a moment, anyway. Before the Bolts could begin celebrating, the referee waved the goal off. Moments later, he told the NHL’s situation room that he had intended to blow the play dead before the puck crossed the goal line. The call stood, and Gudas, who had just three goals last season, was robbed of his first of 2014–15.

On Oct. 29, Craig Smith appeared to have put the Predators on the board just 1:35 into the game when he crammed a rebound behind Oilers goalie Ben Scrivens. But the trailing official lost sight of the puck in the scramble and said that he had been raising his whistle to end the play as the puck crossed the goal line. Again, no goal.

According to Rule 78.5, apparent goals will be disallowed “when the Referee deems the play has been stopped, even if he had not physically had the opportunity to stop play by blowing his whistle.”

In both instances last week the decisions followed the letter of the law. But both instances also proved just how lousy that law is.

It's one thing to lose a goal on a quick whistle—everyone understands that the officials are obliged to end play when they lose sight of the puck. But on a late whistle, or no whistle at all? It's not just aggravating. It's indefensible.

In every other game situation, play ends with the whistle. But in this one case, when players are crashing the net and jamming away at a loose puck, they never really know whether the play has ended or not. They have to keep swinging and hope for the best.

The problem with this is clear. In cases where the whistle blows to end play, video review can determine indisputably whether the puck did or did not cross the goal line in time. But if you bring intent into the equation, you take the black-and-white out of the decision making.

Why should this one circumstance be treated differently? In the odd case where the officials need a fail-safe to cover for an error, let it come from upstairs after a carefully considered video review—a system that's proved to work fairly well as a catch-all.

Otherwise let the players play as they always do: to the whistle.

Fizzling shootout

Consider yourself a fan of the shootout? Better enjoy it while it lasts. We could be seeing a lot less of it, starting as soon as next season.

While the skills competition has been a hit with a majority of fans, there are plenty of influential folks who’d like to see its impact reduced, if not have it phased out of the game altogether. They finally might have the ammo to make it happen.

This season the AHL is employing a revamped seven-minute overtime format in which teams play four-on-four for three minutes, and then three-on-three the rest of the way. The results have been dramatic. Last season, 65% of games that went to OT also went to a shootout. Through October of this season, that number has fallen to just 15%.

That's exactly what Red Wings GM Ken Holland and other proponents of three-on-three play expected. And while there is no guarantee that he can convince proponents of the shootout to finally see things his way, he can finally base his case on something other than conjecture.

Odds are he’ll get his way eventually. It’s just a matter of when.

Hull of a sniper

More on the emergence of Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko, whose hot streak I touched on in this morning’s Off The Draw column: A Western Conference scout told that while Tarasenko deserves the high praise he’s getting for his hands, they’re not the only attribute that sets him apart. “He’s got those quick feet, [that] explosiveness, that allows him to find the dead spaces or get half a step on a defender. That’s what allows him to get that shot off where another guy gets it blocked or gets his stick chopped.” A guy like the Bruins’ Matt Fraser, for example? “Exactly. He tore it up in the [AHL], but doesn’t have that step to get where he needs to go [in the NHL].”

In terms of skill, Tarasenko might be the best pure shooter St. Louis has had since Brett Hull. The trick now is to convince Tarasenko. He still looks to pass first, but he’s been willing to shoot more often this season—he’s taking an average of 4.5 shots per game a year after after he took just a hair more than two per game in 2013–14. Learning to be a bit more selfish has him on pace to score 45 goals this season. That’s a tough rate to sustain, but 35 seems well within his reach.

Flames cashing in

The same scout on Calgary's Bob Hartley: “I come away impressed every time I watch that team. He's breaking a $20 and getting a ten and three fives every night.”

Vote for Bryzgalov: He's not insane!

The NHL is not calling. Neither is the KHL. But that doesn’t mean we've heard the last from goaltender/bon vivant/space enthusiast Ilya Bryzgalov. According to a story on Monday on SovSport, a Russian news site, the eccentric keeper might have a future in politics when he decides to finally hang up his skates.

Legendary goalie Vladislav Tretiak, who is now a member of the Russian parliament, said in an interview that he’s in touch with Bryzgalov about his current situation. He’s staying at home, taking care of the kids,” Tretiak said. “He hasn’t had any job offers in the KHL or NHL. I told him that I would take him to the State Duma. He’s smart, he understands politics. I think he liked the idea.”

Was Tretiak joking? Maybe. Sometimes things get lost in translation. But if we have to live in a world without Bryzgalov between the pipes, having him pipe up on politics might be the next best thing.

A Semin-al moment

Eye Test: Making sense of Alex Ovechkin, "The Great -35"

So what do the Hurricanes do now with Alexander Semin? The hot-and-(mostly)-cold winger was benched over the weekend after going failing to score a goal in the month of October and exasperating coach Bill Peters with his indifferent work ethic. Carolina’s other players apparently got the message and promptly went out and won their first two games of the season.

It’s clear that Peters would be happy to cut ties with Semin, but that’s not an option for GM Ron Francis. Semin is 30 and has four years remaining on a deal that pays him $7 million annually. The immortal Sam Pollock himself couldn’t move that nag. The ’Canes are stuck with Semin, and there’s no way they can park his salary in the press box for long. They have to hope that his ego was bruised by this two-game vacation and that he’ll respond in a positive way when he gets back in the lineup.

UPDATE: Semin skated on the top line in today's practice, so it looks like he'll be back in the lineup when Carolina faces off against Columbus on Tuesday.

Are the Hurricanes heating up?

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