Creating Consistent Standards For NHL Officiating

Yesterday, I made a post about playoff officiating that specifically focused on the notion of "letting 'em play" vs. calling the rules by the book. The comments created a pretty spirited discussion, but one thing everyone agreed on was that there was no consistency from game to game.

That got me to thinking about what the actual rules were -- not just what we know as hooking or holding based on watching countless hours of NHL games, but the exact verbiage in the NHL rulebook. Can we glean a pretty strong black-and-white interpretation based on what's in the rulebook?

Let's take a look at hooking:

Hooking is the act of using the stick in a manner that enables a player or goalkeeper to restrain an opponent.

When a player is checking another in such a way that there is only stick-to-stick contact, such action is not to be penalized as hooking.

Ok, that seems pretty cut and dry to me. You can use your stick to check another player's stick. If you use it to restrain any other part of the body, then you get called. Fair enough. So why is it so hard to call this consistently?

For a while, the rule was called using the unofficial standard of having the stick parallel to the ice. That's kind of gone by the wayside as the playoffs started, but I think that's a reasonable way to judge these things. If the stick interferes with an opponent lower than that, then you're likely to all tripping. Parallel to the ice and it, say, grabs an arm or or the body, then it's a hook.

I know there's action going on all over the ice, and you're going to be stuck with bad vantage points and other similar logistical things, but the bottom line is if you can create a guideline and have everyone stick to it, then you have consistency.

Let's take a look at holding -- something that tends to run rampant as we get deeper into the playoffs, and is a little more subtle than hooking.

Any action by a player or goalkeeper that retards the progress of an opposing player whether or not he is in possession of the puck.

A minor penalty shall be imposed on a player or goalkeeper who holds an opponent by using his hands, arms or legs.

A player or goalkeeper is permitted to use his arm in a strength move, by blocking his opponent, provided he has body position and is not using his hands in a holding manner, when doing so.

Ok, so I can see where there's a bit of gray area here. A player can use his arm in a strength move to block his opponent if he has body position. What constitutes a "strength move" and how is that diferent from blocking the opponent to impede progress? Is that just opening a license to check?

I'm assuming strict definitions are reviewed before the season starts. I mean, if the league takes the time to put together these awesome videos, then there's gotta be conference calls or training sessions or whatever. If that's the case, then there's probably some sort of unofficial guidelines about what to look for. Perhaps these should be made public so we as fans have some sort of standard to judge the refs by.

For example, what if the following guidelines were put into place? I'm not saying these are better or worse than whatever "guidelines" are currently unofficially used, but here are tangible things that are easily identifiable:

-Hooking: When the stick goes parallel to the ice and interferes with another player's body to impede their progress.

-Holding: When a player visibly takes his hand off his stick and uses the free hand/forearm to impede another player's progress.

-Interference: When a player obstructs his opponent's progress directly towards the puck outside of a two stick-length radius.

Here are clear, simple definitions of what to look for. It doesn't mean that theyll necessarily always be caught, but at least everyone -- from fans to media to the actual players on the ice -- would have an idea of what standards are being used.

Perhaps I'm oversimplifying things, but if consistency is what we're all hoping for, then a standard has to be publicly set. The league, the refs, and the competition committee can decide what those standards are, but some form of tangible guideline is necessary to get us all on the same page.

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