Saturday, 18 September 2010

Removing Hands

From the title of this article, you might think I have some sort of amputation story to tell, but I assure you that this is not the case. In fact, far from it. Today, HBIC is proud to bring aboard another talented and fabulous writer in Jeff Barak. Jeff writes the always-interesting Third String Goalie blog where he features a different jersey every day of the week. Tying this all together, he takes a look at the hand-pass in hockey. This should provide some fun chatter.

As stated above, Jeff writes the Third String Goalie blog. He's a proud Minnesotan, has a deep respect for hockey history, appreciates the beauty and wonder of pond hockey, and hates the defensive zone hand-pass. This is where I'll let Jeff jump in to explain why he hates the play. As always, my comments will follow. Here's Jeff!

To me, hockey has always been a game of speed and flow, with high tempo games featuring end-to-end rushes making for the best games. Personally, I’ve been very pleased with the brand of hockey played since the return of the NHL following the lockout and the rule changes adopted at that time, the majority of which were designed, as Commissioner Bettman prefers to say, “to increase scoring chances.”

But one arcane rule somehow survived the revamping of the game at the time of the Shanahan Summit - the rule which allows any team to make a hand-pass in its own defensive zone.

The first issue I have with allowing the defensive hand-pass is that it helps the defense decrease scoring chances. The second issue is that it’s legal at one end of the ice but not the other. If it’s deemed illegal on two-thirds of the playing surface, why allow it on the rest?

The main problems I have with the defensive hand-pass is that it is the worst-looking play in all of hockey. It’s an aesthetic nightmare to watch. Awkward at best, and ugly at its most common, the hand-pass is also contrary to the most basic, elemental point of the grand game of hockey, to advance the puck toward the other team’s goal with one’s stick.

I once brought this up with Commissioner Bettman himself during his weekly radio show, The NHL Hour with Commissioner Gary Bettman (12/11/08), and he stated “you’re absolutely right” and said it was something that had been discussed and probably would be on the agenda at the spring (2009) general manager’s meeting when they discussed rule changes. He went on to say it was not the first time this had been discussed as a suggested rule change and “that it was not as skilled a play as we like to see our game played” and “an excellent point.” Co-host Bill Clement agreed, “It’s an ugly play. Get rid of it.” Obviously, the rule was not overturned at that meeting or any subsequent ones.

The reason the hand-pass was originally allowed in the defensive zone was due to teams on the penalty kill deliberately making hand-passes to get a whistle which would allow them to get a cheap line change and likely the thinking behind keeping the rule in place.

This "caving in" to deliberate rule breaking was where the league erred in the first place, as the solution then, as it is now, would be to call any hand-pass by a team while shorthanded in their defensive zone a delay of game penalty. The offending team would also be required to keep all of it’s remaining players on the ice at the time of the penalty, removing any incentive to attempt the hand-pass to get a line change.

With a team already down a man, an additional man in the box under this proposal would lead to the desired “increased scoring chances” on the subsequent two-man advantage, which should please the league and its fans.

The defensive hand-pass doesn’t happen with great frequency, but when it does, it is the visual equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard and I really feel it’s a good idea toremove the worst looking play in hockey in order to maintain the integrity of one of thegame’s most basic elements, advancing the puck with the stick, and stop capitulating to the deliberate rule-breakers.

As Bill Clement said, “It’s an ugly play. Get rid of it.”

Great points made by Jeff in that piece to be sure. The hand-pass is definitely a tactic used in desperation situations by a defending team, and there's no doubt that coaches preach in spades about keeping the puck out of the net by any means necessary. This would include the hand-pass.

The problem that I see is that some players use the hand-pass while still holding a stick or after having lied flat on the ice to break up a play. To me, the hand-pass in these situations should be penalized, most certainly if the player is still holding his stick. The stick is designed to make the pass. Hockey is not played while using your hands to propel the puck.

However, I see one hole in the proposal to remove the option of the hand-pass. Essentially, if you stop defensive players from using their hands in the defensive zone, you're going to find defensive players in limbo - something no coach or GM will appreciate. If a defending player loses his stick and finds himself on the ice near the puck, he cannot play it. And no matter what the situation, players will still use their hands to play the puck, even if it means his team goes shorthanded. Why? Because a goal scored against his team hurts more than the powerplay against.

I do commend Jeff on this stance, though, and I have to agree that the play itself looks horrible when seen. So I ask you, readers, should the hand-pass be kept in the game of hockey, or should it be banished? Comments are appreciated, and Jeff can respond!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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