The Canucks have been getting their fair share of breaks to start the season, including a string of 7 consecutive power plays against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night. But there was one other break that had Oilers’ fans crying foul and several hockey blogs buzzing.
On Nick Bonino’s second period goal that reduced the Canucks’ deficit to 3-to-2, it was readily apparent that the puck went off Alex Burrows’ glove before it was collected by Dan Hamhuis and sent towards the net for the tip-in. As fans, we expect that kind of play to be immediately blown dead for a hand pass. Instead, play continued and the goal counted.
Was it the wrong call? Should the score have remained at 3-1? If so, could the Canucks have still come back to win or would they have dropped their home opener, leading to mass hysteria in Canucks nation and a massive over-correction from the coaching staff to dead puck era, trapping hockey?
No. It wasn’t the wrong call because it wasn’t a hand pass according to the NHL rulebook.
You can tell that the Oilers are expecting a hand pass call. Teddy Purcell immediately sticks his hand up in the air, yelling for the call and Victor Fasth emphatically signals for a hand pass after the puck goes in. Head coach Dallas Eakins seems bewildered by the lack of a call, as well.
You can see referee Mike Leggo at centre ice saying, “That’s not a hand pass” to the Oilers players, if my lip-reading is correct, so this doesn’t seem to be a case of them missing the fact that the puck hit Burrows’ glove. Why is this not a hand pass when it seems that every other time we see a puck go off a players glove to a teammate it is called one?
Let’s look at the rule itself, which is Rule 79.1:
79.1 Hand Pass – A player shall be permitted to stop or “bat” a puck in the air with his open hand, or push it along the ice with his hand, and the play shall not be stopped unless, in the opinion of the Referee, he has directed the puck to a teammate.
The key phrase here is “directed the puck to a teammate.” In this instance, Burrows is clearly not directing the puck to Hamhuis. Instead, he has his back to Hamhuis and is simply trying to keep the puck from clearing the offensive zone, likely hoping to knock it down to his own stick.
There’s still some wiggle room here, though, as “directed” is a vague enough verb that one could argue that Burrows did direct it to Hamhuis, even if it was unintentional. The NHL rule book talks about hand passes in one other place, however, and it clarifies things a little bit. That would be Rule 67.1:
67.1 Handling Puck – A player shall be permitted to stop or “bat” a puck in the air with his open hand, or push it along the ice with his hand, and the play shall not be stopped unless, in the opinion of the Referee, he has deliberately directed the puck to a teammate in any zone other than the defending zone, in which case the play shall be stopped and a face-off conducted (see Rule 79 – Hand Pass). Play will not be stopped for any hand pass by players in their own defending zone.
The wording is almost identical here, except for the addition of one word: “deliberately.” Ideally, the NHL rule book wouldn’t have different wordings of the exact same rule in two different places, but this is not a perfect world.
The addition of “deliberately” makes it clear that this was not a hand pass. Burrows certainly did not deliberately direct the puck to Hamhuis with his hand.
Now that I’ve clarified things, let’s muddy the waters once again. The rules on the NHL website are not an exact match for the rules in the official NHL rulebook. In the 2012-13 NHL rule book, the 2013-14 update, and the current 2014-15 rulebook, Rule 79.1 and 67.1 both contain an additional phrase not present in the rules posted on the NHL website.
The phrase “has allowed his team to gain an advantage” gives this rule a lot more power, particularly since it’s presented as an “or” statement. The puck doesn’t have to be directed to a teammate according to this wording, deliberately or otherwise, as long as the offending team gains an advantage.
That’s where “in the opinion of the on-ice officials” is important as well. Did the Canucks gain an advantage from Burrows touching the puck? That’s a judgement call, as Hamhuis was directly behind him and also had his glove up, ready to knock the puck down to his stick. Was it to Hamhuis’s advantage to have Burrows deflect the puck or would it have been more advantageous to knock the puck down himself, so that he could direct it more precisely down to his stick?
In the official rule book, rule 67.1 still contains the word “deliberately,” so intent still seems to have some role to play and the referees are expected to use their discretion in using this rule. It’s not as cut and dry as some would suggest; it’s not an automatic call if the puck goes off a player’s glove to a teammate. In this instance, the referees used their discretion and decided it wasn’t a hand pass.
In my opinion, the referees made the right call by making no call at all.Tags: Alex Burrows