Burrows’ assist on Bonino’s goal was not a hand pass

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.

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23 comments

  1. Mike
    October 12, 2014

    Calls (and non-calls) that are in the Canucks favor? Did I step into some bizarro NHL world?!!

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    • RG
      October 12, 2014

      Conspiracy theory: Bettman is trying to get more Canadian teams into the playoffs, since the league probably lost viewership after last year. Once a few Canadian teams are in, the calls will start going against and some shitty team (Florida?) will lose to another shitty team (Arizona?) in order to grow a fan base in a non-existent hockey market.

      And of course I have my tin foil hat on.

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      • Mike
        October 12, 2014

        Being the ever-so-pessimistic Canucks fan that I am, the only conclusion that I can come up with is that the NHL entitles each team to its quota of favorable calls (Eg. Vancouver gets 10/year, Boston gets 60/year). Once that quota of favorable calls is met, calls will start going against us. This is especially true when the games count, like around game #60 and beyond.

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    • CAYdenberg
      October 12, 2014

      That video review of a clear no-goal took so long that I almost the tides had turned beyond reason.

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      Rating: -2 (from 4 votes)
  2. peanutflower
    October 12, 2014

    Hamhuis being behind Burrows was pure dumb luck. Burrows was just looking for a repeat of his Chicago goal. It’s not a hand pass, I agree.

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  3. Reeno
    October 12, 2014

    This article is ridiculous. Especially when he brings up the NHL.com rule where the play is called if the team who made the hand pass gains the advantage. Of course Vancouver gained the advantage when burrows knocked the puck down – How can he even entertain the thought that hamhuis may or may not have gained the advantage were he to knock it down himself? You can’t bring up something that didn’t happen. The fact is they DID gain the advantage because he gifted it to Hamhuis.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      October 12, 2014

      The referee made a judgement call. If you watch the replay, Hamhuis already had his hand up planning to catch it and drop it to his own stick. He was in a better position than Burrows to do so. In fact, you could argue that Burrows tipping the puck actually worked against Hamhuis, as he had to make a quick adjustment to corral the deflected puck rather than being able to cleanly knock it down himself.

      My entire point here is that it’s not cut and dry. Lots of people were arguing that it’s an automatic call if the puck goes off a player’s glove to a teammate, but that’s not what the rule says. It leaves it up to the referee to make a judgement call. Clearly, in the opinion of these referees, Burrows touching the puck with his hand neither deliberately directed the puck to Hamhuis nor did it give the Canucks an advantage.

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    • shoes
      October 13, 2014

      If that is your worst non-call against this year…..the Cup is yours. The Cup is yours!!!!!!

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  4. Joe pro
    October 12, 2014

    Conspiracys and whining even after a call goes there way. It’s a goal, unfortunately the non call was in the wrong

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    Rating: -14 (from 16 votes)
    • shoes
      October 13, 2014

      The IP address of the whining is coming from somewhere in Alberta.

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  5. Dave
    October 12, 2014

    Head coach Dallas Eakins seems bewildered. Period.

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    Rating: +10 (from 10 votes)
  6. Crofton
    October 12, 2014

    @ Dave…I think Eakins is always bewildered

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  7. BBoone
    October 13, 2014

    There is a safety factor implied in this rule as a player must be allowed to protect himself from being struck by the puck . Presumably the play would be stopped if he swiped at the puck , as in handball , and the puck went to a teammate .

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  8. shoes
    October 13, 2014

    oh sure the NHL rule book seems to indicate that the correct call was made, however they are not taking into consideration that the young Edmonton team all went chasing the ref around the ice resulting in the review office taking 10 minutes on review. hallsy, yaksy, ebsy, purcy and eaksy all thought it should have been disallowed but the refsy didn’t think so.

    correct call.

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  9. Rob
    October 13, 2014

    There was actually a similar play for Edmonton later the same game; a puck deflected off an Oiler’s player glove to another Oiler, and it wasn’t blown either. Seems like bizarro world where we’re not just seeing referees make calls to the Canucks’ advantage, but also seeing things called consistently for/against both teams on the ice (a MUCH bigger peeve of mine).

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  10. Bdawg
    October 13, 2014

    Ive seen pucks glance off of a guys glove who wasnt even paying attention to the play and the whistle was blown when his team touched the puck in the neutral zone…if the Nhl wants consistency in the calls, maybe they shouldn’t have gaping grey areas in the rulebook.

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  11. J21
    October 14, 2014

    First off, the NHL lawyers clearly didn’t vet the rulebook very well, because having the hand-pass in there twice, in a non-complementary way (there is basically 100% overlap between the two rules) is stupid and bound to lead to confusion, especially given the difference in wording.

    That said, under the letter of the law, the correct call was made, since “deliberately” has to have some meaning, even if one of the two near-identical rules left it out. In a piece of legislation, if one law says “You can do anything but X”, and another says “You can do anything but X and Y”, obviously Y is off the table, otherwise you are ignoring a clearly-stated law. (If the two laws are actually contradictory — in the sense that you can’t obey one without violating the other — then you have other issues and doctrines of precedence come into play.)

    I have to disagree with your point on gaining an advantage, however. The fact that it’s an “or” statement actually lessens its power, since another item from the list (that does not lead to an advantage) could conceivably be called a hand-pass, whereas it couldn’t if it was an “and” statement. In a list like that, though, obviously the whole list of items is supposed to convey a general sense of what is being prohibited, so it does nevertheless have an effect on interpretation of the rule as a whole.

    The last thing I want to say — the NHL does itself a disservice by being overly mechanical in its enforcement sometimes. The reality is that the refs are meant to have a fair bit of discretion, but they tend to back themselves into a corner whenever a new rule comes in by calling it too mechanically a certain way, creating expectations for fans.

    The hand-pass is certainly one example (no one has ever really talked about discretion before, as you note it was always seen as automatic in practice). Another one I always hated was “4 minutes for blood”. That used to be nowhere in the rulebook. Even though it was totally unprincipled (why does blood mean it was worse? That has more to do with where player was cut and how tough his skin is), fans came to expect it (they used to expect a major before the double-minor became common) and officials just kept calling it that way for no reason, until they made an actual rule. Another example is calling icing automatically even on a missed pass — which they claimed they would let go back when the two-line pass rule was abolished. If ever they were to let a missed pass go without calling icing now, fans would be up in arms.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      October 14, 2014

      My favourite NHL rulebook inconsistency: the definition of charging is charging.

      42.1 Charging – A minor or major penalty shall be imposed on a player who skates or jumps into, or charges an opponent in any manner.

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      • J21
        October 14, 2014

        To be fair, that’s circular, but not inconsistent. :P

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        • iain
          October 14, 2014

          in a roundabout way.

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      • KozyMel
        October 25, 2014

        The problem with laymen trying to interpret the letter of the rule is:

        1./ Only quoting a portion of the rule. I.E. “Charging shall mean the actions of a player who, as a result of distance traveled, shall violently check an opponent in any manner. A “charge” may be the result of a check into the boards, into the goal frame or in open ice.”

        2./ The absence of the supplementary document, the “Rule Case Book”, which extends the rules into the scenario of “rule application”.

        It clarifies how the rules are to be applied and gives examples.

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  12. KozyMel
    October 25, 2014

    There is a large point of the call/non-call argument that is totally over looked – Rule Application.

    It doesn’t matter how a layman interprets the rules, it’s how the Referee’s apply the rules. Rule application of the hand pass has been, by and large, consistent for many years; If you direct a puck to a team mate with your hand in the attacking zone, it’s been applied as a hand pass – regardless of intent. From Atom to the NHL, this is how the rule has been applied.

    The reason intent (deliberate or otherwise) is not considered is because the Referee has no way to determine intent. All he can use is what he see’s.

    Rule Application is further outlined in the Referee Case Book, a supplemental document to the rule book, which isn’t quoted in this article.

    To fully understand rule application, you have to have been properly trained to apply the rules, had been there, in that situation to apply the rule – another element not quoted in this article.

    The author apparently has never been a referee, or passed a high level referee’s exam, which is based on a “state referee’s decision” application of the rules. Referee’s don’t have to simply parrot the rule book in an exam, they have to understand how they are applied.

    The real issue here is inconsistent application of the rules: 99% of the time that is called a hand pass.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      October 25, 2014

      And yet, refs that I’ve talked to who have passed a high level referee’s exam, agree with my interpretation. It’s almost like the part of the rule that says it’s up to the ref’s opinion leaves this open to multiple interpretations.

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