All Hockey Really Needs 
Is One More Rule

Editorial By:
Robert Kirwan
President and CEO
Infocom Canada Business Consultants Inc.

Hockey fans today spend a great deal of time and energy discussing suggestions on how  to improve the game. At this time, I would like to offer food for thought to the discussion by suggesting that if we really want to make major changes to the game of hockey, the best way is to add one more rule to the already tangled mess of rules and regulations which govern this fine sport.

My new rule would be added at the very end of the section of the rule book which deals with penalties. It would simply state:

On ice officials will disregard all of the previous rules and replace them with the following:

Penalties will be issued by a referee for any action committed by a player or team official which, in his opinion, is deemed to be inappropriate under the circumstances.

Read it again before you decide to declare me unfit for further editorials on this site.

When you think about it, much of the anger and frustration which is exhibited by fans, coaches and players stems from the fact that a referee may call one thing one minute and let the same thing go a minute later. What many people do not understand is that a trip is not always a trip, yet the rule for tripping makes no distinction as to when exceptions may occur. Neither does the rule make exceptions for game management or for position on the ice. Yet we all know that if the rule book is applied as written, there would be absolutely no flow to the game and we would definitely have to expand the penalty box area in most arenas.

So what I am suggesting is that we simply toss out all of the playing rules which deal with penalty infractions. That way none of the rules can ever be broken. Instead, we give complete control to the referee to determine what actions should be penalized and leave everything up to his discretion alone. If he calls a penalty, it is because he felt it was an inappropriate action on the part of the player in that instance. And yes, he may have let the very same thing go a few minutes earlier, because in that situation he felt the action was appropriate.

For example, if the referee knows that two players on opposing teams always play rough and tough, loving to intimidate each other, he may allow them to crash and charge, elbow and punch each other until they are blue in the face without giving out any penalties. In this situation, he would determine that if these two goons wanted to beat each other's brains in, then go right ahead. However, if one of the goons took a punch at another player who was simply minding his own business, then a penalty would be issued. Indeed the referee may see fit to issue a minor penalty plus a ten minute misconduct for being a bully. The message would be quite clear. If you want to play that way, then play that way with others who are willing combatants. However, don't you dare use those tactics on players who are here to enjoy the game and want to play fair.

Sound a bit extreme? Well, not if you consider that in this situation the referee would always be right and no one could ever question him about the rule.

When I was a teacher, I only had one rule that my students had to follow. And it was easy to remember. 

Inappropriate behaviour will not be tolerated in this classroom and will be dealt with accordingly.

How's that for a rule. Best of all, I told my students that I would be the sole judge of what behaviour was appropriate. And you know what, I had very few discipline problems in the class. If a student who always did her homework and paid attention in class forgot a book in her locker one day, I would allow her to go out to get it. If, however, on that same day another student who was always disruptive and never did his homework forgot his book in his locker, I would refuse to give him permission to retrieve it. Is this fair? In my mind it was. Nevertheless, if by forgetting his book in the locker it would allow him to "goof off" all period, I would order him to go and get it. Fair enough?

Whenever you have a rule, or a bunch of rules as is the case with hockey, you end up with people who try to "bend the rules" or get "around the rules". Then you have to come up with language to fill in the gaps and get rid of the loop-holes. Eventually, someone always finds a way to get around the rule or bend it in some creative way. However, when you sum everything up under the "inappropriate action" umbrella, you force the participants to think before they act. Now a person must say to himself, "If I do this, will it be deemed to be inappropriate? Is this acceptable or not? Will I be punished?"

As a teacher, whenever a student did something which did not meet with my approval, I would ask, "Do you think that what you did or said is appropriate?" Almost without exception, the student would admit that the action was inappropriate and would accept the consequence.

In hockey it would be exactly the same if the discretion was left to the referee. Imagine! No one could question whether or not the referee was right or wrong. The referee could never be wrong. He is the sole judge. All that matters is that in his view, it was inappropriate and should be punished accordingly.

The funny thing is that I don't think we would see much different a game from that which we see today when senior referees are on the ice. Referees use their discretion now. They call the game as they see fit and use their game management skills to the best of their ability. 

Yet people in the stands and on the ice get upset and angry when the referee lets the opponents get away with an infraction which is clearly defined in the rule book. What they don't see is that the referee may have allowed the player to get away with a vicious slash to his opponent because that opposing player had speared him on the back of the leg a few seconds earlier. Now that both of them had a chance to get in their "shot", if they leave it at that and skate away, the referee may decide not to call any penalties and let the flow of the game go on. "It's over - let it be."

And so as the upper echelon of hockey administration continue to rub their chins and rack their brains trying to find a solution to bring sanity back into the stands and on the ice, perhaps the answer is as simple as adding one more simple rule.

Until the next time...



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