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Slew Footing, Match Penalties and Aggressors

January 14, 2014, 11:42 AM ET [42 Comments]
Paul Stewart
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Slew-footing is among the most despicable penalties in hockey. Deliberately kicking out an opponent's skates is a sneaky, dangerous and cowardly act that shows no respect for the game or for the safety of a fellow player. It is never acceptable under any circumstance.

Midway through last night's often-dirty game between the Canucks and Kings in Los Angeles, Vancouver player Dale Weise blatantly slew-footed LA defenseman Drew Doughty. There was no doubt about the action or intent here: it was clearly not a case of two players' feet getting tangled. Weise knew what he was doing and tried to injure Doughty.



Slew-footing penalties are covered under Rule 52 of the current NHL rule book. This is an intent-to-injure play. As such, Weise should have been assessed a match penalty, which carries an automatic review by the NHL after a report by the referee.

A veteran officiating crew -- referees Paul Devorski and Francois St. Laurent and linesmen Andy McElman and Jonny Murray -- worked this game. The infraction went unpenalized at the time it happened, and it was a missed call by the officiating team.

Part of what makes slew-footing such an egregious penalty is that can often be done subtly and, with the speed of play, can be tough for an official to spot. However, in this instance, the slew-foot was blatant and it happened right near the red line. I don't know whether there was a communication breakdown among the officials on this play, but someone should have seen it, taken the bull by the horns and made sure the penalty was called.

The linesmen are not blameless here. Under Rule 32.4, linesmen must report to the referee upon completion of play any infraction from which a match penalty would result.

Although no penalty was called on this play, the NHL still has the option of reviewing it and fining or suspending Weise. We'll see what, if anything, happens. Since Doughty was OK afterwards, I don't think there will be a suspension.

Early in the game, in the opening minutes of the first period, the Canucks took exception to what they claimed was an unpenalized charge by Jordan Nolan on Henrik Sedin. Vancouver coach John Tortorella sent out enforcer Tom Sestito for the next faceoff, lined up against Nolan.

Before the puck was dropped, Sestito challenged Nolan. At the drop of the puck, Sestito dropped his gloves and started punching Nolan. The Los Angeles player did not drop his gloves or attempt to fight back, and the two players were separated a few seconds later.

In the current NHL rulebook, Rule 46.2 (the "Aggressor Rule") covers situations in which one player in a fight is an unwilling combatant.

Under this rule, Sestito was assessed 27 minutes of penalties under the formula specified for his actions: two for instigation, five for fighting, a 10-minute misconduct for the instigator penalty and a game misconduct for being the aggressor.

This is at least the third time this season in the NHL that the Aggressor Rule has been invoked. Yet almost every time it happens, the television announcers are confused about the penalties. As I wrote in a previous blog, I have a beef with media types who are quick to critique the officials' calls on the air, yet they don't know the rulebook.

This was the Canucks' announcers' -- play-by-play announcer John Shorthouse and commentator John Garrett -- call of the Sestito-Nolan events:



Now, I like Cheech. He's a friend and a great guy. To this day, we have a good laugh about the time in the WHA that I chased down the ice after him when I was member of the Cincinnati Stingers and he was with the Birmingham Bulls. (It wasn't really Garrett I was after; he was just the bait to get a Bulls player to fight me after our goalie had been run and the officials were shielding the offending player).

Even so, Garrett was wrong to complain last night about Sestito being given a game misconduct. It wasn't an invented penalty by the officials, nor is the Aggressor Rule even all that obscure of a penalty.

In the meantime, broadcasting partner John Shorthouse repeatedly misidentified in real time, the player who was going after Nolan. Hey, that happens. He got the wrong number. Of course, if a referee sends the wrong player to the box on a minor penalty or if , say a slashing penalty gets called a hook instead -- these things also happen from time to time -- the announcers are all up in arms about how such a mistake could be made. I'm just sayin'.

At any rate, last night's incidents were not out of the blue. They were a carryover from the Jan. 4 game in which LA captain Dustin Brown ran into Roberto Luongo and the Canucks' goaltender was injured. The officials no doubt discussed beforehand that there was bad blood heading into the game and that certain players would need to be watched closely.

I also suspect that Tortorella may have said something along the lines of "someone needs to go get that guy"; whether it was Brown, Nolan or others. Coaches say that sort of thing all the time and then acted surprised when a player carries it out.

Now let's backtrack for a moment. Nolan took a run at one of the Sedins and then got jumped. Is not hitting part of the game for all players who suit up? You can't body a Sedin? While the attempted hit might, could, maybe, should have been a penalty, the contact never happened. The Vancouver player sidestepped and made the LA player, Nolan, look a little stupid in the process.

By the way, LA won last night, 1-0, on a Brown goal in the third period.

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Recent Blogs by Paul Stewart

Making Friends in Bratislava

The Miracle Before the Miracle

Selling the Call: My Issues with the NHL Replay System

Good Morning, Montreal! Know of a Good Dry Cleaner?

Lion Tamers, Staged Fights and Bissonnette

Gettin' Your Kicks

Hockey in the Great Outdoors

New Years, Broken Whistles and the Ol' Goal-in-the-Pants Trick

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Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.

Today, Stewart is an officiating and league discipline consultant for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and serves as director of hockey officiating for the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC).

The longtime referee heads Officiating by Stewart, a consulting, training and evaluation service for officials, while also maintaining a busy schedule as a public speaker, fund raiser and master-of-ceremonies for a host of private, corporate and public events. As a non-hockey venture, he is the owner of Lest We Forget.

Stewart is currently working with a co-author on an autobiography.
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