Slash­ing crack­down means good things for Flames’ Gau­dreau

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - SPORTS - ERIC FRAN­CIS

NEW YORK – The NHL’s ref­er­ees are about to come to Johnny Gau­dreau’s de­fence.

The league’s de­part­ment of player safety has in­structed of­fi­cials to crack down on slashes to the hands this sea­son fol­low­ing sev­eral wrist, hand and finger in­juries in­flicted by such danger­ous stick work.

It’s un­likely any player in the league will ben­e­fit more from such a crack­down than Gau­dreau, whose gifted mitts were tar­geted all sea­son long, re­sult­ing in a bro­ken finger last Novem­ber that cost him 10 games of ser­vice af­ter be­ing sur­gi­cally re­paired.

“Over time, it be­came a whack­fest in and around the hands, and play­ers were get­ting hurt,” said Stephen Walkom, the NHL’s vicepres­i­dent and di­rec­tor of of­fi­ci­at­ing, dur­ing NHL meet­ings in New York.

“If you slash a player’s hands with force, we are look­ing to shore that up, be­cause we’ve let it go for too long. If we re­ally want to in­crease scor­ing in the game, why are we al­low­ing play­ers to wield their sticks six or eight feet away from the puck? It’s an area, I be­lieve, we let slip.” No longer. Last year, there were 791 mi­nor penal­ties called for slash­ing, and be­cause hun­dreds of oth­ers went un­called and re­sulted in high-pro­file in­juries, you can ex­pect that num­ber to sky­rocket this year.

Play­ers and fans have more than just Gau­dreau to thank for that.

“This was a di­rec­tion given to us by Garth Snow and 31 gen­eral man­agers,” said the NHL’s se­nior VP of hockey op­er­a­tions, Mike Mur­phy, whose group re­sponded to the hue and cry of the hockey com­mu­nity that saw Gau­dreau’s finger bro­ken by Eric Staal and Marc Methot’s pinky par­tially sev­ered by Sid­ney Crosby.

“Guys are break­ing hands and fin­gers. There will be a spike ini­tially in slash­ing penal­ties, but the play­ers will con­form even­tu­ally.”

Mur­phy said even the com­pe­ti­tion com­mit­tee brought it up, ne­ces­si­tat­ing the tight­en­ing of rule 61.1, which says, “any force­ful or pow­er­ful chop with the stick on an op­po­nent’s body, the op­po­nent’s stick, or on or near the op­po­nent’s hands that, in the judge­ment of the ref­eree, is not an at­tempt to play the puck, shall be pe­nal­ized as slash­ing.”

It’s not a new rule, but of­fi­cials have let it go for years.

Just like the wa­ter-ski­ing that was done be­hind play­ers hook­ing and hitch­ing rides right through to the 2004 Stan­ley Cup fi­nal se­ries in­volv­ing the Flames, the trend has to stop.

It was around that time hooks started turn­ing into whacks.

The night Gau­dreau left thanks to Staal’s slash, the Min­nesota Wild had been tar­get­ing Gau­dreau’s wrist-area so heav­ily that a video break­down showed he’d been hit there 21 times that night.

Flames fans and man­age­ment were fu­ri­ous af­ter the costly slash, point­ing out quite clearly that slash­ing was sup­posed to be an in­frac­tion.

Well ... it is now, which is mu­sic to GM Brad Tre­liv­ing’s ears. He was one of the many GMs who voiced his con­cern and displeasure with the league for al­low­ing such ram­pant stick-work.

“Any time it al­lows skill and tal­ent to flour­ish, it’s a good move,” said Tre­liv­ing, an­tic­i­pat­ing the league will give teams a com­pre­hen­sive look at the ex­tent of the crack­down dur­ing the pre-sea­son.

SEAN KIL­PATRICK/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Ot­tawa Sen­a­tors de­fence­man Erik Karls­son de­fends against Cal­gary Flames left wing Johnny Gau­dreau dur­ing third pe­riod ac­tion, in Ot­tawa last sea­son.

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