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Just had a quick question about the Monday night game between the Bruins and the Leafs. With about five minutes remaining, the Bruins had iced the puck and instead of keeping the current line on the ice, attempted to put Chara into the next shift. This took some time for the referees to realize and they eventually sent Chara back to the bench and Andrew Ference had to get back on.
This seemed like an obvious delay of game and gave the Bruins a much-needed breather. Could this have been called delay of game and if not, why isn't this a penalty?
A team often attempts to make a line change when the puck is dumped up ice from their defending zone. Once a potential icing is in effect, the back referee and linesman will do a quick inventory of the offending team players that were on the ice at the time the puck was shot and rush to the vicinity of the bench to prevent a change of players once the icing has been completed. (Rules 81.4 and 82.1 specifies no line change following an icing infraction.)
As players hustle to the bench, there are occasions where a physical change can be completed prior to the touchup and whistle. It is then the responsibility of the referee who was positioned in the defending zone from where the icing originated, with assistance from the linesman, to send the fresh legs back to the bench and retrieve the player(s) that were on the ice at the time of the icing infraction. The official scorer can be consulted and provide a list of players to the referee whenever there is uncertainty as to which were players were physically on the ice at the moment the puck was shot to initiate icing.
Any delay caused through the process of making sure the correct players are placed on the ice while necessary, also compromises the spirit and integrity of the rule. This can certainly become a ploy on the part of a coach to gain added breather time by sending or leaving a player on the ice that might have jumped on prior to or just after the whistle.
Given all the intensity and potential infractions that take place in a playoff game (some called, some missed, some let go), the referee is never quick to assess a delay of game penalty to a team guilty of a minor stall tactic on an icing infraction. In the grand scheme of things, it would have to take an act of utter defiance by a coach or player during the course of a game before a delay of game penalty would be assessed. Let me give you an example.
While it didn't occur in a playoff game or in the last five minutes of regulation time, I assessed a bench minor for delay of game to coach Bob Hartley for his utter defiance of my orders not to make a line change. I made the call during the first period of the very first NHL game that I refereed with him as the bench boss for the Colorado Avalanche. The bench minor set the tone for a professional relationship based on a spirit of cooperation that I enjoyed with Hartley from that moment on.
Whenever I was the referee that was responsible for controlling line changes, I would position myself in front of the visiting team bench to make eye contact with the coach and even verbally ask him if he had completed his change to avoid any confusion. I did this on the play in question and received a head nod and affirmative response from Hartley that he had made his line change.
I then raised my arm toward the Avalanche bench, preventing any further change and turned to the home team coach, allowing him to make his line change. Upon seeing the opposing team players take the ice, Hartley decided that he didn't like his matchup and sent one defenceman over the boards. I blew my whistle and waved the player back. The defenceman turned to look at Hartley, who waved his player to continue forward and assume his position while the coach continued to look directly at me.
The player knew enough not to defy his new coach's instructions but the rookie coach didn't yet realize it was a bad idea to defy a veteran referee's authority. I blew my whistle and immediately assessed a bench minor to the coach for delay of game. I then informed the coach he could make a line change!
When the period ended Hartley, in one final attempt at asserting himself, called me over to his bench to continue the debate. With assistant coach Jacques Cloutier standing beside the head coach, Bob told me the only reason I gave him the bench penalty was because he was a rookie coach in the NHL and I didn't respect him. Bob finished by saying that if Scotty Bowman did the same thing, I never would have penalized him.
I assured Hartley if Scotty Bowman or any other NHL coach deliberately defied me the way that he had done, a bench penalty would be assessed! I then pointed to Jacques Cloutier, whom I had known for years, and told Bob if he didn't believe me, to just ask his assistant coach.
From that moment on, Hartley clearly understood that when I raised my hand on a line change in his direction, it meant no more changes and Bob most respectfully complied.
In these Stanley Cup Playoffs, don't expect a quick response from the refs to assess a bench minor for any minor stall tactics when making a line change.