Our knee-jerk reactions to Sean Avery’s ludicrous impression of Martin Brodeur’s windshield wipers were:
a) you can’t do that
b) should be an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty
c) man, you can’t do that!
The problem is, up until Monday afternoon when the league sent out a new directive, you could. There was nothing in the NHL rulebook that prohibited such an act, however goofy it looked; however unscrupulous it may of felt.
And that’s where Avery deserves some credit.
He identified a legal advantage his team could gain and employed it. He exhibited the anything-to-win mentality that is so often praised in the hockey world, and demonstrated a surprising level of ingenuity in the process.
Think about it: Did Avery do anything differently, in theory, than what the late Roger Neilson tried on several occasions?
The much-loved Neilson would have his goaltenders leave their sticks in the crease when he pulled them to help prevent empty-net goals; he once used a defenseman in net on a penalty shot, instructing the player to rush the shooter; he tried sneaking an extra player on the ice when, late in a game, his team had two players in the penalty box, not worried about a too-many-men-on-the-ice call because teams can’t play with fewer than three skaters.
Eventually, the loopholes were closed to prevent infringements of the spirit of the rules. But Neilson was viewed as an innovator; Avery’s perceived as a cheater.
We understand why – Neilson was a man who built an impeccable reputation over a lengthy career and was universally respected. Avery has undermined his character repeatedly with acts and words of goofiness.
Naturally, the arm-waving/screen act couldn’t be tolerated, so kudos to the league for issuing a directive to all its referees that such a play is illegal and will result in a penalty.
And, while it’s at it, the league ought to give the officials more latitude to call unsportsmanlike infractions for any similar acts that fall outside the spirit of the rules, because who knows what Avery, or some other “innovator,” will come up with next?
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Jason Kay is the editor of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every weekend.
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