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Is It Time To Kick the “Distinct Kicking Motion”?

Trailing 1 – 0 to te Detroit Red Wings late in the 1st period, the Blue Jackets went to the power play in an effort to tie the game. At the 18:18 mark of the period, Boone Jenner took the puck and walked in on netminder Jimmy Howard. The inevitable flurry arose in the crease, and the puck ended up in the net to Howard’s left, apparently evening the score. Here’s what it looked like:

The goal was waved off under Rule 49.2 of the NHL Rules, but this debate requires a look at a bit more of Rule 49:

Rule 49 — Kicking

49.1 Kicking — the action of a player deliberately using his skate(s) with a kicking motion to propel the puck or to contact an opponent.

49.2 — Goals — Kicking the puck shall be permitted in all zones. A goal cannot be scored by an attacking player who uses a distinct kicking motion to propel the puck into the net with his skate/foot. A goal cannot be scored by an attacking player who kicks a puck that deflects into the net off any player, goalkeeper or official.

A puck that deflects into the net off an attacking player’s skate who does not use a distinct kicking motion is a legitimate goal. A puck that is directed into the net by an attacking player’s skate shall be a legitimate goal as long as no distinct kicking motion is evident. The following should clarify deflections following a kicked puck that enters the goal:

(i) A kicked puck that deflects off the body of any player of either team (including the goalkeeper)
 shall be ruled no goal.
 (ii) A kicked puck that deflects off the stick of any player (excluding the goalkeeper’s stick) shall be
 ruled a good goal.
(iii) A goal will be allowed when an attacking player kicks the puck and the puck deflects off his own
stick and then into the net.
(iv) A goal will be allowed when a puck enters the goal after deflecting off an attacking player’s skate
or deflects off his skate while he is in the process of stopping.

To be clear, the point of this piece is not to argue that Jenner’s goal should have counted. Under the current NHL view of Rule 49.2, the call from the War Room was correct. Instead, I just want to point out some logical inconsistencies and rather absurd results that are the consequence, and propose perhaps a rational alternative or two.

First, the “distinct kicking motion” concept was an attempt to circumvent the whole issue of “intent” on the part of the offensive player. By focusing solely on the motion of the leg, it was reasoned, greater uniformity of result could be obtained. Not a bad theory, but we have seen how reasonable minds can differ greatly over what is and what is not a “distinct kicking motion.”

More fundamentally, the rule itself is internally inconsistent. Rule 49.1 provides the definition of “kicking”, which requires “deliberate” action on the part of the attacking player. So, having defined “kicking” as deliberate, it’s difficult to semantically argue that a “distinct kicking motion” — which uses the defined term “kicking” — can be applied to anything other than deliberate conduct.

Next comes the more metaphysical issue of what the NHL is really trying to achieve here. The rule quite clearly provides that kicking the puck is a sanctioned action in all zones . . .unless it ends up in the net. Even then, there are some circumstances in which a good goal can result from kicking the puck. An exception is made for a player being in the process of stopping, for example. So, what great harm would result from allowing kicked-in goals? It’s not like the process of goal scoring is a pristine concept. Pucks can bounce off any part of the anatomy and any number of physical structures and count as good goals. So a kicked puck is somehow less worthy? Last time I checked, players on virtually all NHL teams routinely warm up by playing . . . soccer. Just sayin’ . . .

If we assume that the NHL wants to profess purity of spirit and maintain the prohibition against kicked-in goals, I think the rule has to at least take into consideration that the game is played on ice, and that a considerable amount of contact is involved. When players are hit on the ice and try to avoid injuring themselves, their bodies can move in funny ways. Watch me on the ice sometime, and you’ll see some distinct kicking motions — usually from a horizontal position. Such was the case with Jenner’s goal. He was in the process of being manhandled by Niklas Kronwall, and his motions were clearly the result of that contact. Why not allow for that in the rule? Not possible, you say? I beg to differ.

Check out Rule 69.1 on Goalkeeper Interference, which includes the following passage:

If an attacking player has been pushed, shoved or fouled by a defending player so as to cause him to come into contact with the goalkeeper, such contact will not be deemed contact initiated by the attacking player for purposes of this rule, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact.

It would seem to be a simple matter to insert the same type of language into Rule 49.2, providing that if the distinct kicking motion results from the impetus of a defending player, the goal is good. Otherwise, you end up with some absurd and internally inconsistent results, such as this oldie but goodie, when Manny Malholtra’s goal against Dallas was infamously disallowed under Rule 49.2. Observe:

There are no words. I rest my case.