Posted by: mdegeorge | March 11, 2011

Spinning the reasons the NHL should keep the spin-o-rama legal (VIDEO)

There’s a debate brewing in the NHL, one that probably will never impact Zdeno Chara and has nothing to do with Air Canada, who might have been hitting the Labatt’s a bit hard before issuing this edict. The storm clouds of dissent are quietly gathering, and while it’s not a decision that may irrevocably alter the way the game is played, it certainly falls under the “please don’t meddle” category.

The allegedly illegal act also happens to be one of the more entertaining the game has to offer: the spin-o-rama penalty shot goal.

The lithe lamp-lighting technique skates the fine line of legality according to the game’s current rules for penalty shots. The likes of Pierre-Marc Bouchard, Jason Blake, Mikhail Grabovski, David Booth, Mason Raymond, Steven Stamkos, and Martin St. Louis have turned the shootout technique into a controversial YouTube sensation.

Rule 24.2 of the NHL rulebook governs penalty shots and states quite clearly what a legal attempt constitutes:

The puck must be kept in motion towards the opponent’s goal line and once it is shot, the play shall be considered complete. No goal can be scored on a rebound of any kind (an exception being the puck off the goal post or crossbar, then the goalkeeper and then directly into the goal), and any time the puck crosses the goal line or comes to a complete stop, the shot shall be considered complete.

The first major modification to that rule came in 2006 after Marek Malik’s sublime between-the-legs roof job on Olaf Kolzig violated the imperative that the puck always be moving towards the net. The clarification of this rule prioritized the importance of the puck being in constant, rather than constant goal-ward, motion with this addendum:

The spin-o-rama type move where the player completes a 360° turn as he approaches the goal, shall be permitted as this involves continuous motion.

So that settles things, right? Not quite.

The moves have still managed to rankle the ire of more than a few on the receiving end of whirling dekes. Then Tampa Bay goaltender Dan Ellis had harsh words for Edmonton forward Linus Omark, who spun as he picked up the puck at center ice in his first career shootout attempt in his first career NHL game and beat Ellis in December. Ellis called it “embarrassing” and “not a very classy thing,” though the legality of Omark’s move apparently didn’t play into the conversation.

Two years earlier, then-New Jersey Devils forward Bobby Holik railed on a spin-o-rama goal by Blake “so un-hockey” and “B.S.” that “the league loves it because it’s exciting”, though he did acknowledge it was a legal move.

The latest contention came Wednesday night when St. Louis used the spin move to beat Corey Crawford and the Chicago Blackhawks in the shootout (video above). The move, which involved what appeared to be a more pronounced pause in the apsis of the turn, necessitated a delay of around a minute to review the video before the next Chicago shooter went and prompted a statement by an NHL spokesman to ESPNChicago.com Thursday affirming the goal’s legality. Crawford thought the move was borderline and resignedly accepted the decision. It’s worth mentioning that the preceding attempt in the shootout was another spin move by Stamkos, which had Crawford beat before he clanked it off the post.

I’m all for fair play, and that’s what the spin-o-rama is. It has the added advantage of being entertaining as well. The rule doesn’t unfairly disadvantage goaltenders in any way, it merely is a means of deception as to the shooters intentions, not unlike a deke or stick-fake. It’s like a pitcher hiding the ball in his delivery: it’s frustrating as heck, but entirely legal. It becomes illegal when he exceeds the rules, and if someone doing a spin-o-rama is adjudged to have come to a complete stop the goal should be disallowed.

To me, this looks like the goalies are a bit behind on the curve (no pun intended). What probably started as a practice-rink trick meant for morning skate entertainment has now become a valuable weapon in the penalty shot arsenal that has almost 100 percent efficiency. The best way to prevent it is for goaltenders to start practicing against it.

It’s not like it’s completely unstoppable. The pucks on the ice the entire time, and an active stick and a well-time poke check can be just as effective in stopping it as lightning quick lateral motion. It’s not like Alexander Ovechkin’s All-Star Skills Competition lacrosse move where the puck isn’t always on the ice. (Incidentally, that move is also legal: “The lacrosse-like move whereby the puck is picked up on the blade of the stick and ‘whipped’ into the net shall be permitted provided the puck is not raised above the height of the shoulders at any time and when released, is not carried higher than the crossbar.” Next controversy, anyone?)

The move is a harmless bit of showmanship that if executed is worthy of the goal. Let’s remember that the shootout’s creating was due to almost equal parts desire for competitive balance in incentivizing overtime attacking to eliminate draws and for pure entertainment value. The spin-o-rama delivers enough of the latter condition to outweigh what some may deem a lacking in the former.

It’s like the grand finale to a fireworks display. Please, NHL, don’t take our spinners away.

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