SUN Hockey Pool

Tiger: NHL's rules are for fools

GARY LOEWEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:31 AM ET

Instead of inventing new rules, the NHL would be further ahead trashing some old ones.

The NHL has become rules-happy, says Tiger Williams, who has some scathing opinions on the way the league operates.

The colourful former Maple Leafs tough guy says constantly adding rules is damaging the game.

"Either keep the rules the same, or just start over," says Williams, now the CEO of Calgary-based Pacific Rodera Energy Inc.

"The little pieces (of rules) they keep adding ... even the league itself can't manage them."

He saves some ammo for the players, too, especially those who fight for no real reason or retaliate for clean hits.

Here is Tiger's take on hockey: Ten points on what has gone awry with the NHL, and a tribute to Don Cherry.

Rule overload

The GMs propose to add a 10-minute misconduct to combatants in a staged fight, to which Williams says: "I don't think it'll make any difference.

"What are they trying to accomplish?

"The more rules they put in, the more they paint themselves into a corner. And it is very sticky paint.

"What started all this was the instigator rule (minor and misconduct penalties assessed the aggressor in a fight).

"There are too many rules.

"During the past decade ... has baseball added another umpire? Have basketball or soccer added another official?"

Why fighting exists

"Notice how there is not much fighting in the playoffs?" Williams says.

"Because those fellows (one-dimensional enforcers) don't play, and sometimes don't even dress."

During the regular season, the scrappers are front and centre.

"The league needs them around in October. That's because with all the new rules, the game is so boring the NHL has to give some entertainment to the fans, who are paying $200 for a 15-cent game.

"The league created that problem."

Players with visors

"If a player wearing a visor engages (in a fight), he should be automatically ejected. Why should he have an advantage?

"It's something the league should have nipped in the bud (rather than face a growing controversy a decade later).

"A guy with a visor is telling the league: 'I'm not going to drop the gloves. I'm more worried about my pretty face.'"

What's with these guys?

During Williams' era (1974-88) teams rarely had players whose sole job was to fight the opponent's tough guy.

Scrappers had to play the game, too.

"Guys, when they did engage (in a fight), there was a reason for it.

"Now, they're fighting for the next edition of Rock 'em Sock 'em -- No. 29 or whatever it is.

"A lot of (former NHLers), when they see a fight nowadays they say: 'He can't be mad, he hasn't even been on the ice.' "

The matter of retaliating for a clean hit irks Williams, too.

"When a player gets hit with a good, solid bodycheck, that should be acceptable to both teams and it was when I played.

"Now, it doesn't seem you're allowed to do that without somebody jumping on your back."

Show me the money

Williams believes greed is at the at the root of numerous rule changes.

The league expanded too quickly, dispersing talent, which begat the clutch and grab.

"So, rather than wait for the talent to equal out, they changed the rules again."

And in order to get a TV deal, the league brass tried to get rid of fighting.

"There was this belief they were going to get a national (U.S.) TV contract.

"But they felt they had to get rid of fighting (to ensure) the games would end in a set period of time. Fighting, or the guys getting rambunctious, could delay the game by 15 or 20 minutes."

"They never did get the contract, and they never will.

"But that was the thought process behind getting rid of fighting."

Playground justice

"The past seven or eight years, they haven't allowed the guys to manage their own game" or allow respect to develop.

"During the '70s and '80s everybody had to manage their own affairs out there, whereas now somebody does it for you."

The players had a good rapport with the officials back then and knew not to cross the line.

They didn't need rules telling them where the line was.

"One game I got an elbow in the chops. I looked at the ref and he said 'Well, if you keep your hands to yourself, you won't get a shot in the mouth.'

"They did that to keep everybody in check.

"Now, I don't know if the players even know (the officials') names."

Serious injury/death

While the league waffles about how to react to the death of Don Sanderson following a fight in senior hockey, Williams says the day will come when an NHLer will die of an injury.

"We've had a few guys cut in the throat and live. One of these days it will happen.

"What are we supposed to do, redesign the skate? Make the sticks out of rubber?

"We can't protect everybody all the time.

"When the big fella calls your number, he doesn't care if your helmet is on or off, or if you're wearing skates.

"Airbags and seatbelts have made driving safer but people still get killed in car accidents. If you want to be safe, don't get into the car."

Staged fighting

To eliminate the one-dimensional fighter, the easiest thing to do -- though the NHLPA would object -- would be to revert to three lines, six defencemen and two extra skaters.

"You wouldn't have room for that kind of guy. You'd have more harmony and a happy bench because everyone plays."

He says the league expanded the rosters so that teams could handle an expanded playoff format.

More games, more gate.

Media too soft

When clutch-and-grab hockey was in vogue, reporters should have urged a crackdown.

Same when players started retaliating for clean hits.

"You guys are bad for this," Williams says.

"You let the league off the hook."

Cherry's outburst

"Just let Grapes (Don Cherry) make all the rules," Williams says with a chuckle.

Williams didn't see Cherry chastise Alex Ovechkin, on Coach's Corner on Feb. 28 for his exuberant goal celebrations which touched off a national debate.

"I was in Afghanistan visiting the troops."

Did Cherry, often accused of Euro-bashing, go too far in rapping the Russian?

"If Ovechkin had been born in Winnipeg, (Cherry) wouldn't have said anything," Williams said.

"Nobody is right here, and nobody is wrong, either.

"Ovechkin scores a lot of goals and if he still has the energy to celebrate like that, good for him.

"But (Cherry) flies the flag 24 hours a day and that's a good thing. There is no better Canadian than that guy.

"Even when (Cherry) says stuff I don't agree with, I support him. We're lucky to have a guy like that who supports his country."

Williams is one who waves the flag, too.

"The visit to the troops in Afghanistan was so emotional-- what fantastic people. They're such great people, so resilient."

Final thoughts

"Maybe there is not as much passion for the game now, from everybody from the owner down to the stick boy."

GARY.LOEWEN@SUNMEDIA.CA


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