ANOTHER NHL BLACK EYE
But, privately, the league has contacted the parties involved and said it supports the call made by rookie referee Ghislain Hebert.
In case you missed it, and shame on you if you did, Pronger was positioned in front of the net as the Flyers were running a 4-on-3 power play in overtime.
Acting as a big-bodied screen, Pronger was skating back-and forth in front of the crease distracting Flames' goalie Miika Kiprusoff.
Pronger took it a step further for a brief instant, putting his gloved hand up in front of Kipper's face. The important thing to note here is Pronger had his back to the goalie, but put his left paw out to the side, blocking the goalie's vision.
He then put his hand back on his stick and simultaneously took a slash to the calf from the obviously agitated Calgary goalie.
Subsequently, Mike Richards took a shot and scored. The goal was waved off. Hebert calling an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Pronger.
The reason given? The Sean Avery Rule.
What's that, you may ask? Well, it was instituted immediately by the NHL two seasons ago after Avery stood in front of Devils' goalie Martin Brodeur in a playoff game, staring him in the face and waving his arms and his stick while dancing a jig.
It resulted in a New York goal and an immediate rule modification by the league.
Here's the statement discipline czar Colin Campbell issued at the time:
"An unsportsmanlike conduct minor penalty will be interpreted and applied, effective immediately, to a situation when an offensive player positions himself facing the opposition goaltender and engages in actions such as waving his arms or stick in front of the goaltender's face, for the purpose of improperly interfering with and/or distracting the goaltender as opposed to positioning himself to try to make a play," Campbell said.
Here's the key.... He said "facing the opposition goaltender."
Pronger was not facing the goalie. He had his back to him, setting a screen like so many other players do in the NHL.
Now, I know, you're saying that was just a statement by Campbell. There has to be clearer language in the actual rule book, right?
Well, you would think... except, this is the NHL, run with a see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil mentality.
Instead, what this league has wrought in this instance is another case of incompetence.
See, after that statement was issued by Campbell, which, in all honesty, was an emergency attempt to put out the latest fire started by Avery, somebody in the league office forgot to include the new language in the rule book.
Hope they don't fire that secretary.
The point is, the alleged rule does not exist anywhere other than as a statement issued by the league in the archives of the media outlets who cover the sport.
So, when the league rule book is issued to its member franchises at the beginning of the season and they rifle through it, there is nothing that says anything about distracting a goalie in front of the net.
Look, I'm not buying the whole line that Pronger was calling for the puck bit. It was obvious to me that what he did was a quick attempt to throw off the goalie. He intentionally waved his glove in Kiprusoff's face. No one can convince me otherwise.
But, by the rulebook, he did nothing wrong. By the statement made by Campbell nearly two years ago, he didn't violate that made-up on the spot rule change either.
So why the penalty? And why the quiet defense of it by the league?
Maybe because they just want this all to go away because they find themselves standing in the middle of their combined Times Square and Toronto offices with their tails between their legs.
I wouldn't be surprised if Rule 75, which focuses on unsportmanlike conduct penalties, is quietly modified in the near future to include this so-called "Avery Rule" but if you click the link above you will see it's not there now.
Ultimately, this cost the Flyers one point in the standings. It likely won't be the difference between making the playoffs or not, so it shouldn't be a life-or-death point, but it could be the difference in seeding at the top of the Eastern Conference.
All because the league doesn't know how to handle it's own bookeeping.
Of course, one also has to wonder if the call was reactionary by Hebert. In other words, there would be no penalty if there were no goal.
Alas, It's not like hockey is the only sport to run into these problems - I mean, how many people vehemently disagreed with that overturned touchdown in Week 1 of the NFL season when Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson caught a pass and had six different body parts hit the ground in the end zone with possession only to have the would-be game-winning score reversed by a ludicrous rule.
And while the outcry from that instance will likely result in an offseason rule change, the fact of the matter was the rule existed in the rulebook, and as such needed to be called. It was the one tonic for all the anger that spewed about the subject.
Shame the NHL couldn't fall back on their rules to justify their own mistake.