McKenna: Understanding the obscure NHL rules for buttons on goalie sticks


By: Mike Mckenna

You can’t use paperwork at the end of your stick, Frederik Andersen.

Why? Due to article 10.2 of the official NHL rules.

Goalie Stick – In the case of a goalie stick, there must be a button of white tape or other League approved protective material. This button must not be less than half an inch (1/2 « ) thick at the top of the shaft. Failure to comply with this rule will result in the goalkeeper’s stick being deemed unsuitable. in play. The goaltender’s stick must be changed without the imposition of a minor penalty.

I am 38 years old and the rule has been in place since before I was born. But why does it exist?

Quite simple. Prior to the video replay, the NHL used human beings as goal judges. They sat directly behind the net and worked with the officials on the ice to determine if a puck crossed the goal line.

A black button on the end of a goalie’s stick could easily be mistaken for a puck. And when the rule was written years ago, players had a choice of two colors of ribbon. Black and white. By forcing goalies to use white duct tape, the NHL reduced the risk of missed calls by goal judges.

In today’s world, there are endless colors of duct tape. Andersen was caught using red. And it wasn’t the first time. In October 2017, while Andersen was a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, he was caught using blue duct tape in a preseason game against the Winnipeg Jets and was forced to cover it in white.

Another incident occurred in 2014, when the LA Kings faced the Edmonton Oilers. After the first round of the shootout, Kings head coach Darryl Sutter took the officials aside and pointed at the fluorescent orange button on the stick of Oilers goaltender Ben Scrivens.

“I didn’t know the rule as it is written, I just knew the underlying reason was that a black button could be mistaken for a puck in a scrum,” Scrivens told Daily Faceoff. “So my understanding was that as long as it wasn’t black (or some other dark color) it wouldn’t be mistaken for a puck, so you’re within the rules. « 

Ben Scrivens with his « controversial » orange pommel in 2014

“I didn’t know what was going on when Sutter was talking to the refs, I just saw him point his finger at me,” Scrivens continued. « I laughed when it all happened because it was very clearly an attempt to freeze me, or get in my head, which just told me I was already in his head. stopped the next shooter and we won. I gave their bench a mocking hand as my team came down to celebrate.

And then there is Anton Khudobin. He’s been using colored duct tape for years and the Calgary Flames knocked him out in the 2019-20 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Still, if you look at Khudobin’s current sticks, the button is green again.

Anton Khudobin and the green button on his stick

The ruler has no teeth. There is no penalty for using a color other than white. I think that’s why some NHL goaltenders really don’t seem to care.

I would actually be surprised if Andersen changes his recording habits in the future. Changing the tape isn’t a minor detail – the red tape Andersen uses on the end of his stick feels very different from the white cloth tape. It will take some experimentation on his part to find a comfortable solution.

The red button on Frederik Andersen’s stick

What I find interesting is that Andersen’s stick was illegal for two reasons: the color of the ribbon and a button that was too small. He’s supposed to have – at a minimum – half an inch of duct tape at the top of his stick. However, only the illegal color was discussed.

Unlike a player’s stick, the button of a goalie stick is exposed during play. A half inch of duct tape is needed in an attempt to protect players from sharp angles. But for some reason in Andersen’s case, officials dropped that part of the rule.

Generally speaking, players know most of the rules. They are informed of any change at the start of the season and adapt accordingly. But I’d be surprised if five percent of NHL players have already opened a rulebook. In their mind, they know what they need to know.

Until they don’t.

Sometimes a member of the opposing team will notify the on-ice officials of an illegal button, and the result is what you saw in Thursday night’s game between the Anaheim Ducks and the Carolina Hurricanes.

The referee approaches the goalkeeper, in this case Frederik Andersen. He explains to the goalkeeper that his stick is illegal. A white strip of tape is placed at the top and playback resumes.

Coaches will rarely call an illegal stick from an opposing goaltender. It is considered petty and unnecessary. Bold, if you will. But it is a rule.

I don’t believe veteran NHL referee Ian Walsh skated to Andersen and told him to fix his stick on a whim. I’d bet the farm that Anaheim Ducks head coach Dallas Eakins – or someone on his team – warned Walsh.

Maybe it was Ducks assistant coach Newell Brown. His son, Adam, was a goalie in the WHL and then professionally for three seasons, mainly in the ECHL. Who knows, I guess. But the timing was calculated. It was during a stoppage of play just after Hurricanes forward Martin Necas was given a two-minute minor for delaying the game.

The Ducks were heading into the power play. Calling Andersen’s illegal button saved them time. The delay allowed Anaheim’s top players to recover from a recent shift and have fresher legs for the start of the power play.

There is also an element of psychological warfare. Forcing a goalie to change the work of his stick in the middle of the game can be a problem for him, especially if he is superstitious.

One night in Providence, while playing for the Portland Pirates of the American Hockey League, I noticed Bruins goaltender Malcolm Subban was using black tape on the button. When we walked into the locker room after warm-ups, I spoke to our coach Scott Allen – now head coach of the AHL Hershey Bears – about Subban’s illegal stick. We decided to keep it in our back pocket. In case.

In the third period, we reached a critical point in the game and decided to play our card. Scott notified the referee, who skated to Subban and forced him to put a strip of white duct tape on the end of his stick.

I don’t remember if we won or lost that night. But our dominant thought was that maybe Subban was superstitious. Or too particular about his equipment. And maybe going to the bench for something as insignificant as the color of the duct tape on his stick could make him lose his mind.

It was all mind games.

Section 10.2 is a truly archaic rule. There really is no need for that anymore with video replay. And no one will mistake a red, orange, or green button for a washer.

But the rules are the rules. And the NHL teams will do anything to gain the upper hand.


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