I have had the opportunity to watch a lot of hockey since Christmas, at all different levels. One thing that is constant throughout the various leagues and age groups is the too many men on the ice penalty. Some officials are adept at calling it, while others mostly choose to ignore it.
NHL Rule #74 states as follows:
74.1 Too Many Men on the Ice – Players and goalkeepers may be changed at any time during the play from the players’ bench provided that the player or players leaving the ice shall be within five feet (5′) of his players’ bench and out of the play before the change is made. Refer also to Rule 71 – Premature Substitution. At the discretion of the on-ice officials, should a substituting player come onto the ice before his teammate is within the five foot (5’) limit of the players’ bench (and therefore clearly causing his team to have too many players on the ice), then a bench minor penalty may be assessed.
When a player or goalkeeper is retiring from the ice surface and is within the five foot (5’) limit of his players’ bench, and his substitute is on the ice, then the retiring player or goalkeeper shall be considered off the ice for the purpose of Rule 70 – Leaving Bench.
If in the course of making a substitution, either the player entering the game or the player (or goalkeeper) retiring from the ice surface plays the puck with his stick, skates or hands or who checks or makes any physical contact with an opposing player while either the player entering the game or the retiring player is actually on the ice, then the infraction of “too many men on the ice” will be called.
If in the course of a substitution either the player(s) entering the play or the player(s) retiring is struck by the puck accidentally, the play will not be stopped and no penalty will be called.
During the play, the player retiring from the ice must do so at the players’ bench and not through any other exit leading from the rink. This is not a legal player change and therefore when a violation occurs, a bench minor penalty shall be imposed.
A player coming onto the ice as a substitute player is considered on the ice once both of his skates are on the ice. If he plays the puck or interferes with an opponent while still on the players’ bench, he shall be penalized under Rule 56 – Interference.
This seems straightforward enough, but keep in mind a referee has to see and notice this during the course of a game, when the play has likely moved past the bench. He has to count the players and determine if they are close enough to the bench, all while trying to keep an eye on what else is happening. I dare say most of us have seen and instance where everyone but the official notices the infraction.
In order to make life a little easier on the officials, why not paint some lines on the ice to mark the 5 feet mentioned in the rule? The NHL has been fairly successful with with trapezoid lines for goaltenders, so why not a set of lines, somewhat resembling an old time crease, painted near the benches. This would become a “free change zone” allowing the players a few feet with which to make a legal change. In theory, this should make transgressions easier to see and allow for some clarity and consistency in calling the foul.
The lines wouldn’t be a nuisance to the players, and would likely give the officials a more objective viewpoint in calling the penalty. Additionally, it may help the players make better changes if they know there is a hard and fast line there by which their change will be judged.
Agree? Disagree? Lets hear it in the comments.