NHL Dictionary: Your Very Own Personal Rule

Image courtesy of ioffer.com.

The Official NHL Rule Book contains a handful of rules inspired by individual players, but none of them are formally named for those players. The Official NHL Rule Book is sneaky that way. Not to worry, though: The NHL Dictionary is here for you, and it can totally take the Rule Book in a fight. Against the express wishes of the Rule Book we now present some of the most prominent of those rules.

The “You’re Too Good, And We Can’t Have That” rules

The Brodeur Rule (aka The Trapezoid, aka The Dumb Trapezoid): Should the goalkeeper play the puck outside of the designated area behind the goal line, a minor penalty for delay of game shall be imposed.


As the 2005-06 season approached, the NHL was looking for ways to increase offense, presumably to make up for all the goals that didn’t get scored during the previous, lockout-obliterated season. The league instituted a number of rule changes toward this end, the stupidest one of which is commonly known as the Brodeur Rule.

The theory went like this: Goalies like Brodeur made it nearly impossible for opposing teams to chip the puck in deep, because those goalies could fire the puck right back out of the zone. Prevent the netminders from playing the puck in the corners and you would create time and space for forecheckers to gain control of the puck in the offensive zone.

Sound reasoning, and it actually kind of worked against highly skilled puck-playing goalies like Brodeur such as… well, Brodeur, and to a lesser extent maybe three or four others. Most goaltenders at the time were actually pretty terrible with the puck, and in attempting to stickhandle were more likely to create a scoring chance against than they were to preempt one.

For proof, take a look at some of the hijinks Patrick Roy or Dominik Hasek – two of the greatest goalies of all time – used to get into when they tried to act like skaters. If anything, the league should have actively encouraged this behaviour, both for the increased offence and for the sheer entertainment value created by a desperate, befuddled future Hall of Famer’s attempt to execute a clearing pass that any competent peewee-level defenceman could make in his sleep. Not that goalies don’t come by their inability to stickhandle honestly. Seriously. Try playing the puck with a goaltender’s stick and wearing full goalie equipment sometime – it’s like trying to paddle a canoe through pudding.

Image courtesy of Sports Illustrated.

But Brodeur could do it, and he could do it brilliantly. This was great for the New Jersey Devils and terrible for their opponents, who grew weary of seeing their efforts to dump and chase thwarted time and again. It should surprise nobody that the biggest champion of the Brodeur Rule was then-Flyers general manager Bobby Clarke, a man who frequently played Wile E. Coyote to Lou Lamoriello’s Road Runner during the heyday of the two teams’ rivalry in the old Atlantic Division (not to be confused with the current Atlantic Division, of course).

Nowadays pretty much everyone thinks the trapezoid needs to go, and sooner or later it will. The real question is whether the NHL will keep it in place until after Brodeur retires, less as a way to inhibit his play – Brodeur has long since figured out how to play the puck without running afoul of the trapezoid police – than as a sort of homage to the man for whom it is named.

NOTE: The trapezoid was referred to as “the dumb trapezoid” during a Devils broadcast by legendary play-by-play man Mike “Doc” Emrick, which is all the proof you need that the trapezoid is objectively dumb.

The Gretzky Rule (defunct): Substitutions allowed in the event of co-incidental minor  penalties.

Image courtesy of Sports Illustrated.

It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when the NHL actually wanted to cut down on offense, or at least on offense from a specific source. Wayne Gretzky and his dynastic Edmonton Oilers were dangerous enough in 5-on-5 situations, but on open ice of a 4-on-4 they were overwhelming – and if they could get their opponent to take an extra penalty and create a 4-on-3 power play, fuggedaboutit.

In 1985, tired of watching  Gretz and the Gang skate circles around opponents, the NHL decreed that when co-incidental minors were called the teams would remain at full strength (although the individual players who took the penalties would still have to do their time in the box).

Gretzky hated this change so much that he called a press conference to complain about it, which was pure folly since all he really needed to do to get the rule repealed was leave Edmonton. He did that in 1988, and a few years later the league reverted back to the old system.

The “Cut That Crap Out Right Now!” rules

The Rob Ray RuleA player who engages in a fight and whose jersey is not properly “tied-down” (jersey properly fastened to pants), and who loses his jersey (completely off his torso) in that altercation, shall receive a game misconduct penalty.


Rob Ray was a Buffalo Sabres enforcer who pioneered the tactic of getting half-naked on the ice so as to prevent his opponent from gaining any leverage during a fight. The other guy would grab Rob Ray’s jersey, Rob Ray would slip out of his jersey, and the other guy would find himself suddenly off-balance, holding a limp Sabres jersey in his hand and beset by a flurry of punches from a glistening, shirtless Rob Ray.

It was an effective strategy, but unfortunately it led to an awful lot of bare Rob Ray flesh on TV screens across North America. This was not the product the NHL was looking to sell, so the league instituted a rule requiring all players to secure their jerseys so as to remain fully clothed during the exchange of punches. As big a disappointment as this was for fans of gratuitous nudity and/or live-action reenactments of the movie Slap Shot, it was the only sure way to make Rob Ray keep his shirt on, so it had to be done.

NOTE: It is mandatory to refer to Rob Ray by his full name at all times. This is a rule that pertains to Rob Ray, and we would refer to this Rob Ray rule as the Rob Ray Rule if the name “The Rob Ray Rule” weren’t already taken.

The Avery RuleAn unsportsmanlike conduct minor penalty (Rule 75) 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.


The NHL has been home to many great characters over the years; Avery was not one of them. He was an unpleasantly colourful punk, a league-wide embarrassment, the type of guy you hated to play against and hated even more if he was on your team.. He was  a player so universally reviled that even his own teammates didn’t object when Gary Bettman suspended him indefinitely for, essentially, being Sean Avery (“indefinitely” ended up being 6 games).

He was the kind of player who, despite having pretty decent offensive skills, might choose to stand in front of the crease and wave his stick in front of the opposing goalie’s face rather than try to acquire any level of awareness of what was going on with the puck. Not that there’s anything wrong with screening the goalie, mind you, but it’s generally the kind of thing you do whilst facing the play rather than looking the goalie in the eye and taunting him.

It was bush league, it was tacky… and it was effective.

Avery’s New York Rangers scored on that “play” against Brodeur and the Devils – in a playoff game, no less – and the league wasted no time in announcing that it would never tolerate that kind of crap again. Then-NHL Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell put out a release detailing the expanded definition of Unsportsmanlike Conduct the next day, tragically ensuring that Avery’s less-than-distinguished name will never be forgotten.

The Emery Rule (as yet theoretical):

Ever since Philadelphia Flyers goalie Ray Emery went all schoolyard bully on Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby last month, there has been talk of the NHL considering a possible rule change to protect the innocent Holtbys of the world. The Flyers, you might recall, were down 7-0 when they decided to take a break from giving up goals and punch some faces instead.

Emery didn’t want to be left out of the line brawl, so he skated the length of the ice only to find that Holtby really just wanted to sniff the flowers in peace. Never one to back down from a fight he was determined to start, Emery told Holtby to “protect yourself” and then set to punchin’.

As a result, the league is considering instituting a rule prohibiting goalies from crossing the red line to fight opposing goalies. If the idea is just to prevent guys like Emery from pummeling innocent victims then this rule goes too far. The line-in-the-sand-on-the-ice should be the opposite blue line rather than the red line so that if the other goalie doesn’t want to fight he can just stay in the safety of his own zone; setting the boundary at the red line would essentially ban all goalie fights . Ray Emery, you (might) ruin everything!

The “It’s Not Really About You, But You’re the Only One It Affects” rule

The Biron Rule: Sweater numbers such as 00, ½ (fractions), .05 (decimals), 101 (three digit) are not permitted.

Image courtesy of Bleacher Report.

The NHL never had much of a fraction problem, as far as we know. In truth, the only part of this rule that addressed something that actually existed was the part that banned 00 – a number that had been worn in NHL games by exactly two players. Why was “00” so offensive to the NHL’s sensibility? Who knows? But the only guy wearing the number at the time the rule came in was then-Sabres goalie Martin Biron, so he gets the credit. Sorry, John Davidson.

NOTE: This one isn’t mentioned all that often, but we love Martin Biron so we’re going to shout him out every chance we get. Hi, Marty!

The “Melissa Isn’t Dealing With This Rule” rules

There are a handful of individual-inspired rules having to do with off-ice issues like contracts, waiver maneuvers and other stuff that gets handled entirely by people wearing suits. It gives Melissa a headache to try to process that kind of thing, and Melissa is almost out of Advil so she’s going to skip it. But watch this space, because Chris is far less susceptible to suit-related maladies…

Follow Melissa on Twitter, and while you’re at it follow Ice Nation UK for all the best hockey talk!

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