What the NHL can do to improve its Distinct Kicking Motion rule

The NHL offseason can be a long and uneventful wait for fans, especially after the draft and free agency. That being said, we’re going to take a look at how to bolster more interest in the game with rule changes.

Historically, the distinct kicking motion rule is one of the most disputed and controversial calls in the NHL.

I’ll look more in depth into the rule’s definition, its recent history with the Calgary Flames, and perhaps also controversially, why it should be simply removed from today’s NHL.

The NHL’s Distinct Kicking Motion

Rule 49.2 in the official NHL rulebook states, “Kicking the puck shall be permitted in all zones. A goal cannot be scored by an attacking player who uses a distinct kicking motion to propel the puck into the net with his skate/foot. A goal cannot be scored by an attacking player who kicks a puck that deflects into the net off any player, goalkeeper or official”.

The rule goes into more detail, stating that goals are allowed when the puck enters the goal after deflecting off an attackers skate in the process of stopping. Now, in some cases, a distinct kicking motion and the process of stopping can look quite similar.

Recent history of the kick

The rule has long been controversial and almost identical plays can have opposite outcomes game to game and official to official. At the end of the day, distinct kicking motion is a subjective term it seems.

Regular season rulings

Andrew Mangiapane got away with one this past season against the New York Rangers. As much as I’d like to side with the Flames here, but the overhead view seems conclusive in my eyes.

Playoff rulings

In the 2021–22 NHL Playoffs, the Flames fell victim to the rule in an elimination Game 5 against the Edmonton Oilers. Blake Coleman attempts to stop while being pushed towards the net as the puck deflects off his skate into the goal. A crucial call and again, a pretty obvious miss on the situation room’s part.

Just a few examples of how broad the interpretation of the rule can be, which nowadays always happens in a video review situation.

Motioning for a change on distinct kicking

Video review is a great thing and can be utilized amazingly for many situations within a game. But the fact of the matter is it always decides a distinct kicking motion call.

That isn’t the root of the issue with the rule, but it has become its defining aspect. Most of the time, tape is slowed down frame by frame, to determine a call that happens in a split second. With that, comes over-analysis.

In some cases, a player doesn’t have any intention to kick or deflect the puck, but his motion to avoid the net can be determined as such. Anyone who has skated or even avid viewers know that blades lead players in the direction they want to glide or turn towards. When turning away from an obstacle (the net) the edge of your blades will be perpendicular to that obstacle. Furthermore, stopping and turning is determined by transferring energy into blade edges, much like what it takes to push a puck with a skate.

At the end of the day, there’s too much grey area. Whether one call is a goal or not, no one seems to be able to tell. It always causes debate and never hardly ever feels like a rule the situation room, refs, or league are confident in.

It slows down the game, upsets people, and frankly takes away from some of the skill NHL players display today. Puck control with skates is a skill and doesn’t take away from any offensive core principle of the game of hockey. If you can kick a puck up to your stick without penalty, you should be able to kick a puck in the goal.

No single player is going to start kicking at the puck over using their stick if given the choice, and if they’re able to score on such rare occurrences, they can be rewarded for it. If the entire league agrees that these instances can be called goals, there will be one less grey area and more overall offence and excitement created.

Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire

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