By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — There’s no better faceoff man in hockey than Patrice Bergeron. So when he offers his opinion on the new emphasis from the league on faceoff rules, the league will listen.
The Bruins’ alternate captain spoke after Thursday’s preseason win over the Flyers, a game which included a Flyers power play after Brad Marchand committed a faceoff violation.
Marchand had already expressed his displeasure in the new strict officiating of positioning on faceoffs, and on Thursday, Bergeron let his feelings be known.
“I think the faceoff is definitely an adjustment. I don’t see how they can really keep that going for the rest of the [regular season],” Bergeron said. “I think faceoff is a skill, and you work your whole career to develop that. You work on your hand-eye and timing and everything, and they’re trying to take that away.”
Despite his grievance, Bergeron plans on adapting to the changes for the time being.
“So you have to adapt, I guess, and that’s something I’m going to definitely do,” Bergeron said. “But I don’t know if I’m a huge fan.”
For those that might not know, the NHL is cracking down on faceoff violations this year. Sportsnet explained the change in emphasis (but not the rule) in a neat and tidy video:
As one of the NHL’s best faceoff men over the past several years, Bergeron was asked if he felt specifically targeted by this new emphasis.
“Yeah, I don’t know,” he said. “I wonder really what they’re trying to get out of it. I understand it’s feet above those lines and the sticks and whatnot. But that being said it’s also common sense, and it’s kind of getting … hockey’s a fast game, and right now we’re really slowing it down.”
Though the stakes were low in the preseason game, Bergeron was kicked out of a draw in the waning seconds of the third period in a tie game, thus forcing Marchand to step in and take the draw. Marchand won the faceoff, but the idea of the Bruins losing their best centerman in a crucial spot is one that’s likely to cause some worry.
“Maybe it kind of looked good when [the league] was talking about it up there, but it’s really taking a lot away from the games,” Marchand said. “You can’t have a winger taking every faceoff. If you look at the percentages of how many times guys got kicked out tonight, and what it’s taking from teams, it’s just not worth what’s come with it. And literally, both teams are out there laughing about how bad it was, how bad the rule is, and it’s becoming a big joke. So, there’s gotta be something tweaked, I think, because these games are painful to be a part of. I thought it was a bad rule before I played, but it’s even worse after going through it and seeing what it’s like.”
While only one penalty was called for a second violation on one faceoff, there were numerous instances of players getting kicked out of draws for violations. Marchand said the enforcement basically prevents a team from winning a draw in its defensive zone.
“It’s basically an automatic win for the other team,” Marchand said. “The only thing you’re worried about is not moving before the puck’s dropping. Maybe that’s what they want, more offensive zone wins. But you’re taking away the skill of the game and the reason guys make the NHL. It’s a big skill to win draws, and they’re taking the skill out of the game and really just dumbing it down to whacking at a puck. So I know the NHL, they want to increase the scoring and stuff like that, but you want to make it exciting for the fans. And what’s going on out there is not exciting at all.”
Since the 2009-10 season, Bergeron has won 7,524 faceoffs — 948 more than Jonathan Toews, who’s won the second-most faceoffs in that same span. His 58.9 percent winning percentage during that time is also the best in the NHL, and he led the league in faceoff percentage in five of the last six seasons among regular centermen.
Bergeron was also asked about the difficulties of taking faceoffs differently than he has for his entire career.
“I think it’s like anything — it’s an adjustment. So we’re all going to have to adapt,” Bergeron said. “It seemed like it was the same thing for everyone. Even on the other side, they were talking about it. So it’s not like we’re the only ones. So it’s something that’s definitely drawing a lot of attention. You just have to go back and work on it and make sure I adapt. If it’s going to be like that, I have to make sure that I find a way to be good at it, to be helping the team by winning draws.”
As any hockey viewer can attest, nothing stalls a game quite like a linesman refusing to drop a puck for a faceoff as he barks orders at the participants. Bergeron said he feels the new officiating emphasis will only exacerbate that problem.
“You know when the linesman is going to drop the puck, and now he’s thinking more about kicking you out than actually dropping the puck,” he said. “So that’s what makes you second-guess. That’s what makes you hesitate, and everyone’s just standing there. There’s no battles right now. It’s all … faceoffs when I was 12 years old and everyone’s kind of standing still and no one’s moving.”
As far as the mild-mannered and respectful Bergeron goes, saying he’s “not a huge fan” is about as nasty as the 32-year-old will get when talking about anything. Most everyone in hockey has to be hoping that his words make their way to the decision-makers in the NHL offices.