The National Hockey League has officially enforced the rules on a non-harm, no-foul concept for the last 18 months, according to John Ziegler, NHL president.
"The judgment was made, by board (of governors) decision, that there was too much officiating by the book and too many penalties," Ziegler said. "The board felt that hitting and body contact were going out of the game. So the officials were told to develop a sense of a flow of the game and use their judgment rather than the rule book.
"You don't want to call every penalty if it has nothing to do with the play. You can call a hook every time two players come close together if you demand strict enforcement."
The result has been more open play, accompanied by confusion among officials who, in following the instructions, do not call penalties that are obvious to all.
"For a while our guys were second-guessing themselves," said Frank Udvari, supervisor of officials. "But they came out of it. There is a tendency, of course, when you have that situation, to wonder whether you should call something, and think about it before making a decision.
"But the governors thought there were too many marginal calls, hits along the boards that were good checks being called boarding, that were detracting from the game. I think it's working pretty smoothly now."
The NHL officials commented on rule enforcement in an interview here during the league's summer meeting, which produced several rule-changes yesterday.
The policy of selective enforcement has obviously been a contributing factor to the increase in abuse of officials. Fans, coaches and general managers like to see their own teams' violations overlooked, but they scream when an opponent is similarly treated.
During the recently concluded Stanley Cup playoffs, the officials were charged with everything from incompetence to "fixing" games, but the only league response was in the form of fines, $1,0000 against Montreal Coach Scotty Bowman and Boston Coach Don Cherry, $500 against Boston defenseman Brad Park.
"Five hundred isn't much to a guy making a quarter-million a year," Udvari commented on the assessment to Park, who had said after game five, "I thought only horse races were fixed."
Scotty Morrison, the NHL's referee in chief, said yesterday that a presentation would be made today to the board of governors, seeking more backing for the officials from the league.
"We're not asking for a gag rule," Morrison said. "An offical doesn't object to criticism of a specific call. What I personally want to see is well-defined disciplinary action if a coach, manage or team official impugns the integrity of an official or challenges his ability to work a game."
He particularly wants action taken to preclude a repetition of charges made by Boston General Manager Harry Sinden, who claimed Morrison assigned the specific officials for the finals because the Bruins often lost when they were in charge.
"I think the quality of officiating is good," Morrison said. "In the Stanley Cup playoffs it was generally good, but all you read was how the officials were messing up the games. It takes away from the whole sport."
The rules committee made several changes yesterday, including approval of Washington General Manager Max McNabs' request that each coach be entitled to call one 30-second timeout per game.
Wandering goalies were restricted from deliberately falling on the puck if they are completely outside the goal crease. Even inside it, they no longer can stop play unless they are being closely checked by an opponent.
Two lines will be marked at the outside of each faceoff circle, to keep opponents three feet apart instead of constantly jockeying for an advantage.
The matter of overtime play to break ties was passed on to the board of governors. Although proponents are willing to compromise on a first-minute extra period, it seems unlikely the proposal will receive the necessary three-quarters vote.
Right wing Guy Lafleur of Montreal has been chosen the winner of the Hart Trophy, as the National Hockey League's most valuable player, for the second straight season. Lafleur led the NHL with 60 goals and 132 points.
Center Butch Goring of Los Angeles, earlier recipient of the Masterton Trophy, added the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship combined with playing ability.
Other winners included right wing Mike Bossy, New York Islanders, Calder Trophy as outstanding rookie Denis Potvin of the Islanders, Norris Trophy as best defenseman; and left wing Bob Gainey of Montreal, Selke Trophy as best defensive forward.
The only Washington player receiving mention in the balloting among members of the professional Hockey Writers Association was center Guy Charron, who received three points in the Lady Byng vote.