2019-2020 NLL Rule Changes

Every season, the NLL tweaks their rule book. Some changes are significant (eg. when they changed the 10-second clock to 8 seconds a few years ago), while others are less so. This year, the rule changes have gone under the radar – I have seen precisely no mention of them anywhere. That’s probably because most of these changes are not all that impactful, quite honestly, but there are a couple that may affect play here and there. There is one, however, that might be a very big deal.

Here are the rule changes for 2019-2020 and what they mean.

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The Crawford suspension: dangerous

You probably haven’t heard much about this issue – it’s kind of flown under the radar. Well, other than being talked about by just about every lacrosse writer and fan (and many players) on social media. Of course I’m talking about Callum Crawford’s suspension.

In case you missed it, Black Wolves forward and potential MVP candidate Crawford was given a major penalty for a high hit on Toronto’s Brad Kri back on February 24. The week after the game, the penalty was upgraded to a match penalty by the league, which gives Crawford an automatic one-game suspension. He appealed, allowing him to play in New England’s next game against Colorado (in which he scored four goals and added seven assists), but the match penalty was upheld the week after that, and he sat out last weekend’s game.

Rule 41.4 in the NLL rule book is called “Repeat Offender” and states: “Any player who is assessed a second match penalty, a second Dangerous Contact to the Head penalty (Rule 77), or a combination thereof within a two year period shall be assessed an additional five (5) game suspension.

Very clear and unambiguous. This matters because in January of 2018, Crawford was given a match penalty for a similar hit on a Roughnecks player. That’s two match penalties within two years, so Crawford gets an automatic five games, right? Not this time. The same arbitrator who was brought in to decide on the match penalty announced that he was not ruling on the extra five games until later, though nobody could figure out why. Then on Friday, the answer came down: Crawford will sit out one game rather than five.

Photo credit: Garrett James

The PLPA released a statement from the arbitrator on why, but the statement is puzzling. The arbitrator, Andrew Brandt, mentions a similar situation two years ago when Calgary’s Greg Harnett received his second match penalty in two years, and was given a five game suspension by that arbitrator, a Mr. McGuire. Brandt says “Mr. McGuire correctly concluded that the league had no other choice than to impose an additional five game penalty. However as the rule was unilaterally adopted by the league and not a part of the CBA, it was not binding on an arbitration officer.

Why would rules in the rule book not be binding on an arbitration officer? I’m not a lawyer, but it seems to me that by agreeing to play games (more than half the season so far) with this rule book, the PLPA has implicitly agreed to all of the rules in the rule book. This is not a rule that was added mid-season without the PLPA’s knowledge or consent. If there are rules in there that they don’t agree with, that should have been ironed out long before the season started. And yes, I do remember that they were busy trying to make sure there was a CBA so that the season could happen, but I have not heard any complaints from the PLPA since then (before this incident) that this rule was unfair and should be changed.

Mr. Brandt also states “And in his testimony for the league, Mr. Lemon [Brian Lemon, NLL VP] explained how he did not believe the foul should result in a two-game penalty, one reserved for more severe infractions.” I agree, that one hit by itself does not deserve a multiple-game suspension. But the five game suspension is not for that one hit, it’s for the fact that there were two such hits within two years. A subtle difference, but a difference nonetheless.

He continues: “The decision to lessen Mr. Crawford’s additional five-game suspension in no way diminishes the league mission to eliminate reckless and endangering play, nor does it undermine the league’s authority.” In my humble opinion, wrong and wrong. The rule says that receiving two match penalties within two years will get you a suspension. It was written that way intentionally, even clarified this past off-season, to say that this behaviour will not be tolerated regardless of who the player is. The arbitrator’s decision says that this behaviour may or may not get you a suspension and thus it may or may not be tolerated, depending on… what? It’s not clear what. How long you’ve been in the league? How many points you have?

It also says that some of the rules in the rule book don’t hold if someone else decides they shouldn’t. I wonder what other rules are not in the CBA and are thus of questionable value?

The PLPA did everything they could to stand up for Callum Crawford. That’s their job, to represent the players, and I get that they did not explicitly make this decision. But who stood up for Brad Kri? Who’s out there trying to make sure that these kinds of hits don’t happen again?

I love watching Callum Crawford play lacrosse. He’s fast, skilled, dynamic, and exciting. I don’t think he’s a dirty player. But he made two bad decisions resulting in two dangerous hits. Those hits were close enough together in time to trigger rule 41.4, so he should be sitting out for five games. Yes he’s a veteran and yes he’s having an MVP-type season, but suspending him anyway would have sent the message that the NLL will not accept these types of hits regardless of who you are. Now, the message they are sending is that if you are a veteran or a great player, you can get away with stuff that other players can’t.

Not only does this make the league look unprofessional, it’s a very dangerous precedent to set.

NLL Rule changes 2018

As always, the league has made a number of rule changes for the upcoming season. One affects the playoff format, and that’s kind of a big deal. The rest of the changes to the rule book are either not rule changes at all (just clarifications) or are very minor changes that nobody is ever likely to notice.

Last season, when the league released their list of changes, they released a document that contained just the changes, and they also released the entire rule book with the changes in bold text. This year, they just released the new rule book. All 134 pages of it. There was no guidance on how to find the changes (some changes were in bold, but not all), so I went through the 2018 and 2017 rule books and compared them page by page and paragraph by paragraph. This is the kind of dedication you’ll find here at NLL Chatter; I do the hard work because of my passion for giving you, dear reader, the information and analysis you demand and expect. Plus, Criminal Minds was a repeat this week. Continue reading

Illegal substitution or too many men?

A week ago, I wrote about the Crease Violation rule and a number of people told me that it clarified that rule a little. So today I’ll cover another rule that’s frequently misunderstood, Illegal Substitution.

I’ve been asked this question many times in the past: what’s the difference between “illegal substitution” and “too many men”? It came up again last weekend, and my answer was the same as it’s always been: “I dunno”. So I looked over the rule book.

Here’s the thing – according to the rule book, there is no “Too many men” penalty. There is rule 55.3 Too Many Men, but that’s not the description of the penalty, it’s one of the reasons why a goal would be disallowed. The actual rule referring to the case where a team gets this penalty is under Rule 56: Substitution.

Too many men, but I think they'll let this one go

There are three relevant sections: Rule 56.6 says that if the defensive team has too many men on the floor, a delayed penalty is called. Rule 56.7 says that if the offensive team has too many men on the floor ‘for the purpose of a “fast break”‘ then play is stopped and a penalty is given. Rule 56.8 is a little complicated but says that a penalty shot is awarded against the offending team if:

  • insufficient playing time remains in the game to serve the penalty in its entirety (i.e. <2 minutes left in the 4th), OR
  • at any time in overtime, OR
  • the penalty can’t be served in its entirety due to penalties already imposed. I believe this means that if the offending team is already two men down, that’s a penalty shot. But if a team takes any minor penalty when they’re already two men down, that’s a penalty shot.

A violation of the substitution rule, which is Rule 56.4, says that a player entering play must wait for the person he’s replacing to have both feet in the substitution area in front of the bench. Usually if the player is pretty close and the actual play isn’t anywhere near the benches, they’ll let it go. A violation of that rule where the player coming off only has one foot in the box or is a yard away from the box would likely be called “illegal substitution”. If a player leaves the box when the player he’s replacing is twenty feet away, the ref is more likely to call it “too many men”. Anywhere in between, who knows.

So the long and the short of it is: the actual rule is called “illegal substitution”. Sometimes the refs announce the penalty as “illegal substitution” and sometimes it’s “too many men”. They’re the same thing.

Clarifying the crease violation rule

It’s a rule we all know. It’s tested in every single game and although breaking it will disappoint your teammates and fans, nobody will head to the penalty box or dressing room. In a nutshell, the rule is “If you’re in the crease, any goal scored by your team doesn’t count”. If a player shoots while standing in the crease, even if his toes are just touching the crease line, no goal. If it’s his teammate who’s in or touching the crease, no goal. If he shoots while jumping and lands before the ball goes in, no goal. Easy, right? Actually there’s a little more to Rule #67.

The NLL rule book is available online (the 2017 version is here, at time of writing) so if you want to see the actual wording of the rule, go have a look. I’ll summarize some of the parts of the rule here and then we’ll look at what it all means.

Rule 67: Goal-crease violation

67.1 Attacking player in crease

If the guy with the ball touches the crease or crease line, his team loses possession. It doesn’t say “touching the ground” but that’s the implication; jumping over the crease is fine.

67.2 Attacking player first touch / interfere after shot on goal

If you shoot and your momentum takes you into the crease but you immediately step out, everything is copacetic as long as you’re not the first person to touch the ball or interfere with a defender afterwards. However, it refers to touching the ball after you get out of the crease; it’s not clear what happens if the ball goes in the net. Rule 55.2 says “A Crease Violation will result in a no goal. See Crease Violation Rule 67.” Rule 67.2 says that if you immediately step out of the crease (and don’t touch the ball first, which won’t happen if you score), you are not in violation of the rule which implies that any goal scored in such a situation would count. We’ll come back to this.

67.3 Attacking player in crease to gain advantage

If you (as an attacker but without the ball) go into the crease and then leave it, and doing this gives you an advantage (as decided by the ref), and then you grab the ball or interfere with a defender, your team loses possession. I believe an example would be if you go through the crease to get around a pick.

67.4 Attacking player in crease to gain advantage on defender

Same as the previous rule but if you initiate contact with an opposing player who has the ball, that’s a delay of game penalty rather than just a change of possession. We saw this called on Dhane Smith at last week’s game in Toronto – it was called as “Delay of Game – checking through the crease” and nobody had any idea what it meant.

67.5 Non shooter in crease when teammate shoots

The title is a little misleading. If any member of the attacking team is in the crease when the ball crosses the goal line, the goal does not count. It has nothing to do with when the shooter shoots. In a recent Toronto Rock game, a Rock player shot while another Rock player was in the crease but the ball hit the goalie and slowly trickled over the line. After a review, the refs determined that the non-shooter had left the crease by the time the ball went in so the goal counted.

67.6 Shooter in crease prior to ball crossing goal line

This is the one we’re all familiar with. If you shoot and any part of you is in contact with the crease before the ball goes in, the goal does not count. This one is slightly more explicit than 67.1; it does say you need to be touching the ground. Shooting while in the air over the crease is fine as long as it goes in before you land – just ask Mark Matthews, Curtis Dickson, or any of the dozens of other players who like to score while diving through the crease.

<waves arms, points downwards>

There’s an addendum which is oddly specific: if you shoot and the ball hits the goalie and then hits a defender and then goes in, it counts as long as the shooter is out of the crease by the time the ball crosses the line. We’ll get back to this one as well.

What does it all mean?

There are actually nine more sections of this rule, all the way up to 67.15, but I’m just looking at the ones above. For the most part, the rule says what we expect: if you or anyone else on your team is touching the ground in the crease (including the crease line) at the moment the ball crosses the goal line, the goal does not count. If you intentionally step into the opponent’s crease with or without the ball, it’s either a loss of possession or a penalty. If you accidentally step in and immediately get out (and you don’t have the ball), that’s OK.

The confusing part for me is the apparent contradiction between rules 67.2 and 67.6. We have:

  1. Rule 67.2 implies (but doesn’t say explicitly) that if you shoot, step in, get out, and then the ball crosses the line in that order, the goal counts.
  2. The first part of 67.6 says that if you step in the crease before the ball crosses the goal line, the goes does not count.
  3. The second part of 67.6 says that if you shoot, step in and then out, the ball hits the goalie and a defender and then goes in after you’ve stepped out, then it does count.

#1 and #2 together seem to contradict each other, but it could be that #1 covers the case where the shooter has time to get out of the crease before the ball goes in, while #2 covers the case where he does not.

But if #1 is true, why is #3 listed at all, since it’s just a special case of #1? It’s like having rules saying (a) “If you’re driving over 50 km/h in a school zone, you get a fine” and (b) “If you’re driving over 50 km/h in a school zone and your car is red, you get a fine”. But doesn’t (b) imply that you do not get a fine if you’re speeding in a green car? No, because (b) is covered by (a). (b) is not necessary at all and doesn’t clarify anything; it only serves to add confusion.

Update: In at least two and possibly three games in the week since this article was published, a shooter has stepped into and out of the crease after shooting but before the ball crossed the line. In every case, the goal was waved off. Perhaps it’s just me who thinks the rule is not explicit, but It seems clear how the refs are interpreting this rule.

Also, why does a defender need to be involved? Why that specific order? What if it hits the goalie but not a defender? What if it hits the defender first and then the goalie? As long as the shooter is out of the crease by the time the ball crosses the line, it seems that rule 67.2 should mean the goal counts in any of these cases, but we don’t know for sure. It’s a rare situation but it would be nice if this rule was clarified.

So there you have it, the crease violation rule. Clear as mud, right?

Now, here’s a question not answered by the rule book: if I score while my teammate is just barely touching the crease line behind the net, the goal doesn’t count. Clearly my teammate’s toes in no way affected the goalie’s ability to stop the ball and didn’t give me any sort of unfair advantage. So why is the goal disallowed? And don’t say “because of rule 67.5” – I mean why does the rule exist? Why can’t the ref wave it off and say that the player’s “presence” in the crease had no effect on the play so the goal counts? That’s an exercise left for the reader.

2017 NLL rule changes

The league has released its list of rule changes that will be in effect for the 2017 season. As usual, there are a few that might have a big impact, a bunch that will probably not affect things very often, and a few that may never come up at all but they wanted something specific in the rule book just in case. I’ve looked over the list of changes and compared them with the 2016 rule book, and here’s what you need to know.

The most obvious change is that there will be three refs on the floor this year rather than two. Strangely, this was listed on the NLL.com article on the changes, but I couldn’t find anything in the rule book that lists the number of referees. They did add a clause discussing challenges that says “In a three man on the floor mechanic, …” but that’s the only mention of having three refs.

The remaining rule changes are listed with a reference to the rule number.


Faceoffs should be held 25 seconds (up from 20) after a goal is scored. Similarly, if a goal is waved off, teams have 25 seconds (up from 20) to challenge.


Coach’s challenges can now be used for determining whether the ball was batted into the goal, whether the shooter’s stick head is behind the goal line when he shoots (how would that even work? I believe there’s already a rule that says the ball can’t bounce off the goalie’s back), or whether an attacking player went into the crease, left it, and was then the first to receive a pass or gain possession of the ball.


Coaches get two challenges per game plus one more if they win the first two. That now only applies to regulation time. Coaches now get one challenge in OT.

There’s another clause that’s been added that makes no sense to me. Coaches are not allowed to use challenges during the last two minutes of the fourth quarter or the last two minutes of overtime – if they do, they will be charged with using a challenge even if no replay is actually done. But challenges can’t be called at that time anyway so what does it matter if you are charged with using one?


If two refs have a discrepancy in whether a goal was scored or not (i.e. one calls goal and the other waves it off), the crew chief will review the play. Neither team is charged with a challenge.


Each team can have up to 19 players eligible per game, up from 18. No more than 17 runners, up from 16, can be used. Adding only one extra player doesn’t sound like much, but this could have a big impact. Not only will it change up the lines and add more strategies for coaches, but it will give players just a little more rest during games so we don’t see quite as much fatigue (or worse, injuries) near the end of the game.

Note however that the roster sizes are not changing so this doesn’t mean there are more employed players. It simply means that there will be one fewer “healthy scratch” per team per game.


Jerseys are now required to have the player’s number on each shoulder or bicep.


A player given a major penalty with less than 5 minutes remaining in regulation will be given a second major penalty “for accrual purposes only”. The rule specifically says this is “not a time served penalty”. The very next rule says that any player that gets two majors in a game will automatically get a game misconduct, but it’s not clear whether this second “accrual” major counts towards that. If it doesn’t, I don’t know what the point of this penalty is other than to pad one’s PIM numbers.


The previous rule said that players given a match penalty would automatically receive a two game suspension. Now they are given a “one or two game” suspension. No word on how that is decided.


If there’s a delayed penalty and then game time expires, but the officials decide that the penalty warranted a penalty shot, the team gets to take the penalty shot.


If a player (non-goalie) falls on the ball or closes his hand on the ball in his own crease in front of the goal line, the opposing team gets a penalty shot. The new rule is that if it happens behind the goal line it’s just a loss of possession.


This one seems too obvious to even write down. If a player doesn’t contest the ball during a faceoff, the other team gets possession. So if you don’t try to get the ball, you don’t get the ball.



If the ball gets caught in the goalie’s equipment after a pass from a teammate, the whistle is blown, the ball dislodged, and play resumes (with the goalie having possession) but the shot clock doesn’t get reset. New rule: the 8-second clock doesn’t get reset either. This was probably always the case, but now it’s explicit.


If a delayed penalty is called, play continues until a goal is scored, the offending team gets possession, etc. Now play will also be stopped if the offending team takes a second penalty.


I’ll just quote this one since I can’t really summarize it any better: “An offensive player not in possession of the ball cannot exert significant unequal pressure on his defender as an attempt to gain space away from his defender“.


If an attacking player is legally checked into the crease and is then prevented from leaving the crease by a defender, a holding penalty is called. If a goal is scored, it counts (assuming no other violations). This is only slightly different from the existing rule, which talks about a player being illegally pushed into the crease.


This change adds some vague wording to this rule about “officials shall consider the positioning of players when contact is initiated” and “an appropriate penalty for illegal body checking shall be assessed based on the severity of the illegal contact”. The idea is that if a player has his head down or is “unaware of an impending hit”, the ref has the discretion to increase the penalty.


The definition of “aggressor” no longer uses the word “aggressor”. It is now defines as a player someone who keeps fighting even after the ref has told him to stop and tried to pull him away.


Head-butting rules are slightly different. The old penalties were clear: a minor penalty is given if no contact is made, a major is given (possibly with a game misconduct) if contact is made with your helmet on, and a match penalty is given if contact is made with your helmet off. The new penalties are more vague and are probably designed to allow the refs more leeway in giving out such penalties.


When goalies are inspected before the game, their jerseys may be on or off (before it was off), though it doesn’t say if that’s the goalie’s choice or the ref’s. If a goalie is found using illegal equipment, he will get a major penalty (used to be minor). He won’t have to serve it himself but can’t return to the floor until the penalty expires. Also, if a ref is just about to do an inspection and the goalie adjusts his equipment to make it smaller, he gets a 5-minute penalty.


If a player is given the ball on a fast restart, the nearest defender must be 2 yards away or he gets a delay of game penalty. The change is that if the attacking player tries to move closer to draw a penalty on the defender, the attacking player gets a delay of game penalty. I wonder if this ever actually happened.

NLL Rule changes for 2016

The NLL has announced a number of rule changes going into effect for the 2016 season. The list is here and none of them is hugely significant (though I suppose by definition they are technically all game-changers) but I’ll go over what I think are the more interesting ones.

Rule 28.1: Injured goalie

If the trainer comes out to tend to the ‘tender and he stays more than 50 seconds, the goalie must be replaced. This was 45 seconds last year. The extra five seconds was worthy of a rule change?

nll-logo-750Rule 33.3: Helmet chin cup

Last year, if the chin cup was not properly worn and secured, the player would be removed from the floor. A second violation would get you a delay of game minor penalty. This year, you get the minor penalty right away. Interesting that this rule goes into effect right after the retirement of John Tavares, who was notorious for not wearing his chin cup or leaving it loose.

Rule 44.4: Contesting the ball on the face-off

If a player grabs the ball in the back of his stick during the face-off, he must immediately flip it to the front of this stick or get it to a teammate (“move, rake, or direct it”) before taking more than one step or the other team gets possession. You could call this the Geoff Snider rule but as of this writing, Snider is not on any NLL roster. Plus I believe there was a face-off change made a few years ago that was informally called the Geoff Snider rule though I don’t remember the details.

They tried something like this last year during the pre-season but that rule said that the player couldn’t leave the playoff circle without having the ball in the front of his stick. They dropped the rule before the season started.

Rule 57: Criteria for stoppage of play on a delayed penalty

The only change to this rule is the removal of a clause. In 2016, if the ref has called a delayed penalty and the offensive team pulls their goalie, a loose ball that crosses back over the centerline and rolls towards the open net will not cause a whistle, i.e. the resulting goal will count. I don’t know how often this happens but I suspect it ain’t much.

Rule 63: Illegal cross-checking

A player who cross-checks someone lying down on the turf will get a penalty, whether or not the guy on the floor has the ball.

Rule 67.6: Shooter in crease prior to ball crossing goal line

An oddly specific clause has been added which says that if an attacker shoots and the ball hits the goalie and then a defender and then goes into the net, this will count as a goal as long as the shooter is out of the crease by the time the ball completely crosses the goal line. It sounds like such a goal was waved off last year and someone got angry about it.

Rule 67.9: Contact by a defender

They’ve rewritten this rule entirely (all two sentences of it) to make it clearer. If an offensive player is checked legally into the crease before the ball goes in the net, the goal does not count. If an offensive player is checked illegally into the crease, the defender will get a delayed penalty and if the ball goes in, the goal counts (assuming no other rule violations).

Rule 67.12: No re-entry by ball

If a defender outside the crease gains possession of a ball that’s inside the crease, that defender can now step into the crease as long as the ball wasn’t directed or passed to him by a teammate.

Getting in sync

On Saturday night, we saw a goal scored by the Toronto Rock that shouldn’t have counted. Brett Hickey’s buzzer-beater at the end of the second quarter seemed to have gone in a split-second after the buzzer, but the referees who reviewed it couldn’t find definitive proof that the call was wrong, so they had to allow the goal. I don’t fault the refs for this call since they didn’t have sufficient information to call off the goal. But I have a proposed solution to that problem. Quite honestly, this seems like a fairly obvious solution, so there may be a perfectly good explanation for this that I am not aware of, or some huge drawback that I’m missing.

During the last 30 seconds of each quarter of an NLL game, any reset of the shot clock causes it to be disabled. Usually it’s set to 30 but does not run. I have heard countless broadcast announcers mention this: “With fifteen seconds left in the quarter, the shot clock is off.” But this has two significant drawbacks:

  1. Players cannot see the game clock as easily as the shot clock. In some arenas, they may be able to look up at the ribbon board or another display board above the net that’s showing the game clock, but it’s not as close to their field of vision as the shot clock. The “rule” for determining how much time you have left before you must shoot is given by: “Look at the shot clock unless there is less than 30 seconds left in the quarter and the shot clock has been turned off, in which case look at the game clock.” This inconsistency is confusing and unnecessary.
  2. In the case of a goal that’s scored near the end of the quarter and challenged, the referees are much more likely to have the shot clock available in the replay video than the game clock. We saw this with Hickey’s goal on Saturday. This goal was called a goal on the floor and even though it seemed that the ball went in after time ran out, there was no conclusive evidence and so the call on the floor stood. The shot clock was clearly visible in the video but it said 30 and was not moving, so it was of no value.

I propose that when a shot clock reset is signaled by the refs within the last 30 seconds of a quarter, the shot clock should become synchronized with the game clock. For example, if the referee signals that the shot clock should be reset when there are 17.3 seconds left in the quarter, the shot clock would start counting down from 17.3, exactly in time with the game clock. This eliminates both of the problems I described above:

  1. Players could then simply watch the shot clock like they always do and know how much time is left before they must shoot, regardless of how much time is left in the quarter. There’s no “watch this clock unless it’s off in which case watch this other clock that’s harder to see”, it’s always just “watch the shot clock”.
  2. The shot clock is much more likely to be in the frame when the officials are examining the replay to see if the ball went in on time.

This would require no extra work on the parts of the referees or the shot-clock operator. The software could be programmed so that when a shot-clock reset is indicated and less than 30 seconds remain in the quarter, the shot clock would be set to the current remaining time on the game clock.

Alternatively, a light could be installed behind the net, next to the goal lights, that is set to come on as soon as the game clock reaches 0. If in the replay, that light is on before the ball goes in the net, the goal does not count. Oddly, there does appear to be a green light behind the net in Rochester that came on once the time reached 0. This light was either ignored or not seen by the officials, as it clearly came on before the ball entered the net. Note the picture below (tweeted shortly after the game by Brad MacArthur, though I added the red circles) showing the light on and the ball not yet in the net.

Buzzer-beaterFor the record, I am a fan of the Toronto Rock. This is not an angry Knighthawk fan saying Toronto’s goal shouldn’t have counted. (This is actually a Toronto fan saying that Toronto’s goal shouldn’t have counted.) I am making this proposal not as a Rock fan but as a lacrosse fan, in the hopes that we can make it easier to get the calls right as often as possible.

As I said, there may be a perfectly good reason why this is not possible. But as far as I can see, this is a fairly simple solution that solves two problems, makes things easier for players; officials; and fans, and has no drawbacks that I am aware of.

The NLL rules

(Thanks to my son Nicky for the title of this article. I asked him for a good title for an article about the NLL rule book and he said “The NLL rules. And it does.” Clever kid.)

The Official 2013 NLL Rule Book is available on the NLL’s web site, and it’s a bit of an interesting read. There are 127 pages of rules, including pictures of the ref signals for various penalties (apparently if a ref calls head butting or “spearing with head” he has to smack himself in the face), the 2013 schedule, and the official dimensions of the floor and crease area. Did you know that the crease is 18’6″ wide and the goal line is 12′ from the back boards, also called the “dasher boards”? I did not.

NLLRulesThere are exactly 100 rules in the book, broken up in to the following categories:

  • 8 rules on The Arena
  • 7 rules on Time Factors
  • 7 rules on The Officials
  • 6 rules on Composition of Teams
  • 7 rules on Equipment
  • 8 rules on Penalty Definitions
  • 14 rules on Flow of the Game
  • 43 rules on Infractions

Most of the rule book is spent describing things players shouldn’t do and what the refs should do if they happen. While looking up a couple of rules, I happened across a weird one and thought I should write about it. Then I found another, and another, and…

These are in no particular order. Any emphasis is mine.

Rule 21.3: SHOT ON GOAL – When a shot hits a part of the goal post, does not go in and the ball continues in play, a shot on goal is awarded and a save is credited.

Said another way, the goalie gets a save if you beat him with a shot but hit the post. The assumption here is obviously that the goalie sees the ball coming, knows that it will hit the post and not go in, and therefore doesn’t bother moving to stop it.

Rule 20.1: PUBLIC ADDRESS ANNOUNCER’S DUTIES FOR AWARDED GOALS – The name of the scorer and any player entitled to an assist will be announced by the public address announce system. Public address announcers shall not communicate derogatory or disparaging comments towards any individual players on the opposing team and towards the officials. Failure to do so will result in a fine to the announcer by the League.

The PA announcer in Colorado, a guy named Willie B, continually pronounces Rhys Duch’s surname like “douche”. So obviously, one of the following three things must be true:

  1. Calling someone “douche” is not considered by the league to be derogatory or disparaging.
  2. The league believes him when he says he keeps forgetting how to say it properly and it’s an honest mistake. In every game. For five years.
  3. He pays a lot of money in fines.

Rule 80.6: SWEATER REMOVAL DURING A FIGHT – Shall be [assessed to] a player who deliberately removes his sweater prior to participating in a fight. A player who engages in a fight and whose sweater is removed (completely off his torso), other than through the actions of his opponent in the fight or through the actions of the referee, shall be assessed a minor unsportsmanlike penalty.

So if your sweater is pulled up in front of your face during a fight and you pull it off so you can see, you get a penalty. That said, I’ve never seen this happen. I’ve seen players’ jerseys removed during fights, but I’ve never seen a player take his own jersey off.

Rule 80.7: EQUIPMENT REMOVAL PRIOR TO OR DURING A FIGHT PENALTY ASSESSMENT – A player who removes his equipment prior to or during a fight on his own accord shall be assessed a minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Any combination of the jersey removal and equipment removal will result in a minor penalty being assessed. This is in addition to other penalties to be assessed to the participants of a fight.

According to this, all fights should be done with full equipment on, including helmets and gloves. This is interesting, considering the next one:

Rule 80.8: INSTIGATOR WITH FACEMASK ON – Any player who instigates a fight with a face mask on against an opponent who already has his facemask off will be deemed an instigator.

So according to this rule, if you start a fight with your helmet on, you get a penalty. But according to the previous rule, if you remove your helmet before a fight, you get a penalty. Basically, every fight should result in seven minutes of penalties for one of the players involved – five for the fight, and two for either removing or not removing their helmet. There are plenty of fights where players drop gloves, helmets, sometimes even elbow pads. Never seen them get penalized for that.

But even ignoring the apparent contradiction here, this rule is irrelevant. Read the beginning: “Any player who instigates a fight…” Regardless of whether the helmets are on or off, if you “instigate” a fight, you’re an “instigator”.

Rule 91: HELMET LOST DURING PLAY – When a player in possession of the ball loses his helmet he must immediately release the ball by passing or shooting.

It’s happened a number of times in games I’ve seen – someone with the ball gets his helmet knocked off and immediately shoots and scores, and the fans around me start yelling that the goal shouldn’t count “because you’re not allowed to play without a helmet”. That is true, but as long as you shoot right away, the goal counts. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Rule 25.3 (also 95.12): CAPTAIN COMMUNICATION WITH OFFICIALS – A complaint about a penalty is NOT a matter “relating to the interpretation of the rules” and a minor penalty shall be imposed against any Captain or other player making such a complaint.

So every time you see a penalized player look at the ref and hold their arms out in a “what did I do” gesture, that player should be given an extra penalty. This is related to the next one:

Rule 95.4: DISPUTES CALL BY BANGING THE BOARDS – A misconduct penalty shall be imposed on any player or players who bang the boards with their sticks or other objects at any time, showing disrespect for an Official’s decision.

Obviously, the refs never look in the penalty box once the player has arrived there. It’s not uncommon at all for the player to get in the penalty box, slam the door, and then pound on the glass or throw a water bottle.

Rule 47.1: 8-SECOND COUNT PROCEDURE – The 8 second time shall be kept by the trailing referee on the floor by a chopping wave of the hand for each second.

The ref manually counts 8 seconds starting from when he waves his hand to tell the shot clock operator to restart the shot clock. This makes total sense, since we don’t have any sort of computerized time-keeping device nearby that could possibly be used for this. And this is totally fair because all refs count at exactly the same speed every time.

Rule 55.11: DIRECTED INTO NET – If the ball is loose in the crease a player may not direct the ball into the goal.

I’m sure I’ve seen players dive at a loose ball in the crease trying to simply poke it past the goalie, though I cannot say for sure that such goals have counted. But why would a player bother trying to do this if the rule book says it wouldn’t count?

Rule 63: ILLEGAL CROSS-CHECKING – A defender who cross-checks a player, who is in a stationary position and not in possession of the ball shall be assessed a penalty.

Yup, you never see this in a lacrosse game.

Here’s a “rule” only notable by its absence: There is nothing in the rule book that says what happens if a penalty is called on the defensive team and then a goal is scored. In practice, the penalty is simply waved off as if it never happened, but in my opinion the penalty should still be recorded. They can skip putting the offender in the penalty box because of the goal, but I think a record of the penalty and the offender should still be made.

Top 10 surprises from the 2012 NLL season so far (pt. 1)

2012 has been a season full of surprises in the NLL, and it’s only half over. In true “top ten list” fashion, we’ll start at #10 and move up towards #1.


10. Steve Toll’s return

Steve TollHe hasn’t played yet, but Rush GM Derek Keenan has already announced his signing. I guess Toll’s retirement was never official, so he’s just a free agent. What I don’t know is whether his “iron man” streak will continue. He played all 16 games with the Mammoth last year, and wasn’t on a roster for the first part of this season, so does that count as breaking the streak? If not, he’ll only be one game behind the new leader Shawn Williams. Williams and Toll are good friends off the floor, so it stands to reason that Willy was involved in this transaction somehow, but I don’t know whether he convinced Steve to come back, or Steve asked him to put in a good word with the boss.

In case you are wondering, the other Toll on the Rush, Jarrett, is not related to Steve. At least he doesn’t think so.

9. Iannucci and Rabil

The biggest trade of last summer was unquestionably Brodie Merrill for Athan Iannucci. At the time, I thought Philly got robbed blind – not because Iannucci is so much better than Merrill, but because they gave the Rush three first round draft picks among everything else. Well, someone got robbed blind, but it wasn’t Philadelphia. Merrill is playing very well for the Wings, but Iannucci never reported to the Rush. Apparently he didn’t have problems with the team or the city, but the contract negotiations got heated and apparently things started to get personal, and Iannucci refused to play. Five games into the season, Nooch was finally traded to the Stealth, where he’s been OK, though nowhere near his level of play back in 2008. In return, the Rush got transition star Paul Rabil – who then refused to report to the Rush, and the whole thing started over again. This time it wasn’t about money; Rabil had been trying to get traded back east for years, but Washington couldn’t do it. I guess travelling to Edmonton would have been worse than to Washington since there are likely no direct flights from the Baltimore area (where Rabil lives) to Edmonton, so he’d likely end up having to fly to Seattle anyway and then to Edmonton so his travel schedule just got way worse. I guess you can’t blame him for that, but when you hear that someone like John Grant can up and move his entire family, including a young child, to Denver, you feel less sympathy for Rabil.

My impression of Rabil has always been that the MLL and field lacrosse in general is his thing, and the NLL is an interesting pastime and way to make a few bucks and keep up his skills during the winter. That’s not to say he doesn’t try hard; I’m sure he gives 110% when he’s on the floor, but if he had to give up the NLL or the MLL, the NLL would lose in a heartbeat. This is not a judgement or criticism of him, he just likes field lacrosse better. He’s happy to play in the NLL, but if it means lots of travel and major inconvenience, then he’s fine giving it up.

The trading deadline has just passed and Rabil was not dealt, so the deal now looks like Merrill, Mike McLellan, Dean Hill, a 5th round pick in 2011, and a 4th round pick in 2013 to the Wings for Alex Turner, Brodie McDonald, and first round picks in 2012, 2013, and 2014. Given the first rounders, it’s still not that terrible a deal for the Rush long term, but certainly isn’t helping them this year.

There are rumours that Derek Keenan will ask Rabil to report for the rest of the year, but that seems unlikely. I can’t imagine the reception he’d get from the Edmonton fans when his name was announced.

8. The rule change making the most difference

A number of rule changes were announced for 2012. A lot of people, myself included, thought the change from ten seconds to eight would be the most significant, or possibly the “two feet in the box” substitution rule. But when I’m watching the game, the two that make the most difference for me (and I’m putting them together because they’re related) are the delay of game on possession change, and the fast start rule. When the ref blows the whistle to signal a possession change (eg. a moving pick) or the shot clock expires, the attacking player must immediately put the ball down on the floor and give the other team some room. None of this rolling it away from the other team or running around for an extra second or two to give your team a chance to change. It’s been pushed to the limit a few times, where a player will put it down but not completely stop it, and it rolls a couple of feet and the player is given a penalty. That seems excessive, but assuming those kinds of calls disappear as the refs and players get more used to the rule, it really keeps the game moving.

The other one is related – say a player on team A shoots at the net and misses, and then the shot clock expires. If the ball bounces off the boards and all the way out to centre and a team B player picks it up there, the ref blows the whistle and play just continues. In previous years, play would be stopped, the ball would be brought back to the goal area, and team B would start again. Again, the new rule keeps the game going. It makes transition plays more likely and forces teams to either change faster (but the “two feet in the box” rule makes sure that they’re not too fast) or have the O guys play more D, which we’re seeing a lot this year.

7. The goalie situation in Minnesota

At the beginning of the season, it looked like Minnesota’s goalies might be Nick Patterson and Anthony Cosmo, which should have been an excellent tandem. In reality, Cosmo was unlikely to play, as he told the Swarm before they picked him in the Boston dispersal draft. So the Swarm decided to go with rookies Tyler Carlson and Evan Kirk backing up Patterson. After Patterson let in 20 goals in the Swarm’s first game, they gave Carlson a try. Carlson went 2-2 with a GAA around 11 in his first four games, and Evan Kirk and went 2-0 and an amazing 6.50 GAA in his first two games. Patterson was released, Cosmo was finally traded, and Minnesota has just as great a goalie tandem as expected, but not with the players that we expected. After ten games, the Swarm are 5-4 and third in the west, Carlson is 3-2 with a GAA of 11.14, and Kirk is 2-1 with a league-leading GAA of 8.33 and by far the best save percentage with 83.2%. Only one other goalie is over 80%, and that’s Calgary’s Frankie Scigliano (another rookie), who’s only played 51 minutes.

6. The goalie situation in Toronto

Bob Watson decided to retire following the 2010 season but after the Rock lost the Championship Game, owner Jamie Dawick (among others) managed to convince him to come back for one more year. It ended up as a storybook ending that couldn’t have been scripted any better, with a Championship for the Rock and well-earned Championship Game MVP honours for Watson. But as happy as Rock management and fans were with 2011, the question loomed: how do you replace Bob Watson?

Matt RoikThey answered that question in July, when they traded Kyle Ross to Washington for Matt Roik. Over and over, Rock management sung his praises. When Boston announced in September that they would “temporarily suspend operations” (NLL-speak for “vanish forever”), the rumours of Anthony Cosmo’s return to Toronto started almost immediately. The Minnesota Swarm traded three players to the Mammoth to get their first round pick, and they chose Cosmo. When I heard that Toronto and Minnesota had made a trade during the dispersal draft, I assumed it would be for Cosmo. Instead, it was Josh Sanderson coming to the Rock, and once again the Rock said that Matt Roik was their man and that they had no interest in Cosmo.

Five games into the season, it certainly looked like they’d made the right choice. The Rock were 3-2, and Roik had been solid in the two losses and great in the three wins. He was even named Defensive Player of the Week for week 5. Smooth sailing, right? Wrong. Four games later, the Rock are 4-5 and last in the East. So do they stick with the guy they’ve been talking about as “their man” since July? Nope. They release him outright and trade for Calgary backup Nick Rose. Then they talk about how it wasn’t Roik’s fault that they’ve played badly in the last few games, but Roik paid the price anyway with his job, possibly his season, and maybe even his career.

This whole situation is eerily similar to the 2004 Rock season. Legendary coach and GM Les Bartley had announced over the off-season that he was fighting cancer and would not be able to be behind the bench during the 2004 season. The Rock named Derek Keenan and Ed Comeau the interim GM and coach respectively in Les’ absence. But after only 6 games, both were fired and the Rock hired Terry Sanderson (who was an assistant coach with the Bandits at the time – the Rock would give up a draft pick the next year as punishment for “tampering”) as the new GM and coach. Considering that both Keenan and Comeau have gone on to great success in the NLL, both winning the GM and Coach of the Year awards, I have to wonder what might have been if they had been given a little more leeway and time. But Rock fans certainly can’t complain about how things worked out, considering the team went 8-2 over the rest of that season and then won the Championship the next year. (Les Bartley would lose his battle with cancer at the tragically young age of 51 the day after that 2005 Championship game.)

Rock fans may always wonder what might have been had Roik been given more time. But if Rose works out in Toronto as well as Sanderson did, the question may just never come up.


Coming soon: the top 5.