Commentary

The NHL's cheat sheet

Updated: August 13, 2007, 3:46 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

Cheating or gaining an edge? Here are some elements that were once part of the NHL culture, but have been more or less legislated out of existence:

The illegal stick
Many players, especially offensive players, would use a stick with a curve that exceeded the half-inch rule. At one point, some coaches believed the percentage of cheaters was as high as 15 percent or more.

After much debate, the NHL relaxed those rules a year ago, adding an extra quarter-inch of curve, which fell into line with European rules. Often players would use an illegal stick early in the game and then later switch to a legal stick to avoid drawing a penalty if the opposing team decided to challenge its legality.

The most famous stick incident belonged to former Los Angeles Kings enforcer Marty McSorley, who drew a penalty late in Game 2 of the 1993 Stanley Cup finals against Montreal. The Canadiens, trailing 1-0 in the series and down a goal in the game, tied the score on the ensuing power play and then won in overtime, en route to a five-game series win.

Head games
If playing with another player's or team's mind isn't cheating, it certainly qualifies as gaining an edge. Coaches, most notably Scotty Bowman, have been accused of tampering with the visitors dressing rooms prior to playoff series, either by painting the rooms or fiddling with the thermostat. Some coaches, including Bowman, also have been accused of either lowering or physically shortening visitors benches to make them less comfortable during the playoffs.

Time tactic
During crucial parts of the regular season and playoffs, coaches have long complained about officiating to try and influence how referees call games or make opponents second-guess how they play. The tactic can be a double-edged sword because such complaints can provide a built-in excuse for players' lack of production or success (witness the Ottawa Senators vs. the Anaheim Ducks in the 2007 finals).

Facing off
The faceoff circle is a favorite place for centers who try to gain an edge by sometimes talking to linesmen or opposing centers in an effort to get them to relax their concentration. Centers will often physically try to turn their body just as the puck is being dropped to block the opposing center or try to chop at the opposing center's stick. But given the implementation of the hurry-up faceoff, such tactics are less effective, because now linesmen will drop the puck even if one of the participants isn't set.

Fights, Part I
For years, players would rip their jerseys off when they fought so the shirts couldn't be pulled over their own heads during a fight. Taking off your jersey also made it difficult for the opposing fighter to get a good grip. But the league now mandates that all players have jerseys attached to their pants. A player can be ejected from a game if his jersey isn't tied down during a fight.

Fights, Part II
Players used to cut holes in the palms or fingers of their gloves to be able to get a better grip on an opponent's jersey and make him easier to control defensively, but that was outlawed long before the lockout. Now, in theory, any player who puts a hand on an opposing player risks being penalized.

Foot in the crease
For a time, the NHL did not allow players to skate within the goaltender's crease unless the puck was already there and did not allow players to score, even if the tip of one skate was in the crease. The rule led to the infamous Brett Hull Cup-clinching goal in the 1999 finals. The Stars' Hull scored in triple overtime in Game 6, with his skate in the crease, in what was widely believed to be an illegal goal (just ask anyone in Buffalo). That rule was changed to allow players access to the crease as long as they aren't interfering with the goalie.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.