I never knew the rules. I used common sense. It’s really the only way to run a game. If officials called every penalty they saw, there would be no players on the ice and no one in the rink.This highlights the strength of, and the weakness in, the game of hockey as played in the NHL.
- Hall of Fame NHL Referee Bill Chadwick
The problem is that many of the activities in hockey which are prohibited by the rule book turn out to be not that bad when they happen in moderation. The job of the referee is to then control that moderation and to not permit the game to turn into some kind of uncontrolled brawl. This puts the onus on the referee to use his judgement as to what constitutes an "ok" violation of the rules, and what is over the line. Different refs on different days will have different opinions as to whether a particular play is OK or not.
The problem is this variability, where certain plays are considered by the refs to be OK, but not considered OK by the players themselves. This leads directly to the problem of fighting, where players enforce their own ideas of what is acceptable or not by engaging in fights or after-the-whistle pushing and shoving -- even after perfectly legal plays being made.
The quote at the top of the article is true. If every rule infraction was called, there'd be a lot of games with nobody on the ice or perhaps the goalies playing tennis (at least until one let the puck slide into the trapezoid). But in the long run, if the rules were called, they wouldn't get violated.
The real question is, would the resulting game of hockey be worth watching?
I think it might be.