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What NHL players think of the league’s crackdown on cross-checking

Everyone has their favorite harbingers that a new NHL season is upon us. Fresh ice. Awkward player photos. Unsigned restricted free agents threatening to sit out of meaningless games. Optimism in Toronto.

Mine? The preseason penalty crackdown.

Every year, the NHL’s hockey operations department, egged on by disgruntled and aggrieved general managers, zeroes in on a rule it wants to overenforce in exhibition games and during the first month of the regular season, in order to change player behavior.

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Previously, we had the crackdown on interference. The crackdown on slashing. The crackdown on faceoff violations, which Brad Marchand memorably called “an absolute joke” in the 2017-18 preseason.

For the 2021-22 season? It’s a crackdown on cross-checking.

“On cross-checking?” asked Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy, rhetorically.

Yes, on cross-checking.

“I mean, I don’t think guys really think about it,” he explained to me at the NHL Player Media Tour in Chicago. “OK, maybe around the net, where you’re being a little bit aggressive. But you’re never taught to skate around the ice with two hands on the stick, cross-checking guys.”

The NHL doesn’t care about how the behavior was learned. It just wants to change the behavior — by any means necessary.

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