In the Kraken’s preseason finale, between it and the Canucks, there were five cross-checking calls. That wasn’t unusual for the preseason that was in the NHL.

NHL Rule 59, known as “cross-checking,” is getting a crackdown this season. The stricter enforcement of the penalty is expected to “promote offense and reduce injuries,” according to the league.

“Cross-checking, like many penalties, is a judgment made by an official and is not black and white,” the NHL Department of Hockey Operations said in September. “No two plays are exactly the same and many factors, including placement of the stick, elimination through force, and player embellishment are considered when judging cross-checking.

“Officials may allow players to use the shaft of the stick to guide or push an opponent without assessing a penalty, however if the guiding or pushing is judged to be excessive, an interference penalty may be assessed.”

Cross-checking is a common minor penalty that occurs when a player uses two hands on the shaft of the stick to forcefully “check an opponent,” according to the league rulebook. There were 261 cross-checking calls in the league last season, roughly one every three contests.

Things began to get out of control last season. Jeff Jackson, the agent for Connor McDavid, likely the best player in the league with the Oilers, took to Twitter after some egregious non-calls last year.

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“Such amazing athletes & so much speed & skill in the game now,” Jackson tweeted. “But watching the abuse that star players take is hard to watch. Felt like the 80’s with the cross checks in the back & the hacking & slashing. NFL protects QB’s? Why don’t we?”

One example last season is in the Stanley Cup semifinals when the New York Islanders seemingly took every chance to get their sticks on Nikita Kucherov of the Lightning.

In the crackdown, the officials are looking to call cross checks that have “excessive force,” compared to plays in the open ice where players are allowed to use their sticks to “push or guide” an opposing player defensively.

“It’s something you make note of,” said Kraken forward Mason Appleton. “The game is played in a clean, fast way now, but you just want to make the right reads with your stick and not holding it with two hands parallel to the ice, that’s probably the big thing because that’s an easy call for the ref.”

These sort of crackdowns on specific infractions aren’t out of the ordinary. Before the 2017-18 season, there was a similar preseason mandate to enforce slashing calls in a stricter fashion. That preseason also saw a crackdown on faceoff violations, causing more players to be thrown out of the faceoff dot before the official dropped the puck.

That lasted until about December. So, if recent history has taught us anything, we could see more power plays to begin the season on crosschecks. Just don’t expect that enforcement to carry through all season.

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“I don’t think it’s something you think about during the game, I know I just try to play my game and that’s not a part of it,” said Appleton. “For bigger, more physical defensemen who like to box out using their stick, it could be a little more aggressive.”

Salary cap issues across the league

It’s less than a week into the NHL season and teams have already had to get creative against the salary cap.

On Saturday it was the Maple Leafs, finding themselves without a backup goalie once Petr Mrazak was injured.

No, they didn’t call on a Zamboni driver this time, but they did have to reach beyond their organizational roster.

Toronto called upon University of Toronto goaltender Austin Bishop for an amateur tryout agreement. He backed up Leafs goalie Jack Campbell against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday night.

Because Toronto is so close to the cap ceiling, the Maple Leafs weren’t allowed to recall AHL goalie Michael Hutchinson to fill the void. Teams are allowed an emergency recall for injuries, but only after playing a game short of that position. Being short a goaltender isn’t ideal.

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The Maple Leafs were already short at forward, so they chose between calling up a player up front or to back up Campbell since they only had the cap space for one.

If that sparks any memories of a similar cap situation, you might recall last season when the Vegas Golden Knights played with just 15 players.

In fact, the Golden Knights’ cap woes struck again for opening night against the Kraken this week. With exactly $0 in cap space, they haven’t had any wiggle room.

In Tuesday’s Golden Knights opener, Mattias Janmark was in COVID protocol, Nicolas Roy and Brett Howden were both out, and William Carrier a question mark, though he did play. But it left them with just 11 forwards, one of them Pavel Dorofeyev, who played in his first NHL game, and Jack Dugan from the AHL, to provide salary relief. Dylan Coghlan, a defenseman, played forward.

Once the first game passed and there was more flexibility on the roster, both were sent back to the AHL. But it was the start of what might be a season of cap-juggling for the Golden Knights.

Big pay days

It’s kind of incredible Charlie McAvoy has the same deal as Seth Jones.

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Jones, traded to Chicago in the offseason and instantly signed to a megadeal, struggled in the first game, a loss to the Avalanche. Last season, he was 1.1 games worse than a replacement level defenseman, if you believe the analytics, after being a bona fide No. 1 defenseman in Columbus just a couple of years prior.

McAvoy, on the other hand, has become one of the best five-on-five, two-way defenders in the NHL, and is projected to be well worth the payout throughout the course of his eight years.

The $9.5 million number as McAvoy’s annual average aligns with the other young stud defensemen who picked up megadeals this offseason, such as Cale Makar ($9 million) with the Avalanche and Miro Heiskanen ($8.5 million) with the Stars.

McAvoy, only 23, was projected to be a restricted free agent after the season and is in the final year of a three-year bridge deal that paid him $4.9 million per season. He’s become the Bruins’ top defenseman after they didn’t re-sign long-time captain Zdeno Chara before last season.