I’m hurting this week. Grinded out watching a lot of hockey this weekend, ended up sleeping in my truck a few nights (which isn’t too different from most Albertans these days), and now I’m paying for it with a cold. And like anyone, my cold is WAY worse than any cold you’ve ever had, so let’s get #prayforsoups and #bringsoupforsoups trending.
It is a topic I’ve wanted to hit on for a while, and I finally reached my breaking point lately on officiating in hockey. With goaltending equipment being a hot topic at the GM meetings this week, that’s great. But how overdue is this? And it’s just another example of how awful this league is run. They’ve talked about reducing goaltending equipment for 15 years now and done next to nothing. Well they’ve also talked about cleaning up the way the game is officiating for even longer, and yet here we are, with scoring down and not coincidentally the game being horribly officiated.
This isn’t a problem limited to the NHL, you see it at all levels of hockey with referees.
Over the weekend my nephews were playing in their playoffs/provincial qualifying tournament. In a do or die game, my nephew Easton got a tripping penalty and wasn’t happy about it. Slammed his stick, let the ref know how he felt. The ref went into the box and had a talk with him. I still haven’t asked Easton what was said, but he didn’t get anything extra for unsportsmanlike conduct. 2 shifts after the penalty expired, Easton made a nice, very clean hit…and got another penalty for a hit to the head. Completely gutless by the ref, and it’s completely gutless by any ref who pulls this shit and you see it all the time. If he wanted to give Easton extra, do it in the moment. If you didn’t do it in the moment, then have some integrity and let it go! This is like saying you’re good with a guy after a fight and then sucker punching him once he turns his back. And this is common, and by some people accepted in hockey. No. You have the unsportsmanlike rule in hockey for a reason. If someone goes too far arguing a call, then give them the extra in the moment. If not, then be a man, it’s done. Your job is to be unbiased while calling a game, not to get someone back because you have an agenda with them.
Taylor Hall is a player who has to put up with this shit all the time. Hall shouldn’t beak off to the refs like he has over the years. But if he should get an extra 2 or 10, then give it to him. Don’t start looking the other way on calls involving him! These jackasses are seriously putting a target on a players back and then claiming you’re calling a fair game?! You can cry all you want about players, coaches, GM’s, fans, media all being too hard on you. Hey, that’s what you’re getting paid for. Part of your job is to ignore that. “They’re only human” is what someone will say. They are, but human’s have the ability to compartmentalize and let stuff go and it’s something you have to learn to do in that position. You don’t like it, don’t do it.
Not to make this all about the Oilers, but part of the reason this is being written is because of a call that didn’t happen Monday night. Oilers were on the pp and Connor McDavid is about to be in all alone, and he is very clearly tripped. No call. Is this just a one off? Well, the Oilers have had a TOTAL…TOTAL…of 1:06 of a 5 on 3 advantage this season. Ironically, Detroit of all teams only has 1 second more, although they do have one more 5 on 3 chance this season. The Oilers only have had 2 chances. 5 on 3’s in the league have dropped by half since 2010. Now I’m not looking to be a homer here and suggest that the Oilers deserve more chances than other teams, but I can think of 2 times in the last month that they blatantly didn’t receive 5 on 3 chances. Why are refs so unwilling to give teams 5 on 3’s? Don’t want to increase goal scoring? They feel as though it is too harsh of a punishment to teams? Good gawd, just call the f****** game.
Maybe my favourite non call in the league right now is slashing, specifically when it happens on a stick. A player can hack a stick all day long, and apparently it’s fine. But when the stick breaks, then it’s a penalty. Why? Why would it be fine to do the exact same act and be penalized only once a stick breaks in half? Does the league REALLY need to put in a rule called slashing the stick, just like they’ve had to put in holding the stick and obstruction hooking/holding/tripping over the years before these guys can figure out it needs to be called?
Then you have the veteran calls which is something that exists in most sports, but in hockey veteran teams get a disgusting amount of key calls late from the refs. Always have. Ask a fan of any of the other 29 teams how playing Detroit is. It isn’t as though the Wings get a larger number of calls, they don’t. But for about 17 seasons now they’ve had the oldest team in the league, and I’m sure just coincidentally…they get A LOT of calls in their favour, whether it’s a non call on one of their players, or a beneficial call at a key moment.
Meanwhile there is this big wonder why scoring is down in the NHL. Well…in 05-06 coming out of the lockout, the NHL finally made a serious attempt to get their officials to call the game by the book and they stuck with it. The lowest amount of PP’s that season, the Caps got 408 chances. Last year, Detroit led the league in PP opportunities…with OVER 100 less than that. 294. I went through the numbers on the PP opportunities since 06, and they’ve done nothing but drop every season. No shock, I know. And in fairness a bit of that would be players adjusting to the way the game changed back then. But this league ACTUALLY wonders why scoring is down when it’s brand new superstar is tripped on a potential breakaway and nothing is called? The fans paid to see McDavid do his thing, not to see a Predators penalty killer trip him and refuse to call it because a 5 on 3 would be just too big of a hole to put them in.
Dave Hodge brought up officials the other day on The Reporters, giving a “thumbs down” to trying to help refs get the calls right in sports. He brought up the CFL wanting to have an “eye in the sky” ref so to speak. That’s a GREAT idea, especially for hockey where they need all the ice they can get out there. Yet Dave apparently doesn’t enjoy things like evolving and embracing technology. But why couldn’t you have someone upstairs, in one officials ear the entire game letting him know about things being missed? Why can’t you make a call during a stoppage on something that got missed during the play? Something gets missed and a team scores? Well the goal still counts, but the penalty can be called after the fact. Why not? I mean I know why Hodge doesn’t want this, Dave is probably still pissed they go with lights in the arena rather than candles, but for those of us living in 2016, why can’t that be something that is at least explored? Meanwhile at the GM meetings, this isn’t a topic. Overreacting to a fluke that happened in a draft lottery is, but actually fixing and improving the game isn’t.
I’m kind of all over the map here and I apologize for that, but there are so many things that have pissed me off of late about officiating in hockey, and here is something else.
I’m sure someone will say I’m being far too harsh on the league and on the refs. But it’s hard for me to take it easy on guys who bitch and moan about Dennis Wideman’s suspension reduced after he missed 19 games and is still docked 10 games pay for an incident in which nobody has ANY proof at all that Wideman intentionally hit linesman Don Henderson. And why in the hell would he go after a LINESMAN? Bruce Arthur on Monday called it a crosscheck, like he was Roman Hamrlik on Theo Fleury in the 02 Olympics. Are you kidding me??? Wideman braces himself at the last second and they collide. If you have played hockey, you know that. Most people, and most of the media, decided to throw logic out the window in this case and simply assume the worst of a guy who has bounced around the league because he is too soft of a player. A guy who could be up for the Lady Byng some years.
Henderson had the same thing happen in Vancouver with Yannick Weber this preseason. Yet Wideman still had to miss 19 games, docked 10 games pay, and these guys still bitch and moan that it’s not enough? Look at the Weber hit here and tell me his follow through isn’t pretty damn similar to Wideman’s. Yet did Weber get anything? No, cause it clearly wasn’t intentional.
WEIRD how similar that hit looks to the Wideman hit. No doubt on the Weber one that Henderson gets caught not paying attention, where Wideman was more at fault on his. But the hit is almost identical….because they both are bracing themselves for a collision that they weren’t expecting. I’m not saying Wideman shouldn’t have got anything, you have to do something to let the players know even if it is accidental that it needs to be avoided. But 19 games missed, 10 games docked pay was ridiculous.
People want to say “well he went right back out”. Well yes, and that’s on the Flames training staff. A massive f*** up, but a different issue. Wideman is clearly hurt coming off the ice, and he’s clearly still hurting once he’s on the bench. He simply wasn’t paying attention to Henderson or the play coming back up the ice. Yet he gets 19 games. “You have to protect the officials!!!” Totally agree. But…jackass…is this an epidemic? Or is this something that happens once a year or so? This isn’t like getting rid of head shots because too many concussions are happening. This is a MASSIVE overreaction to something that looked bad from 1 camera angle where you couldn’t tell whether or not the player noticed the linesman coming.
Why in sports do we love to argue for the exception to the rule? In any other walk of life, we never point out the exception to the rule. Yet in sports, we LOVE to point out the exception to the rule and make the case for it. This season I wouldn’t bet on David Price to be successful pitching in Fenway Park. Yet the first thing someone would say to that is “Jon Lester!!!” For every Jon Lester, there have been 25 lefties fail miserably in that park, but the exception to the rule is the first place most would go.
Anyway, I should have done a separate blog on that and need to get back on track and wrap this up.
You always hear “they’re letting them play” when things get rough and “they’re letting the players decide it”. Well that’s nice, but then when a puck goes over the glass or there are too many men on the ice or a stick accidentally clips a player in the face, they’ll call it. Soooooo why is that called, yet blatant trips, slashes, holds and hooks on scoring chances are allowed at certain points of the game? Just do your job and call the f****** game. Quit going the way of MLB umpires and getting drunk with power, essentially making it up as you go along.
There are times where you need to let up in a game, no doubt. But that has gone from the last 1 or 2 minutes to every PP, the last 10 minutes of a game, when someone gets a scoring chance, it’s just become horrific. And in the playoffs it’ll likely be worse. How can the league be so terribly run that they can’t get their officiating under control? Well, how can the league be so terribly run that they can’t get goaltending equipment under control?
I don’t expect this problem to be solved anytime soon. Too many dinosaurs calling the shots on these types of issues and they take forever to come to an actual realization that things need to change. And I have zero doubt that these are all great guys officiating in the NHL. This isn’t meant to attack them as people. And it isn’t the case with all refs, but it’s a lot of them. This is meant to attack the NHL and the culture/mentality of officiating in general. Things are really getting out of hand.
Just like the goaltending equipment, officiating needs to change for the better of not just the NHL, but for the game.
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