I have always seen fans that call out referees as taking the low road. Make no mistake about that. That will not change no matter how much of a quagmire the NHL cultivates for itself on this issue.
Every year in the playoffs the calls or lack of calls always comes up. Every team’s fans always think they got the shaft. Some team's fans are known to be worse than others but rest assured every team has the same experience.
There is a genuine root issue that is growing. The 'New' NHL, post-lockout, introduced numerous rule changes to speed up the game. All very logical from a lot of different perspectives but they were the type of changes that also have led to the increasing controversy we are seeing in the playoffs on officiating. It is very early in the playoffs to see these comments coming out already.
The above GM comments are largely gamesmanship. Off-ice posturing to try and get in the heads of the Refs and it happens every year but I see it becoming more and more prominent. It is early to see it happening so fast this year.
This is a humorous account of the NHL suspension flow-chart that most people have likely seen but it is worth re-linking because the point still holds 3 years later. Down Goes Brown NHL suspension chart
There is a lack of clarity where the line is drawn. The Down Goes Brown chart illustrates how things have changed further still this year. Note his playoff suspension flow-chart in 2009, humorously suggesting that to get a suspension in the playoffs, the other player has to be dead.
My how things have changed. A short two seasons later today we already have 5 playoff suspensions on the books before the first round is even half over.
So is there an officiating issue? Well, kind of, but it is a change that has slowly been building since 2006 and the root of it all is a lack of clear vision on where the NHL wants to go on playoff officiating – more after the jump.
Refs are Human
No one wants to defend the Refs. They are the zebras everyone wants to hate. So often fans forget one simple fact. The Refs are human, they will make mistakes but they do the best they can. Hockey is the fastest game in the world. On ice-level you skate around and make snap decisions on the penalties today. With the thresholds and standards that the NHL has tasked the Refs with? Good Luck.
It is nice to rewind your DVR and slow motion a call and then proclaim from on high both literally and figuratively "the Ref sucks".
I am not really blaming the Refs for the state of affairs the NHL finds itself in today. If you are expecting Refs to get every single call or to never make a mistake you should stop being a fan of hockey because it happens, it has always happened and it will always happen.
And yes Canucks fans that was a missed offside but get over it. Missed calls happen to everyone, not just you and the lesson to be learned is play till you hear the whistle.
Colin Campbell’s Can of Worms
This article is not really about the Refs; they are doing what they have been told to do, to the very best of their ability. It is what the NHL has tasked them with that is the root issue. The real problem is the can of worms the NHL has got open now and the genuine fear that the Stanley Cup is in danger of being decided by the Ref who gets fooled by a sneaky dive by a single player instead of by the players on both teams fighting it out.
I spent the first season after the lock-out screaming at the T.V. I was personally traumatized by the transition the game went through, I had a very hard time watching hockey for that year and the next one because I had so many vivid memories of a harder hitting, clutch and grab game, a slower game that did not have as many borderline penalty calls. I'll even go so far as to say that I accepted and personally embraced the on-ice shenanigans because my view was that the players will sort out the small stuff on ice.
But given the way the Trap took over hockey, I acknowledge that changes had to be made. The old game was slower, lower scoring and was not attracting new fans. Although I personally had no problem watching a 1-0 game, I realize changes had to be made. There is no going back and I do not advocate that.
I accept the ‘New’ NHL and the logic behind all of it. I’ve done this essentially by saying to myself, it is a long season. They play 82 games for a reason and I know the Refs review their work every night. If they mess up one night, I tell myself they will make up for it later.
But this is where the Rub comes, come playoff time. The NHL can do that during the regular season, enforce a higher standard on borderline calls, and we all can feel pretty safe in assuming it will all work itself out by the end of the year but in the playoffs there is no such luxury…
It’s called the Second Season for a Reason
In a 7 game playoff series every single call is magnified 100X and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger as each round passes. Every single call can potentially decide a single game and with it a series. Eventually it may even decide the Cup. I assure you the Refs do not want to decide the Stanley Cup, despite what the lunatic fringe may claim.
The NHL started the 2011 playoffs enforcing regular season standards and things got absurd quickly. Campbell handed out 5 suspensions in rapid succession and in my view the only one that was worth a suspension was the Bobby Ryan skate stomp. The rest – uhhhh, this is playoff hockey Colin, you want to rename the Stanley Cup the Colin Cup?
There were only 4 suspensions all of last post-season and Campbell had 5 already on the books before we were even half way through the first round? Is that a factor this year, yes, it is hard to say it isn’t.
Jarret Stoll did not deserve to be suspended for taking Ian White out of the play. A penalty, maybe, but a suspension?Are you kidding me? The Kings did go on to win the next game without Stoll but don’t kid yourself about the impact of that suspension.
From the King’s perspective they were without both their #1 and #2 Centers. Anze Kopitar to injury and Stoll for that suspension, not cool Colin. Stay out of it.
Put the Whistles Away, Let the Players Play
The NHL has to find the right balance in calling penalties and handing out suspensions in the playoffs and they do not have it yet.
The players significantly up their game and intensity for the playoffs. The NHL needs to find the officiating niche that allows for that intense physical hockey but at the same time keeps the game under control. Most importantly they do not want to be whistling the outcome of games with borderline calls. This is the problem the League really has today.
By all means call the penalties when they are there, when you see it and there is no doubt, whistle away but when they are borderline be careful. I just do not think you can apply the regular season standards to playoff hockey, the line is too fine. Just let them play.
In watching Game 4 of the Capitals vs Rangers series in New York there was a soft call on Sean Avery that led to the Capitals getting a power play goal, getting the tie and going on to win it in Overtime. Taking a 3-1 series lead back to Washington.
Now was this a penalty in the regular season? Probably, it was like many others we have seen but I am not convinced that Avery’s stick even touched the Caps player. As hockey fans we have come to accept these fringe calls with the announcers slowing it all down on replay and explaining it all.
It was Sean Avery after all, everyone hates him so who is going to defend him anyway. Capital fans should not want to win on those kinds of calls. Even if there was contact, Avery definitely did not impede the other player at all. In short the 'penalty' he had no impact on the play on the ice, even if it happened.
What is a Penalty?
As silly as this sounds, it is this kind of foundational question that is worth asking now.
The NHL has lost sight of the fundamental reasons and origins of why penalties were created when the game of hockey was created. They were not created to prevent players from being injured in the 19th century. They were created because a player is attempting to give an unfair advantage to their team. That should be the root of every single penalty call.
With all the borderline calls we see now today I think the NHL has forgotten the very reason the penalty exists in the game. If a player taps the skate of another player it should not cause the player to fall down. It really doesn't impede the play. Same with raising your stick to waist level, if there is no contact or only light incidental contact there should be no call in the playoffs.
That is why we see players today throw their arms up in the air and drop their stick. What is happening now is the act of 'drawing a penalty' is growing exponentially in the NHL. Clamping your arm down on the other player's stick to draw a hooking penalty. That player has stopped playing hockey and is now performing for the Ref. It isn't cool.
It is these borderline calls that are being made on actions that are not impacting the on-ice play that is the issue. If it continues to prosper in the playoffs, this leads to the next realm of absurdity, diving, and with that the very integrity of the Cup winning team.
Diving for Stanley?
Not to pick on the Canucks or Predators here, every team has their share of these in the regular season but they were just the first examples that came up in my playoff search this year for dives. The Sedins are not going to win a Cup if they continue to spend their time trying to draw penalties instead of trying to score. To be fair to both twins I have a clip here of both of them doing just that.
One Sedin got the call for the Canucks, the other Sedin got called for Diving. In my eye, like the Sedins themselves, both incidents are essentially identical, only the resultant call was different and that is the problem.
Sedin #1 takes a diving penalty (via HOCKEYVIDEOS99)
Sedin #2 Draws Penalty (via HOCKEYVIDEOS99)
This Predators incident got some press with Bob Murray, GM of the Ducks coming out lambasting the call. He has a point; this is the integrity of the game here. If you watch this on regular speed and put yourself in the Refs position, literally, how can you not be sold on it? Predators Sell a Oscar Level Dive
Heck I’ll even throw an old clip in of Crosby from the Penguins in a past playoffs, just so people don’t think I am being biased. But the fact is, this is what happens when players see the Refs taking more and more of a role in the game on borderline calls.
Crosby Dive Vs Detroit Game 4 (via rbf2000)
Does the NHL have to invoke an extreme step, perhaps a 1 game suspension after the game for a confirmed dive on replay in the playoffs? Would not bother me. We do not want to see the playoffs or the NHL going in this direction of calling borderline calls because it is gas on the fire of diving and actually appears worse to me in the playoffs this year.
It is already hard enough for Refs to call a game without this nonsense going on. We cannot have hockey turn into the theatrical diving of soccer on ice. It is something to be genuinely concerned about and it is this transition the NHL is currently going through that is the root of the issue and worthy of debate.
Specialty Teams Cup or 5 on 5 Cup?
Decide which one you want and understand the consequences of your preference.
I want the Stanley Cup playoffs to be physical and decided mainly by the players 5 on 5, even if that means the Refs have to let a few things go. At the end of the day you get yourself stuck in a bad situation where the integrity of the game will be up in the air if you don’t.
The regular season is one thing but the playoffs are something else all together. It is what everything is all about and yes there may be shenanigans, there may be stuff that would get called in the regular season but in the playoffs you fight your way through it. You should not be performing for the ref.
I do not want to see the Stanley Cup awarded to the team with the best Powerplay and most notable Oscar performances for Diving. That to me is flat-out unacceptable. Hockey is a tough physical game that may result in possible injuries, it is impossible to remove injury completely from the game, so decide up front what kind of playoffs you want and let everyone know.
Hockey is certainly in transition at this point. I personally spend the entire season waiting for the playoffs to start because that is the only time I see the physical, hard hitting, passionate hockey I really enjoy.
The less the Refs are involved the better. Certainly they must be there to call the blatant penalties, to keep order and to keep the game under control BUT they should be in the background. Everyone in hockey knows the playoffs are a whole other level of hockey and the Refs have to be instructed to step back and away from these borderline calls.
If you don't do this confusion festers amongst the players and the fans. There is fans who think the same standard of the regular season should be applied, I completely disagree because that will lead to even more diving and we will lose the integrity of Stanley Cup with it. It will become the "Who can fool the Ref Most?" competition. No thanks.
The NHL has to straighten this out. Clarity and consistency is the most important thing. If everyone understands the playoffs are the second season and that the players have to fight and work it out on-ice, get that message out because if they don't the crazy fans start reproducing like bunnies in Easter season.
The Conspiracy Kook
Don't, just don't do this. If you fall victim to this you will immediately make yourself look like a fool.
There are various versions of the conspiracy kook out there. Some say Gary Bettman, the puppet master is pulling the strings. Makes you wonder why he didn't instruct the Coyotes to get whistled into the second round or at least another couple games, instead of a sweep.
Some say the T.V. ratings and greed drive a secret cabal of referees to meet in the shadows of alleys passing envelopes of cash with winks and secret handshakes, they are all Masons of course.
North of the border there is the infamous Great White North Conspiracy. "Yes dudes, Gary Bettman hates Canada, he doesn't want a Canadian team to win the Cup eh." Hozers unite in protest, -swig beer- "Big money in American hockey eh." -swig beer- "the whole thing is rigged now eh" -swig beer-
Hozer Theme (via KenpoKid69)
- Kook - kooka - koo - koooo, Kook - kooka - koo - kooooo, catchy little tune and really the only final comment I have for all the conspiracy kooks is that if you think the game is rigged, take off, you may as well stop watching and move on to watching ice-fishing or something.
The game is not rigged but it is in transition and officiating in the playoffs does have room for improvement.
Conclusion (So are the Refs wrecking the playoffs this year?)
No, the whole NHL is in transition still. I don't think we have the ideal officiating standard on the playoff ice at this point. I will say that much, but everyone is under the same umbrella of unclear officiating. You just have to solider on and through it.
I think it will improve in the future. Hockey players cannot be neutered in the playoffs, that to me is a futile venture. Like wolves who smell blood, the Cup is just too close. The NHL may be able to do it in the regular season but not the playoffs and they should not seek to.
The NHL can realistically put out a double standard for the regular season marathon of tightly called hockey and have a looser standard applied to the playoffs. This is what should happen.
Always the players should decide the game, 5 on 5 if possible and less Ref is always the better choice. Let the players go to war. This is the Stanley Cup, if a fight breaks out to settle an on-ice issue that is simmering in the series, let it happen.
The game has been played for over a century and it did not need to be micro-managed by Refs before, don't start now.
Otherwise understand what you are doing. Potentially putting the Cup in the hands of not the best team but the team with the best Divers who can fool the refs and the one with the best Powerplay. Sorry, my Stanley Cup team is the best 5 on 5 team.
Lets keep it that way, this isn't soccer on ice.