RULES? WHAT RULES?

Robin Brownlee
December 20 2016 10:59AM

Prison Rules

The NHL’s head office has spent the better part of two decades proving the old axiom “talk is cheap” when it comes to consistent enforcement of rules that are written in black and white in the official NHL Rule Book.

That’s especially true for those infractions that choke skill out of the game, like hooking holding and obstruction in general.  After years and years of blah-blah-blah about opening up the game and letting stars shine, we saw yet another example of same again last night in a game between the Edmonton Oilers and St. Louis Blues.

With Connor McDavid breaking into the clear and bearing down on the St. Louis net, Alex Pietrangelo reaches out, not once but twice, and hooks McDavid on the hands. McDavid doesn’t even get a shot on goal – the puck dribbles off his stick wide of the post. By the book, the infraction by Pietrangelo not only warranted a penalty, it warranted a penalty shot. There was no call. Nothing.

Anybody with a working set of eyes in their head – whether they were fans of the Oilers, the Blues or dead set in the middle and cheering for neither team -- could see the hooks by Pietrangelo should have resulted in a penalty shot. At the very, very least a minor penalty. Zip. Nada. Nothing.

ENFORCE THE RULES

No Rules

The non-call in a game the Oilers won 3-2 in overtime was nothing short of an embarrassment. More significant, it was the type of non-call and failure to enforce rules already in place that fans are seeing again and again and again from a league that swears it is trying to add entertainment value and bang for the buck. This isn’t about “just one missed call.” That’s the real issue.

As a point of reference, and rather than running a bunch of text from the NHL rule book, there’s a pretty good link at NHL.com that lays out the parameters of infractions and even breaks them down into categories here.  If the NHL wanted to bolster the link as a reference resource, they should add video of the Pietrangelo hook on McDavid. It’s as textbook as it gets.

Fans have seen a multitude of rule changes and tweaks over the years, many of them aimed at opening up the game. These changes always follow the same pattern. Rule changes are discussed and then implemented. On-ice officials are directed to enforce these rules and the inevitable crackdown comes. For a time, infractions and power plays go up. Then, like clockwork, time passes and the enforcement of said rules declines. Same old, same old. Rinse and repeat. That’s what we’re seeing yet again.

Here’s a quote from Gary Bettman from back in 2002, when he was asked about rule changes, including those that would impact obstruction and speeding up the game: “In all the other times when the standard has eroded, it's happened over time,” he said. “We believe the way the standard has been articulated and how it's been implemented, we can hold it. We want the best hockey every night.”

IT’S IN THE BOOK

Book

I’ve lost track of how many times we’ve heard the same thing these last 15 years, be it from Bettman or somebody else at the NHL’s head office, but it’s too often to keep track of and here we are again even as the NHL looks for ways to generate more offence and excitement. Is it really that difficult? What are we missing?

Enforce the rulebook. The NHL – and the NHLPA for that matter – has to insist it be done, no matter what time of game, no matter what time of the season. That Pietrangelo hook on McDavid has to called every damn time, no matter what. And not for a few weeks, a few months or even a few seasons. If the rule is in the book, enforce it. If it’s not going to be employed to the same standard over time, take it out of the damn book.

Do that, and the skill will rise to the top as it always does. Do that, and fans of every team will get their money’s worth when they walk into the rink. Focus on rules already in place and spend less time looking at fanciful ways to generate goals and excitement, like angled goal posts and shrink-wrapping goaltending equipment, and the McDavids of the hockey world will do the rest. We’ll get the best hockey every night.

It’s not that difficult. At least is shouldn’t be.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

RECENTLY BY ROBIN BROWNLEE  

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A sports writer since 1983, including stints at The Edmonton Journal and The Sun 1989-2007, I happily co-host the Jason Gregor Show on TSN 1260 twice a week and write when so inclined. Have the best damn lawn on the internet. Most important, I am Sam's dad. Follow me on Twitter at Robin_Brownlee. Or don't.
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#51 West
December 20 2016, 04:35PM
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¯\_(ツ)_/¯ wrote:

Wow, if ever there were a click bait post: let's beat up the refs. Anyway . . .

The calls on phantom infractions are as bad or worse. I can more easily accept that a ref misses seeing something that happens than I can accept that a ref makes a call over an infraction that didn't happen.

Last night Doan got an elbowing call against Gaudreau that was a perfectly clean hit. It's not Doan's fault that the Jockey is isn't tall enough to be on this ride. But Doan got the call, and the Flames scored to go ahead late in the third. Similarly, the tripping call that McDavid got last night was a non-call.

Did you notice the ref making the call on Doan was 3 feet away from the play and still botched it horribly?

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#52 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
December 20 2016, 04:59PM
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West wrote:

Did you notice the ref making the call on Doan was 3 feet away from the play and still botched it horribly?

I saw that, as well as Doan's pleading his case even when he was in the box and they showed the play on the big screen. It was totally baffling that it was called, except that lil Jockey is too small to get on that ride. Doan's hit was legit.

Jockey was rocked earlier in the game (setting up Brouwer's goal) and had a hard time getting up off the ice. I suspect the Doan call was as much about that earlier hit (clean as it was) as anything else.

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#53 Dreadguy
December 20 2016, 08:01PM
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Wintoon wrote:

I have never seen an article at ON where there are so many Cheers and almost no Trashes.

This speaks to how flagrant the problem is with regard to the standard of refereeing in the NHL.

And that my friends is truly sad.

I trashed you (Bettman style) to manufacture the perception of parity!

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#54 slats-west
December 20 2016, 11:53PM
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Excellent article. Excellent comments, so far.

The sad thing though ......is that tomorrow night the only way the Coyotes can stay with the Oilers is if they get in the face, interfere/hack, hook Mcdavid all night long. They tried to do the same with Johnny hockey the night before.

Best case is we don't get the call and we may have to go to overtime or lose in shoot out .....worst case is McDavid gets badly injured and we lose him for the rest of the season!!

This madness has to stop!

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#55 Wintoon
December 21 2016, 07:33AM
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I appreciate your sense of humor Dreadguy. Well done.

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#56 bored
December 21 2016, 10:27AM
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At least they get offsides right...

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#57 Reg Dunlop
December 21 2016, 01:01PM
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Fans pony up to see stars and exceptional plays, particularly in the U.S. The NHL is still a gate receipt driven league. If the oil had a serious desire to change the way that the officials treat McDavid, or the flames and Gaudreau or any other team with a marquee talent that people pay to see perform, sit him out! McDavid taking a night off in Phoenix might result in a large enough drop in game night revenue that the league takes notice. There might be a large enough fan backlash if McDavid sits out in LA. Let it become public knowledge that he was sitting because the oil feared for his safety due to obvious non-calls. The oil would not have to sit Connor more than a couple games.

Having the coach gripe about the refs in a post game presser only makes things worse. It makes the team look like complainers. Real action is needed IF the situation is intolerable, but it only seems to be intolerable to us fans. To Oiler mgmt. it's just hockey. Always been that way, always will be that way.

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