December 20 2016 10:59AM
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
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
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.
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