Wake up NHL, wake up

Survey

This article is for those of you who want the NHL to become a better product.

This isn’t for Gary Bettman, because we have heard your deceitful responses too often. We know you will tell us the league has never been better, of course, that is until 12 months before the CBA is set to expire and then magically your message will change and you’ll outline all the financial hardships NHL owners have endured.

Your words means absolutely nothing to me. You’ve proven you will talk out of both sides of your mouth to push your agenda of the day. You’ve proven you don’t care about the fans. All you care about is if they keep paying the over-inflated ticket prices to watch your game.

It is nothing personal, honestly. It isn’t. I understand business, and as you’ve shown multiple times you know more about the game and what is best for it than I or any other lowly reporter or fan does. It is okay, but as the great Maya Angelou once said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

I want to talk to those who should care more about their players and the enjoyment of the NHL.

I’m looking at the General Managers.

Why are they scared to speak up?

GMs: you pay the most money to your star players, yet you allow them to be hooked, held and slashed on a nightly basis. Johnny Gaudreau, one of the most dynamic players in the game, was slashed on the hand repeatedly by the Wild in November, with Eric Staal delivering the final blow. Gaudreau missed six weeks, because, for reasons that defy logic, the NHL has decided to allow players to slash opponents on the hands.

Flames GM Brad Treliving was frustrated, but he held back from lashing out, because, um, I guess you don’t want to be looked at as a complainer or whiner, as the Neanderthals would say.

“There are tactics with good players, but when you chop a guy in the hand there’s a rule that says you can’t do that,” said Treliving. “We’re not naïve – do we whack guys, too? Probably. But the frustration comes when that turns into a player being out for an extended period of time,” he continued.

If you allow slashes, of course it will lead to a player being out for an extended period of time. You can’t have it both ways. Don’t sit on the fence. 

It has become an epidemic, yet you sit by and do nothing. Why?

Coming out of the 2005 lockout every team watched videos on what would be a penalty. If your stick was parallel to the ice and you touched the opposing player with your stick, it was a penalty. No debate.

Fast forward eleven years, and despite the rule book still being the same, the NHL has inexplicably allowed slashes and hooks back in the game at an alarming pace.

The main concern for me regarding slashing is it isn’t just marginal players doing it. Staal and Alex Pietrangelo have both been Olympians, but they clearly received the memo from the NHL that slashes to the hands of the puck carrier are allowed.

There was no penalty on the play. McDavid could only look at the referee in disbelief. Pietrangelo turned his stick over and went right at McDavid’s wrist and hands. It makes absolutely zero sense to me.

The NHL has a plethora of exciting players spread across the league, yet we rarely get to see their elite skill, because the NHL has informed the officials not to call obstruction. Make no mistake, this is a league-governed phenomenon.

After the 2005 lockout (I’ve lost track whether it was the second or third lockout under Bettman’s watch), the NHL told their officials to actually enforce the rule book. I know, it sounds crazy, but for a brief time the NHL realized their league is better when the skilled players can showcase their skills without being accosted every shift.

I’m not the only one who has witnessed the change. I asked former NHL referee Kerry Fraser about the state of the game in 2016/2017.

“Penalties need to be called. I see Connor McDavid being taken down, chopped down regularly and I think the officials have to be a little more vigilant. It’s not protecting the stars, so much as the puck is usually around them. (Wayne) Gretzky had the puck more than anybody, and consequently if you could foul him, you had to. They are the ones who draw the penalties.

“You have a player like McDavid, for example, who is a champion. He is a great kid, he plays hard and I think when he is fouled, because he has the puck a lot, the referees have to have their radar up.

“He is a hard guy to stop with his explosive speed, and you have to be really tuned in, dialed in, as a referee, to make sure it isn’t a grab, a hook, a slash or a trip that is going to restrain this guy,” said Fraser.

It is rare an official questions the accuracy of his union, but Fraser is seeing the same thing as you and me.

The lack of calls on obstruction, hooking, holding and slashing is absurd.

The worst part is the slashing on the hands. Players are targeting the hands of the skilled players, yet the refs aren’t calling it and the GMs aren’t demanding change.

Why the hell not?

And the scary part is players believe it is part of the game.

“It’s tough for the refs to call hard slashes or whether it’s a love-tap. I can see why it’s difficult for them,” said Gaudreau in his first media scrum after breaking his finger.

“It’s part of the game. I don’t know if it’s something they need to look at more. I know if guys are starting to miss four to six weeks with broken bones, maybe it is something they need to look at a little more. But it’s part of hockey.”

Clearly, he is scared to death to speak the truth. Players don’t want to be deemed whiners. It’s archaic thinking that voicing your displeasure with a lack of common sense is whining, but that culture still exists in the NHL.

Gaudreau, McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane and the other elite skilled players shouldn’t be afraid to speak up. It’s a travesty how the game is being officiated right now. It is easy to blame the officials, but the NHL tells them what to call and Bettman, the owners and GMs have decided this is what they want.

Something has to change. It is not good for the game, and the reality is it wouldn’t be hard to change. Just make the players adhere to the rule book.

The amount of obstruction I see on any given night is increasing, not diminishing, and if we just sit back and do nothing it won’t change.

I don’t want to wait until 2021, when Bettman will most likely lead the NHL towards another lockout. We don’t need a lockout to adjust how the game is officiated.

It is time the players demand change, and it would be wonderful if the general managers and owners wanted to protect their best assets, instead of subjecting them to needless hooks, slashes and holds.

The NHL has an abundance of speed and skill, but they refuse to enforce the rule book. Why are they willing to accept needless obstruction or injuries to their star players?

Wake up NHL. Please. Wake up.

MONTH OF GIVING

Thank you to Jeremy and Scott for their great bids and to Auto Details and Taylor Hall for the packages.

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  • $1,000 Gift Card to use at Michael Anthony Jewellers
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You can bid by listening to my show on TSN 1260 and calling 780.444.1260 or text 101260 between 2-6 p.m. today.

Thanks in advance. All proceeds will help out Santa’s Anonymous and Mayfield Edmonton Rotary Club.

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    • CMG30

      Right on JG!

      It really started to become noticeable last season how terrible the officiating had become. (I believe the copper ‘n blue did a whole series on empirically proving that the Oil got the short end of the officiating stick)

      It’s not just the non-calls, it’s the inconsistency of the calls that are made. Game to game, period to period even team to team, even player to player. no wonder players are taking liberties. What’s a penalty now? Hall couldn’t buy a penalty last season and now it’s looking like MacDavid may be getting the same treatment from the refs.

      Don’t even get me started over the nonsensical tradition of the ‘even up’ lame calls.

      Allowing hooking slashing a grabbing back into the game means favoring the defensive trapping style at the expense of exciting hockey where actual plays with the puck are made. In the long run we all lose.

    • wiseguy

      Jason

      If you’re asking GM’s to push for enforcement of the rules, you’re barking up the wrong tree. They are more concerned about a competitive field where all teams have a chance to make the playoffs and all games are one goal games much more than they care about scoring. Allowing interference, slashing the hands, and hooking faster players, keeps the games from being blowouts when you have unevenly matched teams.

      The following comment is typical of how NHL execs view the game. The first sentence is the most concerning: ““I’d like to see a little more offence, but not at the expense of close games. So, if the average goals per game is five, and I don’t know what it is, I’d like to see us get to six or seven. But we don’t want the 3-2 game to turn into a 5-2 game. I don’t want to get to seven goals at the expense of competitive balance. If we can find a way to make the 3-2 game a 4-3 game — there’s more offence and it’s still tight and the third period is still competitive and we still get to overtime a lot — I’d like to see that.”

      http://www.tsn.ca/holland-on-increasing-offence-and-expanding-playoff-races-1.624232

    • FISTO Siltanen

      Jason,

      Great post. I love the passion.

      I think the biggest issue with the NHL will always be about money. I think there are some simple fixes that could clean up the game, improve offence and generally make the game more enjoyable.

      The problems begin when the cash-poor clubs try to keep up with elite clubs. Bevel the goal posts for more goals? Fine, but that 3-1 NYR-Zona game is now 5-2 or 6-2. A 3-1 game you can sell to the fine patrons of the Greater Phoenix area as a spirited loss. 6-2 is an embarrassment. Too many of those and even fewer people are going to be sold on the promise of the season.

      Take what I just said about the goal posts and change that to officiating. The rich clubs could probably afford to play a clean, penalty free game. The poor clubs? No way. Open this game up and how many wins do the Hurricanes, Coyotes, etc have? Without clutch and grab going unnoticed I can almost guarantee you the Coyotes don’t have 2 wins against the Oilers. Maybe 1, but not 2.

      Pro-sports is sold on promise and the NHL knows at least 5 teams and maybe more cannot deliver promise in a wide open league that embraces offence and punishes defence and penalties.

      If they had a big money contract in the States – even one that pays a measly billion a season (they make a fraction in their national US deal than each of the other leagues teams do; in fact, they make on par or, sometimes less than what some teams make from their markets in regional coverage) I believe some of these issues might subside. But thanks to poor vision they are locked in with NBC (one lone carrier!) for a few more years. And the other carriers see they can live without the NHL – why would they bid that number up?

      If the NHL was out of a few of these albatross markets and in a few other markets that could hold their own I also think some of these issues might subside. But that’s not happening anytime soon.

      The NHL is a league content to live in ignorant bliss.

    • RedMan

      if you think that’s bad hooking on McD, you gotta see what they do to Johnny Geadreau – forget the 21 slashes to the hand on the night his finger was broken – you see him hooked down on breakaways w/o calls, high sticked and cut on the face w/o call…i just assumed it was payoff for widemans light tap on the ref…

      but the worst part to me and one which wasn’t mentioned is how the rules change in the playoffs… so if you get to the dance with skill, you better bring your knuckle draggers to the playoffs cause they dont callanything anymore… and it’s open season on the skill guys

    • Semenko27

      Even though i cannot stand the player getting whacked.

      The first one wasn’t so bad, the second one must have hurt like he#^. Both deserved a punch in the pie-hole for Staal.

    • DonovanMD

      GREAT article Jason. Now print it off, put it in an envelope and mail it to Gary Bettman, since the obstruction calls in the NHL are closer to 1995 than 2005 post lockout.

    • fasteddy

      Whoever made the comment about refs making sure the penalties are somewhat even was bang on. Drives me crazy; doesn’t matter what a team does if they took the last two penalties. I’m the kind of fan that loved the fights and chaos of days gone by, so I find it ironic that I’m now complaining about non-calls…..but there’s so little offense that I see no other options; call the penalties as they happen and maybe the game will open up a bit.

    • Athabascajim

      Good article Jason. I believe this will only change when Sportsnet/NBC realize that the product they are trying to sell to advertisers is costing them money. They are the only ones who will be able to bring pressure on the league. I know if I had bucked up millions for the rights to this deteriorating product I would not be happy.

      • oilerjed

        Although I agree completely with what you are saying I also believe that alot of what is wrong with the game right now is directly attributable to the broadcasters. Too much of the game play has been changed to generate advertising dollars over fan entertainment.

      • whateverhappenedtoearledwards

        I wonder if the Devil’s are having trader’s remorse at the moment. They are pretty
        much out of the playoff race at this time (sound familiar), although this has a lot to do with the ridiculously strong division they are in this year. However, the stat that jumps out at me is that the Devils are 26th in goal against!! I think they were near the best last year. Do you think they may be missing Larssen?

        I wonder what Henderson might say about this.

    • oilerjed

      Was thinking these exact same thought the last month of Oilers Hockey. It seems the better the player is the more the opposing player gets away with. They obstruct so much that I think the refs become acclimatized to seeing it and wrongly allow it to continue.

      Pretty much every call made on the ice is a play that is ok when committed against Connor. I remember Crosby saying the same thing in the first couple of years and was labeled a whiner because of it.

      The GMs have no choice but to turn the other cheek as any comment contrary to Bettman’s NHL or the refs is an automatic fine.

      If it doesn’t come from the owners the league is deaf to all complaints. Then you would still need a large number of influential owners to affect change and reality is that the majority of owners don’t have that player so are more then fine with how things shake out.

    • slats-west

      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!

    • JimmyV1965

      Maybe someone should start a go fund me page to pay for a set of nets with bevilled posts for every team in the NHL. It might generate a bit of attention and possibly embarrass rhe league into making even the smallest of changes.

    • nrXic

      The refs sit in a particular situation where they are protected from criticism.

      League management can’t openly critique them because it would insinuate a product that consumers can’t trust.

      GMs can’t do it for the same reason.

      Players can’t because they’ll be labeled as whiners, even fearing retribution in the form of non-calls.

      Hockey Broadcasters, who are in a particularly powerful position, can’t because the NHL can come down hard on them if they insinuate an untrustworthy product.

      Hockey media can’t because they’ll start losing access.

      You don’t hear from current refs, at all, in sports. Not even fluff pieces to tell their stories.

      This leaves us the Hockey Blogger, the gal/guy who doesn’t have access, doesn’t fear retribution, and can speak freely on any topic.

      ON has criticized game presentation at Rogers, no other outlet has, or even can.

      So my belief is that once we do see more bloggers and fans raising their displeasure, creating compilation videos, demonstrating issues…it will create fan awareness and risk putting the league’s legitimacy in question, that’s when we’ll see the issue being addressed.

      I hope the change is inspired from within, though, and I’m glad Gregor wrote this as an appeal to GMs. You’d also think broadcasters would too, because their ads are focused on Superstars. Their pre-game hype is based on big names.

    • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      What we’ve got here is a league that believes if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

      Historically (say, over the last 7-10 years), the game has been defined by its parity: any team could go from first place to out of the playoffs in a given two season cycle (Boston. Montreal, Los Angeles), and figuratively any team could win by squeaking into the playoffs (LA Kings). This is unlike any other major sport in North America. The Cleveland Browns aren’t winning the SuperBowl next year. However, the Toronto Maple Leafs could win the Stanley Cup (but I doubt it).

      For the league, this has been an optimal balance between dominant teams like the Hawks, Penguins Bruins, and Kings and could-be upstarts like Tampa, Washington, Arizona (2010-2012), and the Blues (last year). Even the Rangers, though a big market team, play with a teeter-totter-like consistency when it comes to challenging for the Cup. And Detroit’s record of playoff appearances is impressive but no guarantee of advancing beyond round one. Welcome to the Cap.

      I’d argue that as long as the league can maintain this kind of parity the other problems of the league (bad officiating being prime among them) won’t be meaningfully addressed. If three quarters of the league’s teams have a shot at winning every 3-4 years (just by making the playoffs), the league’s going to be happy with that status quo and will seek to maintain it rather than mess with it. They’ll be happy because the fans whose teams make the playoffs will be happy–and they won’t question these failings when their teams have a chance of winning, or at least not enough of them will.

      Unfortunately, that means that the crap calls by the refs probably won’t change. The complete lack of consistency on any given kind of call won’t change, and the laughable inadequacy of the video review team in Toronto won’t be fixed either.

      I’m not defending the officiating (I hope that’s obvious), but I can’t see the system being fixed as long as the parity of the league is such that most teams will have a shot at making the playoffs every 3-4 years (the Oilers being a clear outlier). For example, Flames fans are still living off the fumes of that Ducks series, hoping that they can get that close again. If that means the rules are what they are and they get into the playoffs, I don’t expect that you’d hear too many Flames fans complaining.

      What will be interesting is when the parity goes away or at least the playoff races go away. This year in the East, the playoff race is all but over for the bottom 5 or 6 teams. As the conversations in those cities turn to other things, let’s hope that one of the topics is the horrible officiating.

      And for what it’s worth, this isn’t an NHL problem, it’s a pro sports problem:

      http://www.espn.com/nba/playoffs/2016/story/_/id/15469198/referee-reports-doing-more-harm-good-playoffs

      https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2016/05/18/cant-the-nba-do-something-about-the-awful-officiating-in-these-playoff-games/?utm_term=.3c1fd82410bf

      http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/03/baseballs-fancy-new-instant-replay-system-is-useless/359915/

      http://www.sportingnews.com/nfl/news/shannon-sharpe-undisputed-fs1-nfl-fixed-rigged-comments-bad-calls-officiating/1rih5vpvlfbfc1b5wrdpabmgeg

    • The Last Of Barrett's Privateers

      In that one sequence with McDavid I count three infractions.

      Absolutely bush league from the best league in the world……It’s a joke.

      Ref’s need to be fined, demoted or fired.

    • BobbyCanuck

      They introduced the 2 ref system, to catch more infractions…worked for about a year.

      When will it change? Who knows,. casual viewers liken the NHL to WWE, they think it is a joke of a league, none of them understand why a penalty in the first period is not one in the 3rd.

      Sid and Connor need to bolt to the KHL, and tell the media they are leaving because as much as they love the paycheque the love the use of functional appendages more