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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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      • Buttsy

        Absolutely!!If someone had of slashed Gretzky the way they do now, the players life would have flashed before their eyes. Taking liberties on star players was deterred by the fear of getting your face punched in. The NHL stated that it’s the refs responsibility to ensure the policing of the game and protection of the players. Enforcers were no longer needed and will be penalized if deemed an aggressor. No game vigilantism allowed! The rules will protect them!
        As it appears now, they’re not doing that and the players can’t police themselves without penalizing their team. The weasels and opportunists take liberties without any concern for retribution.
        Take the instigator rule out and watch that trend change.
        On another note with referees, I have a real issue with absolute power in any life situation. It breads corruption and arrogance with no way of correcting it!

      • whateverhappenedtoearledwards

        You understand that Bettman only does what the owners tell him? If the owners wanted the way the game is called to be changed, they would tell Bettman to do something about it, and it would happen.

    • fasteddy

      The game has gotten way too boring…no room to make plays out there. If calling the rule book properly will open things up a bit then please do it before more and more of us tune out. Who turns on games between teams they aren’t a fan of anymore? Why would you? It’s like watching paint dry most of the time. If a team completed two or three passes in a row it’s a borderline miracle. Goals are tips or scrums most of the time.

    • freelancer

      The accountability and consistency of the NHL is an absolute joke. This is a league that pulls guys off the ice when they hit their chin because they’re worried about concussions but let crosschecks from behind, slashes, and other dangerous plays go unnoticed and unpenalized.

    • 99CupsofCoffey

      A player can be tough without slashing hands and fingers. I see that as a cop-out on a player who doesn’t have enough skill and speed to “slow” a better player down.

      If the NHL REALLY wants to get scoring up, then CALL THE [email protected]*% RULES THAT ARE WRITTEN IN THE RULE BOOK.

    • deferoiler

      I think part of the problem is that refs have this unnecessary reasoning to even out penalties. It may sound bizarre but how many games do we see an opposing team get 2-3 more powerplay chances. Last night it was a 1-1 tie when mcdavid got pulled down right after the blues had just got off the pp and both teams each had a powerplay chance. Unless calls are extremely obvious (the Mcdavid call was btw and should have been called) refs aren’t going to call it. It’s the sad truth but is a factor in today’s game

    • TruthHurts98

      For these specific reasons you’ve listed I’ve found myself hardly watching the NHL games anymore. Just a few highlights, it’s an absolute joke what the NHL is doing. Don’t even get me started on the overturned offside calls and the big goalie equipment. I’m beginning to wonder if the NHL even wants scoring anymore or their star players playing without injuries. Can’t stand that smug Bettman either. Great article, I hope more are written and expanded upon around North America!

    • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      Look up Peter Forsberg goals on Youtube if you really want to be disgusted by the league. His goal at 4:50 against the Wings is unbelievable, given the hacks and holding.

    • Wintoon

      The NHL is trying to turn hockey into Soccer—–and succeeding.

      Low scoring and boring with actors instead of players. People say that hockey is a man’s game and yet so often we see a player look like he has been pole axed simply to draw a penalty – and it works

      On the other hand, players who play through a hook hold or slash don’t draw the calls they should (example McDavid breakaway versus St. Louis).

      • whateverhappenedtoearledwards

        Interesting outlook. I have wondered if McD had played like a soccer player and either dived or dropped his stick as soon as he felt contact on his hands whether he would have gotten the penalty shot. Doing the honorable thing and trying to fight through the check may not have been the best way to score a goal.

        And that my friends is the other edge of this sword. If every touch might be called, then would we end up with a bunch of soccer players grovelling around on the ice and trying to get “cards’ for the other team?

      • Kman15

        as a fan of hockey and soccer i usually don’t like comparing the two because i love watching both but nhl fans aren’t accustom to this, its ridiculous the calls that get let go star players draw penalties thats the way it is and should be

    • Rama Lama

      Players know how to deal with this better than the wisest pundits.

      One, wear additional hand protection…….yes it is available, but I don’t know if it works?

      Two, hire an enforcer whose job it is to go over to the culprit player, and exchange cake recipes, followed by words deemed politically incorrect now……hello Milan?

      Three, slash the opposing players, and let them know why you are doing it and wish them a Merry Christmas.

      Rinse and repeat!

      • Señor Frijoles

        The problem with hand and wrist protection is it inhibits your mobility and it’s *really* hard to flick a puck sharply when you can’t snap with your wrists. This is why players wear shorter gloves now and also a wrist band/guard – still not nearly as protective as a longer glove, but better than barely being able to raise the puck.

      • Oiler Al

        Milan is the biggest cup cake on the team.So much for getting bigger and tougher.He dropped his gloves the first game or so and hasnt been seen since. What a waste of cap space.

        • passenger

          I love these comments. Describing a professional athlete in his prime years, and the definition of a modern power forward, as a cupcake.

          Even better when the slur is likely delivered by a cave troll who gets winded walking to the fridge. I’ve always wanted to smack Burrows in his stupid face, but you know what? Even as a 6’2″, 200lb man, Burrows could likely mop the floor with me. Because he is a professional athlete. Get thee some perspective.

          • Oiler Al

            Sounds like you are liking Lucic’s game. Good for you, some people know the game some dont. You will have another five years to enjoy his play.

            PS; I might get winded going to the fridge , but I dont get paid $7 million bucks to do.

        • urbzy

          Absolutely right. Dressing an enforcer does not stop this kind of thing from happening. Kent had a piece here a long time ago about the ritual of the dancing bear that looks at the data behind this. Enforcers do not stop guys from getting cheap shots in. If they did, McDavid wouldn’t be treated like a pin cushion every night.

          • Oiler Al

            I would agree with your point on enforcers, but it dosent mean Lucic couldn’t skate in behind Petroangelo and give him a two hander accross the ankles. The problem is that Lucic is too slow and cannot keep up with the play.

    • Will

      The weird thing is not calling seems counter productive to the recent mandate of demanding more offense in the league. More calls especially where stars are concerned, will teach the league that you have to play the game clean or else spend the night on the penalty kill. That will allow the stars to score more 5×5 as less slashing and hooking and holding will occur.

      Having said that, maybe it’s not the GM’s but the coaches. I can’t imagine Torts saying, “if it looks like he’s gonna blow by you, be sure to keep it clean cause we don’t want to go to the box.”

      Maybe Trevelling is not speaking up because he knows if he does all it will take is one or two examples of the Flames playing dirty to make him look like a hypocrite. Also I wonder how many cheap little plays Gadreau gets in a night that go uncalled. Maybe Minnesotta had enough of him and decided to send a message that dirty play will be rewarded will dirty play. Not saying he does, but it could be.

      Finally, if you play hockey, it’s kind of obvious refs are terrible. Very few games do I ever leave thinking, what a well officiated game. They ref subjectively not objectively. It’s part of the game like Russians paying judges in the Olympics.

    • Bubba Train

      I think Tmac has all the players balls in a sack kept in a lockbox that has to stay in the dressing room.

      If he would open up that sack and give them back thier balls for a game – watch out. Turn them loose and There would be no more liberties taken on McDavid.

    • A-Mc

      Missed calls cause injuries. Time to start firing pucks at the Refs.

      If the officials aren’t willing to respect the rules meant to keep players safe, then i don’t see why players should respect the referee’s safety.

      #StreetRules

    • Hemmercules

      Offside reviews and missed calls are tarnishing the NHL. Its almost like the refs are scared to make calls when its against Mcdavid for some reason. I seem to remember Crosby having a tough time drawing obvious penalties too in his early years. I guess when you are best in the world they dont do you any favours but rules are rules. McD has had at least 4 non calls this season that could have been penalty shots or at the very least a 2 min.

    • camdog

      Bettman’s number one focus right now is trying to make Vegas competitive, without the other 30 teams losing some really good players. In 3-4 years they might start calling penalties again.

    • Butters

      I watch the Oilers almost exclusively, but I remember watching a few Penguin games a long while back and thought; holy frack does Crosby take a lot of abuse.

    • Billy Charlebois

      It seems like there is a per game quota on how many calls they will make against McDavid. They will typically call one or maybe two per game. When in fact there are typically 4 or 5 they could easily call. The refs seem to be worried about pissing off the opposition coach when they have to kill 5 penalties against McDavid alone. Plus they call ticky tacky stuff against him like the trip last game.

      It is considered to be interference when a forward dumps the puck into the offensive zone and the defenseman holds him up or gets in his way as the forward tries to skate around him to retrieve the puck. McDavid is a master of that (passing to himself) yet they seem to allow the defensemen to hold him up all the time without an interference call.

    • 15w40

      No sense clamping down now. Might as well save that for coming out of the next lock out. It will be the “new improved NHL” just like it was for 3 months after the last lock out.

      It is no longer a game – it is a means to an end which is to get rich.

      If you call it too tight then that will affect the parity and thus more teams will be out of the playoffs sooner and more fans will walk away sooner which means less $$$.

      Bettman is not stupid – he has made the owners a pile of $$$ even while he conned them into bankrolling a sinking franchise in Arizona for however many years just to save face for himself.

      Isn’t his salary larger than any player in the league?

      I still watch a fair amount but I am seriously jaded.

      • Derzie

        Bang on. The ONLY way to get these clowns to fix the NHL is through money (i.e taking it away from them). TV media has the power but won’t use it. Fans have minor power but spend money anyway cramming into rinks and buying jerseys & beer.

    • Hemmercules

      Bad calls aside, these guys are human. Not sure supporting physical violence against them is warranted but fans can be overly passionate about the game I guess.

      The league as a whole should have the balls to call out any problems and non-calls are becoming more of a problem it seems. Are refs in short supply or something??

    • Burnward

      I’m sure that the league’s officials will take all this whining over a missed call on McDavid (in a game the Oilers won) well.

      Like overprotective first time parents.

          • 99CupsofCoffey

            The reason they’re “imperfect” is that they aren’t calling the game as written in the rule book.

            This isn’t just about McDavid, it’s about the entire game.

          • Randaman

            So by that reply, you are fine with what happened to Gaudreau in the Minnesota game? I watched most of that game and was disgusted.

            Don’t take the article as Oiler fans whining, this is about the stars all over the league being hacked, hooked, tripped, held, cross-checked, etc.

            • Burnward

              Of course I wasn’t happy, but I understand that the faster, skilled guys will always be targets.

              Both get a ton of missed calls against.

              Pretty sure this refrain has been sung by every fan base with superstars.

    • King Quong

      Want to see the rules enforced have ex players start up another lawsuit. “I haven’t had full use of my wrists” “I was forced to retire early” “I want payment for lost wages due to my early retirement” that would get the attention of the owners just like the concussion law suit has spawned the concussion spotters being over zealous a threat of a law suit would cause everything to be called. Honestly I think it would be a bad thing but i think the only way you get any change is to threaten the owners wallets.