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Photo Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

NHL: Too many missed calls

Despite a call for crackdowns on obstruction, holding and hand slashing, NHL teams in 2017/2018 still have the fifth lowest PP/game average over the past 54 seasons. Despite more speed among the elite players of the game, they are managing to get fewer powerplays than ever before.

I love hockey — always have — but over the past few seasons, I find myself watching fewer games than I used to. I get frustrated by the amount of missed calls, and I find the games are less exciting than before. I was ecstatic when the new TV deal came out a few years ago, knowing we’d see more than just the Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadiens on Saturday nights. More channels meant more options and more opportunity to see the stars of the game.

However, after watching more games involving the best players, I’ve sadly realized the NHL is the only league that seems hell bent on punishing their best players. They want them to fight through infractions rather than enforce the rulebook. I don’t need an endless parade of penalties, but if the NHL would actually crack down on infractions, the players would adjust. And if they had to stop hooking or holding it would allow the incredible speed of today’s players to shine through more often.

Why wouldn’t the NHL want their most skilled players to be able to show off their incredible skill more often?

Since 1963/1964, only during five seasons have NHL teams averaged 3.2 penalties/game or less.

This year it is 3.2
In 1977/1978 it was 3.19.
In 2015/2016 teams averaged 3.11.
In 2014/2015 it was 3.06
And last season was the lowest ever, with teams averaging 2.99 powerplays/game.

So in the past 54 NHL seasons, four of the five lowest PP/game averages have occurred in the last FOUR NHL seasons.

I’d say it is a trend in the wrong direction.

And it’s down by a significant margin.

From 1980 to 2008, the average PP/game for a team was between 4.00 to 5.85 pp/games. The highest was in 2005/2006, when teams averaged 5.85 PP/game, but as recent as 2008 teams were at 4.16, which is basically one more PP game than what teams average now.

Don’t be fooled into believing players are that much more disciplined today. They aren’t, but they get away with much more holding, slashing and obstruction. During the 1990s when Mario Lemieux accurately complained about all the obstruction, teams still had way more powerplays than we see today.

From 1990 to 1999, the yearly average for powerplays/game for a team was 4.58, 4.57, 5.02, 5.28, 4.85, 4.36, 5.04, 4.10, 4.64 and 4.38.
From 2010 until this season, teams have averaged 3.71, 3.54, 3.31, 3.32, 3.27, 3.06, 3.11, 2.99 and 3.20 power plays per game.

Why the drastic decrease in penalties?

WHY FEWER CALLS?

I spoke with former NHL referee Kerry Fraser about the drop in penalties.

He turned the table and asked me, “Where do you see the potential infraction not being called most often?

I replied, “When a player has the puck with speed either though the neutral zone or entering the offensive zone. I see the most missed calls in those areas.”

Fraser then explained why. And he did it in great detail.

“I absolutely agree with you, and I’ll tell you why, because that’s where the play transitions. The transition through the neutral zone is really quick in the game now and that’s where the officials get caught flat footed. They start to back up from their positions, some of them retreat so far back they’re making long distance calls or they can’t support the puck when the play is down on the far end, and you watch, you’ll see guys standing back, red line or even beyond the red line towards the blue line when the play is deep in the other end. Those are the guys who are a little nervous about a quick transition and are not able to move backwards quick enough,” explained Fraser.

“You (refs) should be able to get out quick. When you read the play, when you see that there is a Connor McDavid starting to spring and he’s moving in open ice and he’s going to be a potential outlet once that Oilers guy regains possession of the puck, it’s at that moment that you read the play, you backup. you start, you always stay ahead of a McDavid or anybody and you’ve got to get moving your feet.

“Some guys don’t see that. They’re puck watchers, all of the sudden they get surprised. ‘Oh my God, the puck’s passed, McDavid has it’. Now you’re playing catch-up as a referee.

“So those elements of seeing the play in advance, reading it, knowing the outlet, when the guy gets the puck, what are all of the outlets, and you do that by setting up freeze frame pictures. You might have to have a [Milan] Lucic on the one side, he might be just inside the blueline. You might have the centremen, McDavid, up high and the other winger is down low supporting the puck. So you’ve got to know when the puck is obtained, where the defensive players are and where the best outlets are as a referee.

“You’ve got to move, you’ve got to see it, you’ve got to angle yourself in such a position that you’re going to have the best view because when that puck is passed to a guy like McDavid, he skates as fast, if not faster with the puck than without it. And you’ve got to be prepared to move and get an angle because refs have a short window, just like defensive players have a short window to try to catch the fast players like McDavid, Jack Eichel, Nikita Kucherov and the other fast stars. And how often that happens quickly, it’s going to happen almost as quickly as he gets the puck, because that’s usually the closest proximity to the defending player will have. Because once they light it up, look out,” said Fraser.

So the speed of the game is making it more difficult for officials to get in position to make the call. It makes sense, but there are two referees on the ice now compared to the one-man system we used to see and one referee would call more infractions that two do now. That doesn’t make much sense to me.

POSITIONING & THINKING

Oct 4, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his third period goal against the Calgary Flames at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

Many fans around the NHL get frustrated when their best player is impeded or obstructed and there is no call.

Fraser explained what he sees specifically about McDavid, but also said this happens to other stars around the league who carry the puck a lot.

“There are situations with McDavid, based on his speed, the ability to really ignite it, to have the puck a lot, that I believe should be called more. He’s so quick and I think that he’s almost, I hate to say this, he’s almost too quick for the officials. You’ve got to move and get into a position ahead of him to really see the contact, the restraint and when officials get caught a little slow, a little flat footed backing up as this guy ignites and explodes, all of the sudden the referee’s focus, I believe is, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got to get moving,'” said Fraser.

“Then they drop their eyes, which you should never do anyways, you should be able to skate backwards without looking down at your feet. But there’s that pause, that pregnant pause that ‘Uh oh, I gotta go,’ and ‘I’m going to get caught,’ and then they start getting out of the way and that’s when things can be missed. You’ve got to set yourself up in advance. You and I have talked before about seeing the game in advance. You talk about Wayne Gretzky, nobody saw it better than him, incredible vision, knew where the puck was going to be two, three, four chess moves down the board.

“And that’s what the officials have to develop. They (NHL) have a lot of young officials, some have just finished playing and the league is on this let’s recruit former players — American League, East Coast League, kind of guys that know the game, or should. That’s terrific, I endorse that, but they’ve got to be taught how to referee. Because when you drop your stick as a player and you put on a whistle on your hand, you’ve got to totally adjust your philosophy. Players attack the puck, but officials have to retreat from the puck and that’s where that vision of understanding the game for sure as a former player will need to change. They have to transition into the referee mindset. Which is totally reverse from attacking the puck,” explained Fraser.

NEEDS TO CHANGE

I’m really perplexed why the NHL is so stubborn in enforcing the rule book. It’s mind boggling.

They will bring in needless rules like offside review and eliminate goals because a skate is off the ice, even though the player is not across the blueline and has no actual advantage, but refuse to crack down on officials for missed calls.

The game is faster than ever, but it isn’t as exciting as it used to be. The NHL needs to address this now.

Just call the game by the wording of the rule book. Empower your officials to call the enforce the rules and ensure they are in the best position to see the play.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • Rock11

    The biggest challenge to getting the officiating correct is the mindset that the ref “doesn’t want to impact the game”. So lets all think back to the Anaheim series where there probably 4 calls a shift that could have been made when Mcdavid was on the ice. No ref is going to make all of those calls as he feels like he is “giving” the game to the team getting all the powerplays. This ref goes home and thinks he did his job by staying “out of the game”.
    What he is actually doing though is impacting the game in the other direction. The idea that action(calling a penalty) has more influence than inaction(not calling the penalty) is a fallacy. In the Ducks series the officiating tilted the series in favour of Anaheim by allowing their less talented players to drag others down to their level. This is as impactful as calling dozens on penalties. It’s the mindset that needs to change and that seems unlikely to happen any time soon.

  • Randaman

    Too bad Kerry had to retire. He was one of the very best. The reffing in the league today is terrible for the most part.
    Bettman seems to think it is fine and that goal reviews are working. Head in the sand Gary. Can’t say I’m surprised.

    • Dan 1919

      He did say at the Allstar game that they’d be sending out a memo instructing officials to only call a goal back if it’s blatant goaltender interference… almost implying that McDavid’s or Mathew’s goals should have counted.
      Unfortunately I don’t see this solving the problem, as it still gives the ref the ability to choose the call for the team he wants. Ex, playoffs last year when Kessle shoved Talbot out of the way would be considered glaring interference, and it still wasn’t called. So if they add the word glaring today in a “memo” who’s to say they won’t just change the definitions to suite their calls? They have a grass routes officiating problem in the NHL, it’s more than just terminology of the rule book.

      • Glencontrolurstik

        First, I think you meant Kesler not Kessel? On that note: I really feel that, to your point, the refs are calling the games the way the NHL has instructed them. Just seems to be more evidence of the NHL trying to even out the playing field ie. Salary Cap, “Bettman Point”,… etc. etc.
        A rules a rule,… just call it…
        I miss the “Let’s ask Kerry” column every week on the TSN homepage.
        I think that’s what they called it,… It certainly explained alot…
        Maybe he could become a regular “Nation” contributor?

  • Derian Hatcher

    When you have a commisioner constantly saying everything is working fine, there is nothing the league needs to work on (sort of like the Iraqui communications minister), this is what you get. A joke of a hockey operations department that is a laughing stock and can’t even recognize their own ineptitude.

    • BringitbacklikeSlats

      Actually it’s not true. Lebrun was on the Lowdown this morning and said how pissed Gary was at the meeting in Tampa regarding the disallowed goals.

      He cautioned against moving towards video review several years ago. Looks like he may have been on to something.
      So yes something is amiss but it wasn’t Gary’s call. He was against it.

        • BringitbacklikeSlats

          No worries. I think we’re all tired of the way the games being called and it makes sense to point the frustration at the Commish. But we need to recognize that GMs and (owners I think?) all vote on these things as opposed to Gary just calling the shots.

          One other thing that small market Canadian teams fans need to recognize is that Gary was instrumental is our franchise remaining here. We’re it not for his efforts to implement a cap, we’d arguably be watching the Houston Oilers instead of Edmonton. And it’s made it a far more competitive and better League as a result. Not to say he hasn’t made some bad calls, but I think he’s gotten a lot right and as an Oilers fan i feel like I owe at least some gratitude towards him.
          Look at Baseball as a comparison with the wealthy teams winning year in year out. It’s a joke… just like it was pre cap in the NHL once salaries skyrocketed coonciding with Gretzky playing in California.

  • Natejax97

    Just a notable…when PK Subban’s stick was stuck in Connor’s armpit after he hooked him and then let it go. That was it for me.

    The Oilers get marginal calls against them all the time, but draw none, as one of the top possession teams in the league…What????

    Also 14 straight challenges in the other teams favor – topped off by the pad pull apart job last year against Anaheim.

    Sick of not having the respect of the referees, and I can see Connor is getting pretty sick of it too. Baggedmilk mentions refs on the face palmer section in almost every GDB Wrap up, and he is bang on with his assessments.

    The refs are horrible to the Oilers.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      My moment was the “Kadri Waterski Event”… & the “Kesler Pad-jam”…..
      Two situations where #1 TV market & trying to “grow the game”…

    • Dan 1919

      100% true, and it’s not just the Oilers. The notorious Flames get called against all the time. Talk to many other fans and the storyline is the same, US market teams get calls. It needs to be discussed in public more now that everyone notices it, at one point we all just denied it to ourselves because we thought it was us just feeling sorry for our team… but it’s glaringly obvious now, all fans notice it.

      • OilersGM

        About 2 years ago I texted Oilers now with Stauffer when he had Craig Simpson on and I said Canadian teams never get the calls especially in the playoffs and when Stauffer read the text for Simpson he called my text as a stupid excuse and that I’m a conspiracy theorist. Well I’ve been watching hockey for 20 years and it always goes against Canadian teams always. Why do you think the cup hasn’t been back in Canada for 24 years now, it’s because the idiot Bettman is trying to grow the game south of the border when is killing it for us fans north of the border. People care here unlike most in the US. Why does Bettman keeps his job for so long because he fills the majority owners pockets and the majority are from south of course. Honestly Bettman has killed the game for me and I’m sick and tired of him at the helm. He knows fans are too passionate here so he knows they will always show up. I F****** hate him.

          • Archer

            I don’t quite agree that the calls always go against the Canadian teams. I don’t watch Calgary, Vancouver, Winnipeg, or Ottawa often enough to know how they are treated, but I’m certain that Toronto and Montreal don’t get the short end of the stick too often, including when they play the Oilers. So, while I believe that the Oilers don’t get even reffing, I don’t believe that the same applies to all Canadian teams.

      • Been beating that drum for years. It is beyond ridiculous the # of infractions that are missed when a US franchise plays a Canadian one. The league will not change anything, as they would give up the power to directly influence the outcome of a game, which is their target. Obvious to anyone who actually pays attention. If people still want to enjoy this sport at its highest level, you have to watch knowing it is rigged just like wrestling.
        #stillnotwatching

    • Homer

      @nate this is so big on that I’ve gone from never missing a game to not giving a rats ass at this point. Every other league protects its stars and allows them to shine but in Bettman garbage league it’s the complete opposite.

  • Rama Lama

    Just how many times do we have to watch this silly movie……..you know the one I’m talking about!

    Rule changes and new yearfor the first 40 games will see officiating done a certain way. The balance of the 40 games will see officiating done a totally different way. Playoffs will see officiating done completely differently…….the whistles get put away.

    As far as the NHL making the game more interesting………that is what I call cognitive dissonance. They want it, but cant seem to figure out how to do it so they make rule changes…….instead of replacing referees or re-training them!

  • TKB2677

    I am not a pro hockey coach, I didn’t play pro hockey or play hockey at an overly high level. I played as a young guy into my teens and I have watched hockey for most of my 40 yrs on this earth but I don’t pretend to be an expert. So maybe I am missing something but I thought when you have 2 refs, one guy is supposed to be down low, deep in the zone to watch the stuff near the goal. Then you have the other guy who is supposed to be just outside the blueline staring into the zone, able to see the whole zone in front of him. So when McDavid gets the puck and takes off, if the ref is in the area between the blueline and the center where he should be and he starts skating backwards as soon as McDavid gets the puck and turns up ice, McDavid or which ever star you want to to list should be coming right at him. So if an opposing player grabs his arm, hooks or trips him, it should be right in front of him. So how are they missing it? We see it time and time again where a player is skating RIGHT AT an official getting hooked and unless his eyes are closed, the official is watching it all happen in front of him and the ref doesn’t call a penalty. At time we will see the back ref who is BEHIND the players call it. HOW?

    So while I respect Frasers opinion and I believe that the speed has something to do with it, if the ref is in position, call what you see. I believe it is more like what Gregor said. There is a big time sense in the NHL that the star players have to “battle through” stuff. There seems to be a mentality and the leagues even talks about how they want the league to be full of parity. They want all the teams to be in the race, so they created the stupid points system to make sure that more teams can stay in it. I think that also translates onto the ice. There is a small amount of super star players but a HUGE amount of mediocre players in the league. So in order to bring some sense of “parity” on the ice, they have to give these mediocre players a fighting chance. So they do it by letting stuff go.

  • tkfisher

    The excuse of making long distance calls or being behind the play because of the speed are a load of garbage. If someone in the nose bleeds can see a call from the top of the building, a ref should be able to see the play from the ice. There’s also two refs on the ice. In the past there use to be only one ref on the ice at a time and I would argue the refs have always moved at a similar pace to the players playing in the 60s, 70s, 80s and today. As the players became better skaters, so did the refs. Calling some guys puck watchers also doesn’t atone for the errors since most of the time it’s the guy with the puck that ‘s being hacked, and slashed. I think the issue is with two refs on the ice. Although they would never admit it, and it may be subconscious, but I believe both refs feel a portion of the play (call it an over lap zone between the two officials) is the other persons “zone”. They don’t want to step on each others toes and make a “distant call” when it’s in the other guys “zone”. Thus anything that’s a “borderline” penalty and the other guy who may be closer didn’t call, reinforces that he didn’t think it was a call either. I think both refs defer to the other guy too much and leave too many calls that could be called for the phantom zone.

  • KMA

    Well here’s another missed call, when pistol Pete signed Lucic to a $6M x 6Yr. contract and no one on the old boys management team had the balls to call him out on the gross stupidity of the deal before it was signed.

    • McDavid's Comet

      @ KMA

      Or… the old boys agreed with Pistol Pete and thought it was a great deal, which explains why we endured a D.O.D. and may very well be descending into another one (I pray to god we are not). I cannot fathom how these a$$-clowns are STILL employed by the Oilers organization, I guess it’s #becauseOilers. I just don’t get it.

    • Odanada

      If Wayne stays quiet then no one else will question it.
      I revere Wayne as a player, but his presence in Oiler management is worrisome. People will simply not disagree with him on hockey matters and time has proven that although he was a beast as a player, his record as coach/management is not ipressive.

  • BingBong

    Great article, along with some great posts.
    Bottom line for me: I think the league values parity over everything. Keep the games close, keep the standings tight, make more money.
    The extra OT point, the vague rules, forcing the best players to play through obvious penalties. This all adds up to parity. It’s ruining the NHL.

  • Johnnyo

    I’ll take Kerry at face value: sometimes the refs miss calls because they don’t see an infraction. But there are countless times they deliberately “put the whistles away” and let the players play. This is when the frustration sets in for me.

    Perfect example is when a forward pushes pick past Dman and then tries to go around only to have the Dman pinch him off along the boards or push him with his stick out into the middle before making his turn back to the puck. Both of these moves are obstruction/interference/holding. They should be called every time. These plays develop slowly and last seconds. There is no way two refs can miss them. They just choose not to call them and the game slows down as do scoring chances.

    • Neumann

      Bang on… this kind of thing happens to McDavid, and other fast skilled players, all the time. Push the puck to space on a rush go around the DMan but get held up and no call. With 97 he still usually completes the play, refs don’t make the call because of this, even though his advantage is mitigated.

  • They say they’ve cracked down on slashes, but it’s clearly not far enough. If the refs are going to call goalie interference like they did on McDavid the other day, they need to equally call a slash or hook on a defensemen interfering with said McDavid on a breakaway.

    And the other thing that sucks is although penalties are still down, you’d think goals against wouldn’t affect the Oilers as much when on the PK, but sadly it has.