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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:

  • Coiltown Soilers

    Surprise surprise. Someone from the Edmonton media complaining about the refs. Better get BeetBoy in here to crank out the salty tears. Here’s a crazy idea for the Oilers. Just win some games and move out of the position of laughing stock. This team has had more first round luck than anyone and yet people still complain about the injustices these poor guys have to suffer. This latest outrage against the refs has become sad.

    • jultz=2cups!??

      Lol. Toatally agree. Today they are complaining about the refs. And after the next game, if they lose, it will be all Lucic’s fault or Bennings. Then on off days it’s whine about the refs. Rinse, recycle, repeat. The complaining never ends around here

    • Jason Gregor

      Hey Coil Soil,

      Your inability to comprehend the basis of the article stops you from understanding this is a league-wide issue. It has very little to do with the Oilers in fact. They are one of 31 teams, and every team in the NHL has seen a drastic drop in their PP/game. Smart fans should want to watch entertaining hockey regardless of which team is playing. If McDavid is hooked or held less then so two will Johnny Gaudreau be held and hooked less. It will benefit fans of every team.

      But if you want to just complain without thinking, then knock your socks off. You’re well versed in that it would seem based on your previous posts. Have a great day.

      • BringitbacklikeSlats

        Gregor,

        Maybe insignificant, but I wonder if not having the namebars on the backs of the refs the way they used to, somehow doesn’t hold them as accountable to the fans in attendence.
        Back in the day, if McReery for example called a bad penalty you’d hear fans shout out his name. I think it kept them more honest than the nameless ghosts they are now.

        • LAKID

          I agree and like it or not the refs are a huge part of the game and have become to much of an influence on the outcome of games. The referees should be held accountable with their terrible calls. Fine them, suspend them or fire them, put the names back on their jersy’s. The fans could chant their names instead of throwing beer at them!

        • Jason Gregor

          Possibly. I know most players and refs don’t like it. The communication between players and refs is much less now than it was when players knew who the refs were. I think it would, at a minimum, improve communication between players and officials.

    • QuitForRealThisTime

      When skill can be nullified by allowing other teams to cheat it is an issue…Gregor’s main point is that calls are down across the board, why?

    • Cheap Shot Charlie

      So, are you in favor of Johnny getting his hand broken? Penalties not being called led to that. Or do you just not understand why rules that are put in place need to be called consistently for everyone?

  • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

  • BringtheFire 2.0

    “I’m really perplexed why the NHL is so stubborn in enforcing the rule book.”

    Then;

    “Call the rule book.”

    Can you clarify? I read the article but I’m not sure what you want. I mean , I know what you want, but…

  • Lowe But Now High Expectations

    I’ve been saying for a while today’s hockey is awful. Too over coached, boring systems. I’ve watched hockey for about 40 years and my conclusion is when the game had more fighting there was more scoring. Individual battles (like Messier vs Otto) don’t exist anymore. And of course, goalies are way better today with technique and equipment. The game is too much like the owners running it, corporate, stuffy and boring.

  • 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.

  • wayne overland

    Other than possible dilution of referee quality due to the recent addition of a team, I don’t think refereeing is better or worse than it has been traditionally. I think ON followers are more sensitive to non calls on McD, because there hasn’t been a talent of this magnitude since Gretz left town. Other than perhaps a QB in football, a top talent does have to endure more infractions not called. If for no other reason than they get fouled a lot as other players are forced to do what they can and no referee will see everything. Perhaps I am naïve, but I don’t think the attitude that a great player must prove his greatness by playing enduring a higher standard of a foul actually happens, at least not intentionally. If there is such an attitude the it needs to be corrected.

      • Glencontrolurstik

        He did always speak out, though he was good enough to…
        If Maroon or Strome or even Draisaitl did that the refs would have something to say to the team, I’m sure…

  • RJ

    I enjoyed Fraser’s comments. I had a friend who was an NCAA referee. Reffed in the Frozen Four, international competitions etc.

    He was asked to be an NHL referee, but he declined. The NHL was extremely restrictive in their expectations, and the pay was not much better. It was more of a “hey we are the NHL”. A lot of seasoned referees turned them down.

    And now you’re stuck with Young former players who never paid their dues at the lower level. They just wanted to be in the NHL.

  • Rob...

    So here’s the fix: If it’s obvious that a player is going to reach the blue line without going offside and no referee can catch up, the linesman needs to push to the endzone, while keeping an eye on the puck handler. Permit the linesman who is advancing with the play to call holding/slashing/tripping penalties if witnessed. Let’s face it, if a linesman isn’t in position to call a legitimate offside they’ll just go to video review anyways after the goal; so there is no harm in taking this approach.

    • Glencontrolurstik

      They are permitted to call a penalty anyway, I believe…
      Could you imagine the egos & politics involved though…
      These days the position of Ref has sure gone to their head,… as Kerry eluded to. I can’t imagine allowing a linesman (who would most always be better positioned in the neutral zone) to call a penalty without some pushback?

        • Glencontrolurstik

          OK thanks, I thought it was all penalties…
          I was trying to remember any time I saw a linesman make a call…
          Probably comes down to the hierarchy situation…
          They being able to make calls, makes sense. Especially if it will stop the possibility of an off-ice ref making calls remotely, in all situations, that would suck…

  • 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.

  • RyanCoke

    Would adding a neutral zone ref make the ice too crowded? What about an eye in the sky ref where he can talk to a ref through an earpiece that he seen an infraction and have them call it?

  • Derzie

    Couldn’t agree more with the article. I’ve turned off several games after game-changing non-calls or incorrect calls. Takes the fun out of it if the rules aren’t followed to some reasonable degree.

  • FlamesFan27

    I watch more Flames games than Oilers games. I think this year there is a lot less slashing in the neutral zone than last year, which has certainly helped JG. I can’t really comment objectively on McDavid, but there are surely some missed calls.

    But you can’t even compare the obstruction from 2004 to now. Before 2004, you had to almost tackle another player to get a holding penalty. Now, if you take your hand off your stick for a split second you get one.

    In summary, I think the primary reason for less calls is that the players adjust to the new standard, whatever that standard is.