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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

In Shackles

If the NHL was actually serious about providing fans with entertainment in a game where goals equal excitement, they’d unlock their skilled players from the shackles of the obstruction we’re seeing now so they could give the people who pay the bills their money’s worth.

But no. Despite what fans have been sold as multiple crackdowns on obstruction by NHL head office over the years, the best players in the game still have to fight their way through ridiculous amounts of hooking and holding, interference and obstruction. Unlike many other leagues, the NHL simply refuses to showcase its top talent by allowing the best players to do what they do.

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Whether it’s Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl here with the Edmonton Oilers or players like Nathan MacKinnon, David Pastrnak and Elias Pettersson elsewhere, the most talented players in the game too often remain handcuffed because on-ice officials won’t consistently call what they see. Instead, they “manage” games.

We had yet another example of that Wednesday in a game the Oilers would lose 5-2 to the St. Louis Blues at Rogers Place as McDavid tried to free himself of Ryan O’Reilly while trying to join a rush up ice. Hack. Hold. Tug. No way McDavid was going to break free. And, as is the case too often, no penalty was called.

TURN THEM LOOSE

While I’m talking about McDavid here, I’ve got no dog in this fight like Oilers fans do aside from the fact I’d like to see more speed and skill on display. That goes for players like him right around the league. These are the players fans pay to see, but they’re not getting a square deal because of the way the game is being called.

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Relatively speaking, McDavid actually gets his share of calls from the zebras. The thing is, though, he doesn’t get nearly enough of them considering how often he has the puck and how often he’s involved in making plays. The same holds true for many of the marquee men around the NHL.

According to NHL.com, in the 304 regular season games he’s played since the start of the 2015-16 season, McDavid has drawn 147 minor penalties. That’s third league-wide behind only Nazem Kadri (152) and Johnny Gaudreau (150). Draisaitl, by the way, sits 37th in the 331 games he’s played in that span with 94.

In between, there’s guys like MacKinnon, 10th at 123 minors drawn, Pastrnak, 11th at 120, Jack Eichel, 16th at 108, and Nikita Kucherov, 23rd at 101. In terms of minor penalties drawn per 60 minutes, McDavid sits at 1.35. You can scroll through the whole table at NHL.com here.

By these numbers, McDavid is drawing one minor penalty about every two games. Sure. For every penalty that’s called, how many infractions, like the riding and roping display O’Reilly put on, go uncalled? Too many, and that holds true for most of the names at the top of the marquee fans pay to see. Call me unconvinced that McDavid isn’t fouled more often than that. It’s ridiculous.

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THE WAY I SEE IT

Oct 29, 2019; Detroit, MI, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid (97) and Detroit Red Wings left wing Tyler Bertuzzi (59) battle for the puck in the third period at Little Caesars Arena.

I’ve got absolutely no interest in taking hitting and physicality out of hockey and making it anything less than the passionate game it’s supposed to be. The thing is, the hooking and holding McDavid and the rest of the best players have to fight through game after game in rinks around the league when officials pocket the whistles has nothing to do with physicality.

The NHL doesn’t have to trick-up the game with bigger nets or some of the other gimmicks that have been considered in recent years to provide fans with better entertainment value. What it needs to do provide them their money’s worth is unshackle its best players by consistently calling what’s already in the rulebook.

Talent sells. Turn it loose already.

Previously by Robin Brownlee