Help Me Understand: NHL, Hot Takes, and More

Welcome to the sixth edition of Help Me Understand.

Sports, hot takes and narratives. Some make sense, others perplex me.

— Help me understand why some still wonder if the Edmonton Oilers are good. They are 18-7 in their last 25 games. That is the fifth best points % in the NHL with the New York Islanders, Tampa Bay, Colorado and Carolina being higher. Edmonton has the second most regulation wins (17), they are second in GF/game at 3.60,  ninth in GA/game at 2.56, their PP is second at 30.3% and their PK is 17th at 77.5%. Despite those totals, it seems many can only focus on three bad games against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Oilers played poorly in those games, no question, but they are 18-4, including a victory over Toronto, in the other 22 games. They played poorly in those three games, and Toronto played arguably their three best games of the season.

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Toronto is 14-8-2 in the same time frame, and if you take out the three games against Edmonton they are 11-8-2 while Edmonton is 18-4.

Tim Peel’s live mic was not a good look for him. That is valid, but I think much of the anger is misdirected. Peel doesn’t have a track record of constantly making calls or decisions like this. However, just because team A gets the first penalty, and then Team B gets the second doesn’t mean the second was a make up or even up call. In some cases it is, but I don’t see make up calls happening all the time. We often think, “The next penalty will go to the other team,” but when it doesn’t we don’t remember that. We only remember when it does. But I digress.

There is a much bigger issue at hand, and I don’t understand why the NHL won’t address it, especially because it isn’t that difficult: Simply call the rule book as is. Call the hooks, the holds, the hits from behind and the players will adjust. No other league forces their best players to fight through more infractions than lesser-skilled players. The best players have the puck more so they are the ones having to battle the hooks, obstruction and holding more often, yet the NHL refuses to call those infractions as they should. I don’t understand it.

Former player and current analyst Ray Ferraro shared his thoughts on the topic and he made some great points on my radio show this week. The full interview is here.

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“The general managers and the governors are the ones that basically set the standard. When there are new rules, they vote on them at the board of governor’s meetings. When there are new interpretations of rules, the offside call for example, they vote on it at the board of governor’s meetings. So, there is great pressure from the general managers and the board of governors on the officials. They are constantly lobbying the officials, ‘Hey why didn’t you call those penalties on the other team, you called them against us?’ I think that should go away. I think the officials should be able to work more in a vacuum than they do now. And if they did, I think that we would probably see games where the penalties were seven to three and that’s just the way that it is, because the penalties were seven to three.

“I think that they really have a difficult job to do as impartially and as unaffected as we would like them to do it. Just set the standard and let them call it.”

Ferraro then added what he thinks the NHL should do to help the officials.

“My recommendation is to put a committee together in the offseason, a couple of current officials, a couple of recently retired officials, a couple of current players, and have them go through the rulebook from the start to the end. The stuff that doesn’t need to be in there anymore can be taken out. The stuff that is in there, clarify it to a standard that is rather easily understandable. Present that to the teams and say, ‘We are going to have this to you by August the 15th.’ So, when teams go to training camp, they can start enforcing those behaviours and habits with the players. And then the exhibition games are going to start and there are going to be 52 penalties a game. And we’re all going to hate it. And it’s going to suck, and then pretty soon there are going to be 30 penalties, and then there are going to be 12 and then there are going to be eight because the guys are going to get it.

“Do you remember back in the lockout when they were going to enforce the hooking and the holding and all of that stuff? I thought that they were three months away from really making a mark. And then they backed off. It got into January and it’s like they just couldn’t stand what they were seeing. So, they backed off. I thought that the players were starting to get it and in my memory the standard was starting to look a lot more normal. A lot more like we would see the flow of a game.

“Look, nobody wants there to be stops and starts all over the place for penalties, we don’t want that. But until you establish a standard, and the standard is consistent as possible, there’s always going to be an issue. Because guys, let’s not forget, it’s not one guy officiating the game, it’s two guys officiating one particular game, there are over 45 officials that referee NHL games. How are all 45 guys going to see a penalty the same way? They’re not. We could show 45 guys a picture and they would all interpret it a different way. That’s just the way that it is. But I think that there is a way to do it better.”

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I agree, and it is important to remember that an official, just a like a player, will be out of position the odd time and they will miss a call. That will happen. Accept it. Players make positional errors, and so will officials, but if we see a more consistent and simple standard put forth, and then trust the officials to enforce it, the league will benefit. We will get to see the best players show their elite skills more often.

And the other factor is many of the vocal complainers are often incorrect in what they are complaining about. Ferraro shared an example of this.

“Here is something Jason that was shown to me on a flight. I was sitting across the aisle with an official and I said, ‘how come you were standing down by the net last night, and the hooking penalty in front of the net is called by the guy at centre ice? That drives people crazy.’

“And he showed me. On a piece of paper he drew out a rink, he drew where he is looking. He’s not even looking at the front of the net. He’s looking at the play going up the boards. His responsibility, he diagramed out for me where it is. The official from centre ice actually has a better look at the guys in front of the net. Just to your point Jason, that from his view, there might be three guys in the way. I mean he’s only 10 feet away, but there might be three guys in the way. He can’t see really who is holding who. The guy at centre ice can. And so, you hear it all of the time on the broadcast, the announcers will say, ‘Oh the guy from centre ice called the penalty.’ Yeah, because he’s the guy that can see. That’s why there are two officials out there. So, I think that there is a great many things we don’t understand about the officials and how they officiate. I will tell you one thing: At my age, I have a lot more empathy than I did for them when I was trying to cheat, hook, hold and do whatever to do the best job on the ice that I could. I’ve got a lot more empathy for what they are doing.”

The NHL needs to adjust its mindset. Stop thinking star players need to fight through more obstruction because that’s how the game is. It is archaic. The game is better at high speed, and if the best players can use their elite skills more often then the game will be better. Fans will love it more. Players will enjoy it more. And sponsors will want to be more involved.

— How much do the Oilers need a right shot centre to help on the PK? Frank Seravalli got Oilersnation talking when he mentioned they are looking for a right-shot centre to win faceoffs. He mentioned Luke Glendening, Derek Ryan and Brandon Sutter as options. Seravalli said Ken Holland was very specific in wanting a right-shot centre to help on the PK. So let’s look solely at that role.

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Here are the Oilers forwards who are currently taking draws on the PK.

Player       PK TOI       FW-FL    FO%       GF-GA
Khaira       47:59         16-27     37.2%     0-10
Haas         40:51          20-23    46.5%     0-2
Draisaitl    18:48          17-15    53.1%     1-4
Turris        23:20           9-15     37.5%     0-5
RNH          66:46          7-11     38.8%     1-12
Shore        23:21           6-9       40.0%    1-3

RNH and Khaira have played 25 minutes together. I don’t see them taking Khaira off the PK, so that leaves Gaetan Haas. Haas is a right shot, but he’s only been on the ice for two goals against. Help me understand why the Oilers really need to upgrade him in the faceoff dot on the PK?

Here are the faceoff numbers for Glendenning, Ryan and Sutter.

Player            PK TOI       FW-FL    FO%       GF-GA
Glendening    78:32        56-53     51.7%      0-16
Sutter             93:35        39-27     59.1%      2-8
Ryan               44:29        9-11       45.0%      0-4

Sutter is the best option for this role. It isn’t close. He plays the most, is best on draws and he doesn’t get scored on as often. But considering Haas hasn’t been on the ice for many goals against, are faceoffs really hurting him?

I don’t think you can acquire a player just for PK faceoffs. So let’s look at their 5×5 numbers.

Derek Ryan 21 181:27 56.19 58.82 55.6 75.0 57.31 2-4-6
Brandon Sutter 35 411:27 45.11 46.53 46.2 40.63 44.93 4-2-6
Luke Glendening 32 370:07 45.27 44.21 43.7 43.48 40.28 3-5-8
Gaetan Haas 19 178:42 50.71 54.01 53.9 55.56 50.27 2-1-3

At 5×5 Ryan has been the most productive and has the best possession numbers. Haas’ possession numbers are solid.

Adding another centre wouldn’t hurt, but the biggest needs are a second line LW and a second pair LD. They will cost a lot more, but those are the two glaring needs and if I was Holland I’d look there first.

— Help me understand why it took this long to make spicy dill pickle chips. They are a game changer. I highly recommend the Hard Bite brand, and the Miss Vickies are equally good. You will not be disappointed when you try them. So good.

— Help me understand why the NHL is so adamant they need to cram the makeup games in by May 11th? If they had a backup plan for an extra week, why are they forcing the Boston Bruins to play 28 games in 48 days and the Montreal Canadiens to play 25 games in 44 days? That is a lot of hockey in a short time. But they will and that makes first place in the North very important, as I expect the Canadiens to finish fourth and they could be tired.

— Are people finally ready to admit victories over Ottawa aren’t easy or expected? The Senators are 12-13-4 against North division teams not named Edmonton. The Oilers are 7-0 against the Senators, but Ottawa has been anything but an easy win for the other five North teams. They are 5-2 against Calgary, 3-2 against Montreal, 3-3-1 against Toronto, 1-3-1 against Winnipeg and 0-3-2 against Vancouver. Unless something has changed, two points against Ottawa count the same in the standings as two points against every other team.

— Help me understand why the New York Rangers are so much better without their head coach David Quinn? Since Quinn hasn’t been on the bench (he’s in COVID quarantine) the Rangers are 4-1 and have outscored opponents 26-9. They crushed the Flyers 9-0 and 8-3. Their PP is 38.9% in these five games. The Rangers were 11-12-4, with 75 GF and 75 GA and their PP was 14.1%. Maybe it is as simple as Mika Zibanejad waking up. He has 15 points in five games, but you wonder if Quinn might alter his approach. There were rumblings players weren’t happy. It will be interesting to monitor how they play. Maybe the rumblings were nothing, but if the Rangers struggle again then Rangers’ management needs to take a look at why.

– Help me understand why silk plants are so expensive? Are they made of gold. I had to go pick up some my wife ordered and looking at the receipt I was floored at the cost. Things I never would have known about if i wasn’t married.


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