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April 23, 2006

Me, idiot

The words of Bill McCreary have been rattling around in my head for the better part of a week:

"For the most part, we're at the bottom of the hill, and stuff runs downhill." McCreary said. "People want to criticize us, for whatever reason."

You won't meet a referee who doesn't fully understand that. They're refs -- they expect criticism. But there are two things these referees want you to know before you start blaming them for the failings of your favorite team in 2005-06: One -- they're only the messengers. Greater minds than McCreary's and Devorksi's have defined the levels of enforcement in today's NHL. And two -- the system they are enforcing is working.

"You'd have to be an idiot to say that this hasn't improved the game of hockey."

The regular season — yeah, maybe. It was more different than it was better, but I didn't expect a transition to obstruction-free hockey to be painless. The regular season created a tolerance for calls that look like obstruction even though they don't impede the opposition player at all, and the refs now have more impunity than ever before (and/or arrogance, to hear McCreary talk). As a result, the officials are now routinely creating gamebreaking power play situations out of whole cloth. This could hardly be less in the tradition of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

It's ironic that the NHL would commit itself to making the playoffs look more like the regular season in the same year that it instituted the shootout, which is the starkest distinction there has ever been between the regular and post-seasons. Or maybe not so ironic. With the shootout, the NHL abandoned the game's integrity to American sports fans' collective attention deficit. And with every horseshit phantom tripping and hooking call, it's abandoning the playoffs — the single greatest test in pro sports and the NHL's single greatest asset — to the exact same sort of randomness the shootout represents. It's nothing to celebrate.

Posted by Chris Selley at April 23, 2006 08:56 PM

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Referees are there to enforce the rules. I don't understand why these refs are commenting on whether or not it has made the game better. It isn't their place to do so.

Posted by: LK at April 23, 2006 09:57 PM

Hockey, more than any other sport I can think of, has a supremely self defeating cirlce the wagons mentality among its hard core fans, players and managers. The notion that the playoffs should be officiated to a different standard is, to me, nonsense. The argument, as best I can tell, is that you don't want a referee deciding a big game with a late call and, by the way, that is always the way it has been.

Well, if the referee is not a idiot (most are not), then he will never decide a big game. Rather, it's the player who took the penalty. And, if the same infraction is a penalty in pre-season, in the regular season and in game 7 of the finals, tben what is the problem?

The transition to a different standard of officiating has been, to be sure, akward. The first playoff run with the same standard will also be akward. To expect otherwise would be foolish. To advise otherwise would be more foolish and would reverse the process that began 7 months ago and will probably not end until 18 months from now.

This is better for the long run health of the game. I sincerely hope that the NHL will not revert to its insular tendancies.

Posted by: Mike at April 24, 2006 10:54 AM

..."if the same infraction is a penalty in pre-season, in the regular season and in game 7 of the finals, tben what is the problem?"

Nothing. But that's simply not the case. If you've been watching the playoffs intensely thus far and can honestly tell me that you haven't seen at least five calls that were: (a) total bs — i.e., what the ref said happened empirically did not happen (these have always been part of the game); (b) made in the name of "obstruction" but were actually just a player gaining body or stick-on-the-ice position on another player; or (c) so ludicrously minor a version of what they were calling that it makes a mockery of the sport, then you're either blind or we'll just never see the universe in the same way. Obstruction has gone down since the beginning of the season. This is a really good thing. The league's goal should not now be to have the same number of penalties in the playoffs as it did in the regular season.

And please, someone, free me this line about the refs' consistency. Remember at the beginning of the year when you could chip the puck past your man into the corner and then draw an interference penalty as he took you out? That don't happen no more. Not to mention the inconsistencies between refs and between games. That has been better thus far in the playoffs, probably because they've pared the pool of officials down, but to see it in action in the regular season, plain as the nose on Bryan Marchment's face, and hear people deny its existence was and is more than I could take.

LK nailed it, by the way — call the freaking rule book and shut your donut hole, McCreary. If the league had followed that principle all along there'd be no need for crackdowns and period-long masturbatory interviews with Gary Bettman in lieu of play-by-play.

Posted by: Chris Selley at April 24, 2006 07:19 PM

You could have said exactly the same thing last fall when this great experiment started - silly calls, odd "obstruction" based infractions, etc...

I, for one, am not even remotely surprised to see a modest resurgence of the same during this first playoff run under the "new" (i.e. enforced) rules. There is no question that, historically, everything changes in the NHL playoffs - player intensity, player abuse of the rules, referee enforcement of the rules, etc... That is why the NHL have made a renewed effort to "enforce" matters - a simple understanding of history.

Do I like watching it? Not really. But, I do accept it as part of a longer term initiative that will benefit the NHL.

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