Friday, January 20, 2006


Friday's History Lesson

Nice win by the Flames last night. It wasn't as close as the 3-2 final score would indicate; the Flames forwards dominated a depleted Montreal defense most of the game.

Unfortunately, the first period was marred by some brutal, brutal officiating. There were 5 minor penalties called in the first 7 minutes of the game, and as far as I'm concerned, all five were ridiculous. There was a charge that wasn't a charge (Iginla); a hook that wasn't a hook (Streit); a trip that wasn't a trip (Phaneuf); a crosscheck that was harmless enough that Iginla maintained control of the puck (Souray); and a hold that wasn't a hold (Leopold).

The first call that the refs got right was fighting majors for McCarty and Souray; I guess that's hard to cock up. Unfortunately for Souray and the Habs, he also got a match penalty for deliberate attempt to injure, as McCarty was cut badly by some brace that Souray had around his wrist. (My understanding is that the call was by the book, although the infraction is a misnomer, since it most certainly was not deliberate. Souray will not be suspended).

TV play-by-play guy Roger Millions noted after the Phaneuf non-trip (I paraphrase): "It used to be that referees erred on the side of caution. That's not the case anymore." Why not? Even if you are the world's biggest supporter of the harshest imaginable obstruction crackdown: why not? There is absolutely no logical connection between (A) calling more stickwork & interference as fouls and (B) being sure these fouls were actually committed before blowing the whistle.

The first ten minutes of last night's game was the kind of thing that makes a guy wonder about the NHL's true motives: are they trying to crack down on cheating, or are they just trying to have more powerplays? I hate, hate, hate dwelling on this crap, but here's one fan's opinion: hockey officiated that way is unwatchable.

Related: I just finished reading a nice book that came out in September called (wait for it), "The Battle of Alberta". I'll have more to say about it in the next while, but there's one graf I wanted to share that has some relevance to this discussion.

Again, the book was written before this season started. I'd italicize some parts, but I don't think any emphasis is needed. From the section on the 1984 Smythe Division Finals, pp. 123-124:
While Sather complained about the refereeing and the lack of calls on all the hacking and whacking, [Charlie] Huddy says the games were actually made all that much better because the referees used their judgement and let the iffy plays go. That's a big difference from the game today, where the two-referee system can see each team get up to 10 powerplays per game. "Back then, the refs let us get away with so much stuff," recalls Huddy. "That has changed, now; the refs see and call everything. Back then, they let us play. And that helped create some of the great battles; like, for me, trying to clear big bodies like Peplinski and (Joel) Otto away from our net."


A world where Charlie Huddy can't cross-check Joel Otto in the face is a world I don't want to live in.

But, seriously, I'm not as impatient with the reffing yet as everybody else is, despite the egregious number of power plays. What I do notice along with everything else is that the dirty stickwork that used to take place in the neutral zone has now been confined to last-ditch, prevent-a-goal situations. You can't defend stupid calls, but if the referees have to keep blowing hair-trigger whistles to maintain the flow, I'm going to try to stay with them as long as humanly possible.

And, basically, I have very little patience with "Hockey sucks now" rhetoric. You know what? NHL hockey was pretty good when we were down to four goals a game. It's still pretty good with six. With the best players in the world out there, it would be pretty good with a tennis ball and goalies wearing newspapers for leg pads. Let's not get crazy.

I hope I didn't come across that grumpy; I still love NHL hockey, except for sequences like the 1st period last night, which (yes) did suck.

I guess I, basically, reject the idea that "the referees have to keep blowing hair-trigger whistles to maintain the flow". I think the officiating would be much better if they were simply instructed on what behaviour ought to be deterred, and then left to their own judgement.

Of the 5 calls I noted, only the Phaneuf one was a classic "bad call", which theoretically could have been made any season. The other 4 were all near the boards, at much less than full-speed, and the infractions had no impact on flow or even possession.

That's why I'm impatient at times: because it doesn't need to be this way.

Yeah, I'm not quite on the Tom Benjamin Grumpy Train just yet, but I heartily agree about the overzealous enforcement. For one thing, dives aren't called to offset borderline calls. They did it earlier this year, but I haven't seen a dive call in months. Players are flopping around everywhere, usually at one-handed stick tugs.

Referees for that game:
Tom Kowal/ranked #9
Kevin Pollock/ranked #25
in my 14 day Mid season PIM study "who will let them play"
There were 10 minor penalties called
Cgy 2-6 on the PP, Mon 1-5

Contrast that with a game played 1/11 refereed by Shane Heyer (#32) & Don VanMassenhoven (#36 last). 30 minor penalties called and a total of 42 penalties.

There were several games played in a 3 day period around that time with a total of 5 or 6 penalties.

"New NHL" indeed
Anyone remember
"New Coke"

I will stand with Tom Benjamin.

Ha! That 'New Coke' analogy came to me as well while watching the 1st period.

If they ease off on the chintzy calls, we can call it NHL Classic.

I just don't understand why these guys keep finding themselves in positions where there's a risk of a call. I'm talking about wrapping your stick around someone's torso without "intending to slow him down". I'm talking about "playful" holding. I'm talking about, yes, "harmless" crosschecks. It's simple: why do it if it's not affecting the play and you know the refs are going to act all Gestapo-ey? Play the puck. Is that hard to grasp?

If you ask me, this is mostly about players who are too stupid to figure out the new environment. Sure, we've got a few bad refs. But Pronger and his Orbs of Power understood from the first week: "If you're going to draw a penalty, hurt somebody."

For Colby:
The guys are doing it because they can get away with it 2/3 of the time with responsible refs who don't call Interference unlless it is interference. The lack of diving calls is due to the suspensions and heavy fines/ refs are reluctant to impose that on the players.

Matt: comparing 'classic hockey" to "Coca cola Classic" is even better than the New Coke comment.

If you see me thrusting a pipe cleaner into my urethra, and you ask me why I'm doing it, I'll be sure to tell you "Because I can get away with it."

Which is to say, that's not even an answer to the question.

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