When is a penalty not a penalty? When is an automatic suspension not a suspension? When is a penalty not a penalty but maybe a suspension? When is the entire hockey world confused, confounded, and perplexed about what constitutes a penalty? The NHL playoffs is when. Where Ambiguity Happens.
This year’s playoffs have seen, in my mind, the worst officiating that the NHL has produced since Stephen Walkom became public enemy number one in Winnipeg with his atrocious officiating of a Jets game. (I was at the game, don’t remember the opponent, but remember us losing in overtime after a horrendous non call. The entire game was a spectacle in incompetent officiating. Imagine my horror when he became Director of Officiating and Vice President for the entire league.) We have seen multiple incidences of non-calls, blown calls, repealed calls and countless questionable calls that lead the average fan to scratch their head in puzzlement over what actually constitutes an infraction in an NHL game.
For this, I blame, as I am wont to do, the head office of the NHL and their post-lockout creation of the “new NHL rules.” While ostensibly introduced to eliminate stick checking and return the game to one of speed and skill, I believe the unstated intent was to artificially increase penalties called, thus increasing power plays, thus increasing scoring. The whole “Chicks Dig the Long Ball/High Scores” phenomenon brought to life on ice. The NHL knew there was no way to actually increase scoring back to 1980s levels (thanks to over expansion and dilution of the on-ice product) without using gimmickry, hence the “new rules” which is just an NHL marketing department euphemism for gimmickry.
Hockey is probably the most breath-taking of all the major sports when the skill set is played to its utmost capacity. A combination of size, speed, and skill all on the width of a blade that can leave viewers amazed at what they are seeing. At it’s best, hockey is a non-stop series of wind sprints, a constancy of actions being performed by magicians who can fly without having their blades leave the ice surface. When it’s occurring I defy anyone who is watching it, in person or on television, to change the channel. It is the reason the phrase, “we will sell you the whole seat, but you will only need the edge” has entered our lexicon. At its worse, unfortunately, hockey is a constant series of whistles, and artificial stoppages in play. For whatever reason, the NHL head office seems intent on ensuring its games are a constant start and stop, all in the name of (hopefully) artificially increasing scoring and scoring chances. It’s a shame, because in the (paraphrased) words of Hall of Famer Bobby Clarke when he was on The Illegalcurve.com Radio Show, “it’s been a great game for a long time-they need to stop trying to change it now.”
For Illegal Curve, I am Drew Mindell.
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