Officiating Follies in the Stanley Cup Playoffs

Ed Note: Reprinted from 5/27/2009

I was just reading the 5/26 edition of Puckhead Nation (ed Note, a former NHL Roundtable) when something struck me. In my opinion, the biggest story wasn’t touched.  A lot of discussion — again — centered on who should control franchise locations, but there was nothing on something much more critical to the future of the NHL. Quenneville was fined $10,000 for his remarks following Sunday’s game.  Is there any doubt that, if Babcock had expressed himself on Friday’s game, his pocketbook would be even more empty?

Should leagues be willing to fine participants (players, managers, owners) for “disrespect”?  Isn’t levying such a fine itself disrespectful of free speech.  And if there is any truth to the comment deemed disrespectful, what are we teaching ourselves, our children, and potential fans about the values of “sportspersonship”?  (“You will be punished unless you say the ‘proper’ things?”)

Chicago BlackhawksThe two games played between Chicago and Detroit on Friday night and Sunday afternoon were not hockey.  I know, they were not world football (soccer) or curling, but neither were they ice hockey.  The officiating was too miserable in both to be considered as such.

One of the tenets of the constitution of officiating is that officials should be as invisible as possible.  They are there to facilitate the game, mainly by seeing to it that the rules are followed by both teams and settling interpretations of the rules when necessary.

It is impossible to meet this condition always, of course, since there are situations that occur where there is no “right” call.  Any possible action will be unfair to someone.  Yet the calls, or lack of them, must be made.  But if a discussion of the game contains a phrase like “The scoring surge of the Termites started after the controversial call…” then the goal of invisibility has failed.

The fiasco started with the first period of the Friday night game.  Detroit drew 15 minutes of penalties (including a major and a double minor) to only 6 for Chicago — and this does not include a game misconduct to Detroit.  I challenge anyone to say that the play in the first period showed that the teams were that different in how they followed the rules.  Was Detroit truly the ”evil empire” that the discrepancy in penalty minutes might suggest?

I will not go into a discussion of the Kronwall hit on Havlat at this point.  It was clearly controversial.  But the official’s call regarding it had a very destructive impact on the rest of that game and on the next one.  Whatever the reasons, the result was something which had no resemblance to hockey.

One announcer suggested that the referees might have been calling things the way they were because, he hypothesized, Chicago had warned the NHL about Detroit checking offenses.  (A weird suggestion, to be sure, from a physical team like Chicago and reminiscent of the Dallas “warning” to the NHL about Holstrom the previous year.)  But whatever the reason for the first period debacle, there were only 6 minutes of penalties called for the rest of the game — all against Chicago. Unfortunately by then, the damage had been done.  The change in penalty calling suggests that the officials knew they had gone over the edge of reason in the first period.

This brings us to Sunday’s game.  I heard one report which I cannot otherwise substantiate, that the referees had spoken to both teams before the start of the game about how they intended to call the game.  They stated (according to the report) that they did not want a repeat of the first game.  The first period wasn’t too bad, even though there seemed to be some inclination on the part of the ’Hawks to get revenge for the perceived illegal hit that Kronwall put on Havlat.

Detroit Red WIngsBut at the end of the first period, Chicago — down two goals — tried to get more aggressive.  Understandably under the circumstances, they picked up some additional questionable penalties.  Apparently this angered the Chicagoans who taunted the referees, resulting in the last half of the game in which they picked up three misconducts and a large number of minor penalties.  To say that the relatively inexperienced ’Hawks lost their cool doesn’t explain the entire disaster.  There were many penalties against Chicago which should not have been called by any standard.  (And some non-calls which should have been called against Detroit, as well.)

In other words, Sunday’s game continued Friday night’s parody of a hockey game, for the players and for the fans.  They resulted in neither team having a real opportunity to show they could play hockey, although Chicago did in the third period Friday night and Detroit did in the first period Sunday afternoon.

Detroit’s loss in overtime in Game 3 was not as devastating as Chicago’s loss in Game 4, although no team in a playoff series can ever really afford a loss.  The series are too short and too much can happen to write off a game.

Because of these officiating follies, the showpiece of the NHL — the Stanley Cup playoffs — has been severely compromised.  The parade of players to the penalty box is not an impressive way to recruit new hockey fans.  This is something that the NBA had recently discovered but that the NHL is still clueless about.



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