02/23/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak
"Garage League". That's what Mario Lemieux said about the NHL before retiring from hockey in 1997. Why did Lemieux call it that? Because the officiating was so bad at the time, the NHL became a clutch and grab league where trapping took the place of goal scoring as a way to win games.
Fast forward to 2015, and it feels like the garage door is starting to open again. If you're a fan of hockey like I am, you know what I'm talking about. There's this word called "consistency" that doesn't seem to exist in the NHL when it comes to calling penalties on the ice. After the NHL lockout that wiped out the 2004-2005 season, the league came back with new rules designed to eliminate the trapping, clutching, and grabbing, and make the game exciting again. In the 2005-2006 season that followed the lockout, there were an average of 5.85 power plays per each team. This season, power plays per game are down to 3.14 per team, and at this point in the season, that equates to the lowest number of power plays in the history of the league.
This has nothing to do with better behaved players in the NHL today. It has to do with the number of penalties not being called even though they are being committed. What does the NHL not understand about this? Fans watch hockey to see goals. Fans pay good money for tickets to see the likes of Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, and Alexander Ovechkin score goals. They're not paying to see the likes of Steve Ott hold one of them in the corner or be able to hook and hack them all the way up the ice. The rules in the NHL rule book are clear. So why is it so hard for the officials to enforce them on the ice? It's your job to call what is a violation of the rules, but that job is not being done. How ridiculous is the NHL officiating? Slashing a player and breaking his stick is an automatic penalty, but slashing a player across the hands, arms, or legs may or may not be called pending on who the referee is. And there are TWO referees who seem to blind on the ice. The lack of consistency happens game to game pending on who is officiating the teams game that night. So what last nights ref deemed to be a penalty, tonight's ref may not see it that way. Heck, the lack of consistency seems to occur from period to period this year, where one call was made in the first period, but the exact same thing in the second period isn't called a penalty. The rules are clearly defined, so having consistency shouldn't be a problem.
And it's not just the lack of penalties, its the "call on the ice" sequence that plays out when a goal being scored or not is disputed. I've watched it happen multiple times where the official said "the call on the ice stands". But the problem is there wasn't a call on the ice. The referees just look on like they're confused and hope that someone in Toronto sorts it out. For the call on the ice to stand, there actually has to be a call on the ice.
I don't get it, I really don't. Hockey is an exciting sport. The NHL is loaded with great offensive players. But they can't show that greatness because the league's officials won't call the game as it's supposed to be called. I'm not saying I want to see an NHL that becomes todays NFL where playing any kind of defense seems to be illegal. I just want to be able to watch the NHL and enjoy the game for it's skill, not play guess the penalty call every night. And the players want that too. Consistency please, that's all we're asking. And by asking for that, all we're really asking for is for NHL officials to do their jobs. Because it seems the NHL is backing into that garage again.
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