10/21/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak
If you're a hockey fan, there's nothing like the start of a new season. No matter where you're at, the excitement of a new season is everywhere. Whether you're in Chicago where the defending Stanley Cup champions reside, or in Edmonton or Buffalo, where the hope of young talent and fresh start will equal better days ahead. So far it's been the same that the start of every season is. Fans are packing most arenas. Games are being carried and watched both nationally and locally by mostly large audiences. And the officiating is an absolute joke.
The league made changes to better the game in the off season in areas that needed change or improvement. The feeling was that too many games were going to shootout, and that the shootout itself had lost it's popularity with fans. So they adjusted the overtime format to include a 3 on 3 portion to increase the number of games decided before the shootout itself. It also gives players a lot of room on the ice to show off their skills without being obstructed.
With missed calls on offsides and goaltender interference affecting the outcomes of games in the 2015 playoffs, the league instituted it's first ever coaches challenge. Under the premise, a team's coach can challenge the ruling on an offsides play by the opposition that leads to a goal, but is missed on the ice. He can also challenge a goal scored that was the result of goaltender interference, or challenge a call on the ice that interfering with the goalie that wasn't actually interference led to a goal being disallowed.
So if the NHL is willing to make these changes to better the game, why not change the way the games are actually called? When is the NHL going to realize that to be taken seriously as a major sport, something has to change with the way the games are officiated on the ice? Case in point, I live in Pittsburgh, so obviously I'm a Penguins fan. I have already seen multiple penalties that should've been called against opposing players obstructing or holding Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin not called. And this isn't just happening in Pittsburgh. These guys are the NHL's best players. They're the best talent on the ice, they have great offensive skills to display, and they're the guys the fans pay to see or watch on TV. But because the NHL doesn't require their officials to actually enforce their own rules, these guys are being limited in what they can do.
Here's another example. Penguins rookie forward Sergei Plotnikov, who came over from the KHL, gets blatantly tripped in one game and cross checked from behind in another. The explanation the television announcer gives for why a penalty wasn't called in either case. Because Plotnikov is a younger player, he's not going to get those same calls from the refs that a more veteran player would. Wait, what? Could you imagine an official in the NFL ignoring blatant pass interference against a wide receiver because he was a rookie? Could you imagine an NBA referee turning a blind eye to an obvious foul because the player fouled isn't "veteran enough"? You couldn't imagine that happening if you're a fan of either of those sports because it's just ridiculous. But it's commonplace in the NHL.
Scoring jumped 20% from the 2003/04 season, which was the season before the lockout, and the 2005/06 season, which was the first one after the lockout. Why? Because penalties, such as obstruction, were actually being called. Last season the power play opportunities per game was the lowest in NHL history. Not the lowest in the last decade, not the lowest since expansion in the early 1990's, the lowest EVER. And that's also why Jamie Benn, the NHL's leader in scoring last season, had 87 total points last season. That was the first time since 1968 that the scoring leader had less than 90 points
The solution isn't complicated. The rules are there. So why is it so hard for the NHL to enforce them?
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