The Bloggers’ Tribune Debate Club: Officiating and Player Safety in the Playoffs

We’re back for another wonderful edition of the Bloggers’ Tribune Debate Club. This week, we discuss how officiating changes during the NHL playoffs and whether or not we believe the league will ever show a concern for player safety.

The Participants

The beautiful minds behind  The Bloggers’ Tribune – Jon (Twitter handle unknown) & Tom (@PuckDontLie).

The man who hates the London Knights almost as much as he loves selling out – Adam (@ElSeldo)

Photographer of the ASU women’s hockey team, and girl who has no idea what she’s getting herself into – Taylor (@taylorsedona)

Last but not least, the man, the myth, the legend, he’s the reason Connor McDavid is so good – the one and only @JSBMjeanshorts

 

How do you feel about referees ‘putting the whistle away’ in the playoffs?

Jon: A lifetime of watching hockey has prepared me for this, and I’ve made peace with it long ago. I’m all for fewer interruptions to the game, want it played fast with few whistles because that’s when it gets disorganized and fun. I think imperfect reffing is part of the game and in a perfect world we’d do away with video reviews as well and the puck over the glass penalty.

That being said, you completely put the whistle away and you’re back to the clutch and grab dead puck era which made me walk away from following hockey for a while. There’s also the fact that it’s probably a good thing to keep players from trying to kill each other. I acknowledge that by being a fan of putting the whistle away, I’m supporting the escalation that leads to players trying to kill each, but in a “have my cake and eat it too” world, I’d prefer fewer whistles, fewer small penalties, but also fewer stretchers.

Taylor: In a way I think it’s okay and good for the game. I want to be clear I mean this only for the small, borderline calls. Ones that are close to call and not overly important. I feel like sometimes small calls break up the flow and rhythm of the game. Playoff hockey is something else, it doesn’t need to be stopped every 5 seconds. However, I think letting players get too caught up in the play and not calling very obvious and sometimes dangerous penalties does nothing positive for the game. Putting the whistle away in that case only results in injuries or reckless play.

Tom: Do I like it? No. Do I expect differently? Absolutely not. Like clockwork, every year when the playoffs begin, officiating in the NHL changes and with it comes complaints. You’d think hockey fans would be used to it by now. Honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about it since I’m so conditioned to expect it.

Sure it sucks to watch a game going up and down the ice with hook after hook go uncalled, only to have a team finally get a powerplay for something as stupid as the puck going over the glass. I suppose what I’d ask for is consistency and really, the only way officiating can be consistent is to stick to the regular season standard and call the game the way the rulebook says – or at least a close approximation to it.

Adam: Just be consistent from pre-season game one to when the Stanley Cup is rewarded. The games are higher stakes in the playoffs, but that should mean play infractions hurt their teams more and the penalty is higher.

The idea that more should be let go in the playoffs is letting players know it’s ok to slew foot, cross check ,and head hit “because it’s the playoffs”. That’s garbage. If it’s in the rule book, call it.

JeanShorts: I’d be more okay with it if the NHL could ever find any kind of consistency with officiating overall. During the season I think there’s too much tickytacky bullshit called in the name of trying to artificially inflate offence (and that’s without even beginning to talk about the horrible puck-over-glass or “2 minutes for a papermache stick breaking” penalties). AND THEN when you get to the playoffs you’ve got guys pulling MMA moves on each other and it’s “just part of the game”!
I grew up on 90s hockey so there’s still a small part of my brain that is all for the “dirt for dirt” style of play, and if you wanna stand at the edge of the crease and bang home a garbage goal, well you may have to eat 12-15 crosschecks to the kidneys. As someone famous once said “this is the price you have to pay”. But the guys today are too big and fast, and they’re all dressed up like Robocop, so it’s probably in the best interest of everyone involved if the officials do call things a little tighter than they did back when a pregame meal was a ham sandwich and a cigarette.  
Call the blatant stuff, let the more borderline stuff go. Which is, unfortunately, hard to be consistent on thanks to human error, which brings me to question number 2…

 

What is the most frustrating part about playoff officiating?

Jon: I don’t think I find it as bad as most people. I get more exhausted by fans wanting to believe the refs are going against their team. If I had to pick one thing, it’s makeup calls. I hate makeup calls. This is a short answer for me. Any time of the year my answer is makeup calls.

Taylor: The inconsistency, hands down. I feel like this year has been especially bad. Calls need to be made clearly and consistently. In a series where every game matters the officiating has to be fair and as unbiased as possible. I understand consistency between games might be harder to achieve but consistency in a single game shouldn’t be much to ask for. The NHL is a major professional sports league refs are paid to be consistent

Tom: The fact that you’re allowed to slash a man in the leg, the arm, heck sometimes even head without a call, but the second you break someone’s stick with your own, it’s off to the penalty box. If you’re going to ‘let the players play’. then do that – don’t limit yourself to the calls that are stupid even in the regular season.

Adam: That it’s different from regular season. Players should be smarter in the playoffs, not encouraged to be bigger dill holes. Call everything the same, don’t worry about “making up calls” or “affecting the game”. That’s on the players who do stupid shit. A face-off after an offside could lead to a goal, so should we stop calling icing and offside in the playoffs as well?

The department of player safety needs to step up as well, but that’s another rant.

JeanShorts: That it’s not done entirely by robots already? IT’S 2017! COME ON!
I appreciate how tough it is for the officials out there to call a game with a lot of moving parts that happens at 100 KM/H, BUT when the damn Sportsnet crew can show me 4 different angles on a play that clearly show something should have been called a penalty JUST MAYBE they should afford the officials a similar advantage? I mean it probably wouldn’t be great if every time there was a whistle there was a 5 minute review process, but if they’re able to call back goals en masse because a guys skate blade was .000000000000000000000000006 inches offside 83 seconds before a goal was scored surely they could allow for someone sitting in that room with all the TVs from whatever awful Matrix sequel that was to call in and be like “EH, actually Rick Nash smashed him in the mouth, it wasn’t a follow through, that’s a 4 minute penalty”.
I also HHHAAATTTEEEE this bullshit of, like “EARNING” leeway from he officials because you’re a veteran. Both Ryans Getzlaf and Kesler have been draped over Connor McDavid like a fucking cape through the first three games of round two, and hey “that’s just the playoffs”, Connor will just have to learn to play through i- DID ZACK KASSIAN JUST PUSH SOMEONE DURING A SCRUM? TWO MINUTES! HAVE TO SETTLE THIS GAME DOWN! Fans tune into these games to watch the superstars be superstars, and that gets harder to do when they aren’t allowed to actually, you know, PLAY the game #RIPCrosby.

 

Do you think we’ll see a time when the NHL begins to take player safety more seriously?

Jon: I’m not holding my breath for it happening anytime soon, and it’s largely because the NHLPA doesn’t have much of an appetite to bring about change either. The PA might be in more of a difficult position than the league having to be loyal to both the victim and the aggressor. The side they seem to have landed on is that they are going to fight against long suspensions, and frankly I can’t see that being a thing that the league would feel strongly enough to push back on them for. Both sides take the easy way out when it comes to player safety and the health of the players suffers as a result. I don’t really know when this changes but a class action lawsuit is potentially a good catalyst. Unfortunately while it’s still going on any changes will be taken as an admission of guilt, so head trauma, and the LTIR will still be the law of the land. The only way I make my peace with it is by acknowledging those directly impacted by it seem to care less than I do.

Taylor: As of right now? No. As someone who has a premed background and hands on experience with concussion studies this makes me sad and angry. The league has showed time and time again it cares but never enough and in some cases not at all. But I have to have hope. Look at what just happened to Sidney Crosby, imagine how much more impressive his career could have been, had he not been plagued with injuries. As bad as it might sound maybe enough star talent will be hurt that the NHL starts to care – at the very least about money and if we’re lucky as a by product the players.

Tom: You’d like to think so. Gary Bettman and the executive office of the NHL can only dismiss the science behind CTE for so long right? RIGHT?!

The fact of the matter is that when it comes to player safety, the NHL just doesn’t care and the ironic part is that the NHLPA seems to care as little as the league does. When disciplinary cases are heard, the players association always defends the rights of the offender, not the player who the act was committed against – does that seem backwards to anyone else. Until the Players Association starts to show more concern for their own members, we can’t even hope to see the league show the slightest interest in player safety. “Let the players decide the outcome of the game” – you know, the players like Tom Sistito and Tom Wilson, while the best player in the game is sitting in the locker room going through concussion protocol.

Adam: Only if the players demand it, and the players don’t give two shits about player safety. The biggest issue the players should bring to the CBA table is a lack of protection they get from the officials and DoPS for vicious hits. The suspensions are laughable, the fines are spare change, and too much doesn’t get called.

The NHLPA should be looking out for all players safety, but they’d rather go to bat for people like Raffi Torres, Matt Cooke and Dennis Wideman than for the people those players hurt. If the players don’t want to push their union to increase their safety in the workplace, then fuck it, I don’t give a shit about their health anymore.

JeanShorts: If the NFL has taught us anything, the only way the league will ever even start to pretend to actually care will be when a massive, multimillion dollar lawsuit lands on Gary Bettman’s desk. Or when sponsors start pulling out after the Art Ross winner has less than 80 points for the third year in a row because McDavid, Crosby and Stamkos are all in triage because they were concussed by a guy with 4 career goals over a 300 game career. Basically once the money train starts leaving the station, THEN it’ll probably be a serious issues that needs to be looked at. But until then, enjoy cashing those NHL cheques Cody McLeod!  

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