NHL Officiating a game in itself

If you’ve found the time to read this article amongst the many blogs about hockey and the NHL, I’m pretty sure why. The mere thought of the NHL and it’s officiating system has hijacked your attention. Perhaps you recall a game where you were simply baffled at a ruling the men in pinstripes had concocted when they came to their decision? Even worse, their penalties had sent you into a downward spiral that brought about a hasty divorce proceeded by a trip to the medicine cabinet or the bottom of a bottle? Nonetheless, there is a systemic failure in the method by which the officials calculate infractions and shell out time in the sin bin and I’m here to explain  why.

Before I go ahead and annihilate the current system by which the NHL calls games, I would first like to point out how difficult being an NHL referee is. At the pro level, the game moves lightning fast, and referees consistently have to keep their head on a swivel so as to not get beaned with a puck or have a 220 pound behemoth crash into them while watching a play materialize. It is difficult and often painful work. When a linseman or referee takes a nasty spill during play most crowds erupt in joy. They view it as karma. 

It is common knowledge that there are makeup calls in the NHL, instituted to bring about justice for the team that is shorthanded in error. The NHL brass has no problem with this since 4 on 4 play increases the odds of a goal more than playing at even strength. However, the questionable calls made do in fact have an impact. They confuse teams with regard to knowing what they can and cannot get away with. Each and every player in the NHL is looking to play as far close to the line without crossing over it, and when that line is moved by the officiating  crew it can change the flow of the game as well as a team’s momentum. Very seldom are penalties reversed after being called, but if the referees were given the ability to conference with each other briefly to discuss the matter and cancel the call, fans might see that the NHL agrees it is more important to get it right. After all, this was the reason the coach’s challenge was instituted in the first place. 

Game 3 of the Blackhawks/ Blues first round series was one of the more physical games I’ve watched in this year’s playoffs, and turned chippy pretty quickly once the referees had lost control. It was at this time that Chicago goalie Corey Crawford decided to try and give his team a boost in momentum by getting into a scrap  with Robby Fabbri. Fabbri had been pushed from behind by Jonathan Toews toward crawford and was forced to do his best to avoid him. The minor contact Fabbri had made with the Chicago netminder gave him all the excuse he needed to go after Fabbri. Crawford knew deep down he was never going to recieve an instigator penalty  for the attack, nor was he going to be allowed to take a beating at the hands of Fabbri since either a referee or  teammate would come to his defense. It was a simple matter of risk vs. reward and in this instance there was no risk so why not? Well not only did Chicago get the boost in emotion they so desperately needed, but the advantage given was compounded when St. Louis was handed a penalty after the scrum. Let’s recap, Fabbri checked from behind, Fabbri punched by goalie when he wanted no part of Crawford, powerplay for Chicago and they score.

Is this the type of justice or fair play we can expect for the future of a game we passionately love. Why does Crawford get to stay on the ice and effect the outcome while Fabbri, one of St. Louis’ best penalty killers sits in the box helpless? I can only speculate that the NHL believes that goalies can only be victims and never the aggressor. If Chicago had won on Tuesday this play would have certainly been a rather large contributing factor. 

NHL referees are not perfect, they are people after all. However, the manner in which officiating is allowed to influence a game’s outcome is disturbing. Referees generally attempt to levy an equal number of penalties on both sides so that nobody may question why one team recieved more than another, thus confirming their nuetrality. The fundamental flaw in this process is that one team is either being penalized more or less times than what they had  deserved. If the league truly wants an unbiased officiating system in place they must rid them selves of biased principles and think more black and white. A penalty is a penalty regardless of what the score is or how many your opponent has taken. Also, I do not understand how a player can be called for embellishment but their opponent always receives an offsetting penalty?  I can only imagine what it would be like if the US and Canadian judicial systems mirrored the NHL. You could very well have someone steal your car and once they were caught, share a cell with them.

 

 

Bruins must move Subban

It’s no secret that the Boston Bruins have lost their swagger. Their defensive woes are well documented. Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg are no longer a formidable duo, capable of suffocating the very best that the NHL has to offer. While it’s easy to throw blame throughout the B’s front office as to who is responsible for their decline, it doesn’t solve the problem. The Bruins are a leaky bunch on the back end.

This June’s NHL draft may offer a solution for Boston, provided they are willing to part ways with blue chip prospect Malcolm Subban. Subban is simply a luxury Don Sweeney cannot afford to retain; not with Tuuka Rask signed through 2021 and former North Dakota backstop Zane McIntyre blocking shots with the Providence Bruins. The Bruins also drafted 6’5 netminder Daniel Vladar of the Czech Republic who is currently playing in the USHL with the Chicago Steel and boasts a .920 save percentage. Needless to say the Bruins are pretty safe when it comes to goalies.

The NHL recently announced partial details of what teams may  expect with 2017’s expansion draft. Every GM is following these developments closely. Players in the first two years of their entry-level contract are exempt, and you’re only allowed to protect one goalie. This means that unless the Bruins trade Subban to help clean up their mess on the back end, they will risk losing him for nothing the following year. Let’s just say the odds of a new franchise in Quebec City or Las Vegas plucking Subban away are better than certain.

The thought of packaging Subban and Alexander Khoklachev to a team like Buffalo in exchange for a young NHL blueliner like Jake McCabe is interesting. They could also reach out to Ottawa and inquire about Cody Ceci. Any return for Subban would need to bring back a promising defender just beginning his NHL career. Simply acquiring a pick or two doesn’t solve the dilemma they find themselves in.

If the Bruins can manage to clear Seidenberg and Chara’s cap hits off the books this June while moving along young players in need of a change of scenery like Subban, Khoklachev, and Seth Griffith it would be a start. It would also allow Sweeney to possibly bring in UFA Keith Yandle at the same 3 million cap figure and extend Torey Krug. 6’5 Brandon Carlo has all the makings of that physical two way defender who can fill Dennis Seidenberg’s shoes. He is also capable of manning the power play and running the umbrella if needed. Colin Miller would be able to pair up with a veteran like Yandle and regain the confidence that he lost last season. The talent is there, and one can’t blame him for losing his game when every defender in Boston had done the same.

In the end, all the Bruins would be losing are two players with huge cap hits long past their prime. The potential return they could very well acquire with two first round picks, the Islander’s second rounder, and the haul from moving Malcolm Subban at this year’s draft will be needed to reshape the back end if they have any plans of returning to the Stanley Cup.

 

The Gentleman

Jimmy Vesey has taken alot of flak lately, but for all the right reasons. As recently, as two weeks ago Predator’s GM David Poile and company had been hammering Vesey in the media. The Harvard Senior captain and two time Hobey Baker finalist had informed  the Predators he would not be signing in Nashville, choosing instead to become a free agent on August 15th.

To understand why Vesey opted to return for his senior season, it would help to understand Hobey Baker himself. The award, given annually to the top college hockey player in the land that exemplifies  character, ability, and leadership was named after the Princeton and St Paul’s graduate who had fought and died in World War 1. Baker was a quiet and humble man and regularly visited the opponents’ locker room each game to shake hands. 

While many people in the hockey community have seen Vesey play, they don’t quite know the man himself. Vesey is a soft spoken, quiet young man. He attended Belmont Hill, a prep school that boasts St. Paul’s as one of it’s biggest rivals. It has been said that during his final year at Belmont Hill, in a player’s only meeting, Vesey suggested the team not keep individual stats opting instead to focus on becoming a better team. It was this type of mentality that contributed to NHL scouts missing the train on Vesey in his draft year as they were not fully aware of his statistical impact.

Over the last several seasons Princeton rival Harvard has experienced a hockey revival. They have consistently been one of the top hockey programs in the country and the ECAC in general boasts two of the past four national champions in Union and Yale. In fact, 7 ECAC teams in 2015-2016 have spent time in the top 20 of the Pairwise rankings, and Jimmy Vesey has been the league’s best player lifting the Crimson to new heights.

It can be argued that no college hockey player has shown more dedication to his school, teammates, and education than Jim Vesey. He has been nominated as a finalist for the senior class “class” award at one of the most prestigious universities in the world that boasts many of it’s future leaders in business, science, and politics. 

Most parents would dream to have a child graduate Harvard. With Jimmy Vesey deferring two opportunities to cash an NHL paycheck and prioritizing his graduation over the NHL on his birthday no less, it has become apparent Vesey truly epitomizes the character and qualities of Baker himself. Come August 15th, 29 NHL teams will pick up the phone looking for a talented hockey player. What they are rewarded with could very well be an exceptional human being.