by Mike Chen on 06/11/09 at 03:30 AM ET
I haven’t written too much on the Cup final as Tony and the Chief carry their respective flags pretty well, and most of the other media attention is thoroughly covered on the main KK page. That doesn’t mean I haven’t watched, though, and I think we can all agree on the fact that the officiating’s gotten worse as the playoffs have gone on.
There was a time after the lockout when it wasn’t like this. If you’ll recall the 2006 Final with Carolina and Edmonton, the level of officiating wasn’t at the regular season level, but fairly close.
Instead, this has gotten to a point where the refs (and their overseer, Stephen Walkom) have established a precedant and now they can’t seem to go back on it. Interference, hooking, cross-checking, all of it goes uncalled by both teams except for either really blatant fouls or random “statement” calls.
Obviously, you’re going to get officiating complaints from fans involved with any playoff series. Maybe the magic powers of the internet have made them all the more vocal, but I get the sense that people are more disgruntled with officiating than in previous years. And I know I’ve seen more mainstream articles calling out the officiating in previous years. The fact that ref complaints are so loud and so numerous, not only in the typical fan situation but as observations from general hockey media, seemingly points to a desire for the standard to be upheld. In other words, as much as there’s support for the notion of “let the boys play,” ultimately, most people want the rules to be called.
I’ll say that again in hopes that Walkom is somehow paying attention: ultimately, most people want the rules to be called.
The pro-“let them play” contingent includes MSG’s Sam Rosen, who was on NHL Live saying that he didn’t want any interference, hooking, etc. called if it didn’t directly take away a scoring chance. Isn’t that a little bit of a catch 22? If you interfere with a forechecker, it might not be a direct breakaway but how can you say with 100% certainty that that forechecker wouldn’t have produced a direct scoring chance? Perhaps that high-speed forechecker forces a bad turnover and leads straight to a goal. There’s no way to know, but the idea the notion that Rosen is perpetuating winds up killing the notion of what the post-lockout NHL was supposed to be about.
Rosen even said that he believed in the notion that the game should be called differently in the first 10 minutes compared to the last 20 seconds. That’s something I’ll never, ever understand. If it’s a penalty in one instance, it should always be a penalty—the context of a rule should never be applied. The fact that someone respected in the league like Rosen has this mentality tells me that there’s still a long way to go with erasing it.
Perhaps the refs let the Final slip even worse because the Wings and the Penguins statistically don’t take many penalties and are skating-based systems, so things can still remain fairly up-tempo with the extra interference going on. Twisted logic, but I have to wonder if the refs would call it tighter if it were two teams with bad reputations, like the Ducks and the Flyers.
In a perfect world, I’d love for the refs to meet with both teams before Game 7 and say, “Look, we know we haven’t been calling it tight but this is one game for the Stanley Cup and we’re going to call it by the book. Know that and don’t push it.” But that’s not going to happen. The league has fallen into its old habit of letting the rules erode away.
The bottom line is that pro athletes will try anything they know they can get away with. It’s their nature as competitors of the highest level. To let it go on a slippery slope gives way to the old “give an inch, take a mile” notion. It’s marred what has been otherwise a gloriously entertaining playoffs, and I can only hope that Walkom can look at the fairly vocal outcry from fans and media and say, “Not again next year.”
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