Lighting the Lamp With Rick Ackerman
There is one absolute during this 2017 edition of the NHL playoffs. It affects every team battling to earn the right to sip champagne from the Stanley Cup and is a continuing source of aggravation and frustration for both fans ponying up the big bucks to attend games and those watching on television. And like the weather, there is absolutely nothing anybody, particularly the coaches and players, can do about it.
Of course, I am referring to the sorry state of officiating in the NHL, be it during the regular season or the playoffs. And it isn’t just the referees. The linesmen are also showing a propensity for being unable to do their jobs properly, including getting icing calls right, knowing what offsides is and being incapable of even dropping the puck properly for faceoffs. How many times during the last playoff game in St. Louis was a faceoff whistled down?
Even the television and radio announcers apparently don’t know what icing is anymore. How often do they begin to announce icing, only to report it was waved off? And offsides calls are so bad that the league had to come up with a new rule last year, giving a coach the right to ask for a review as to whether or not a play was offside after a goal. Small cameras had to be installed on the blue line so officials in the War Room in Toronto could review the play to see if a player was offsides or if his back leg was in the air or on the ice. Ridiculous! That review rule will be deleted from the canon, right?
Wrong! In fact, it has already been announced that it will remain in place for these playoffs and for next season.
Even in this era of sports leagues using instant-replay technology to make sure the right call is made, long-established biases continue to have an impact on the outcome of games. This is abundantly clear as NHL referees avoid calling penalties that can decide playoff matches, even as they favor the home team. Inconsistency is the constant in this instance. Refs are quick to call holding and hooking, yet ignore blatant cross-checking penalties. True, slashing is whistled at times, but it usually takes a broken stick to get the call. It seems that in just about every game, one can hear the fans chanting, “Ref, you suck!”
In the opening round against Minnesota, the Blues were one for 15 with the man advantage, while the Wild were three for 18. And that meets the expectation that calls even out somewhat in the long run, as well as the tradition of not calling too many penalties that might affect the outcome of the game. It’s unfortunate that that did not happen as much during the regular season.
A check of the regular season shows that different story. Using the NHL Referee Statistics in Game Time, of 38 referees who officiated Blues’ games, 25 (or 66%) handed out more penalties to the Note than to their opponents. St. Louis had 483 power plays and had to kill 541 penalties, a difference of 58. The worst offenders were Eric Furlatt (seven more power plays to Blues’ opponents in five games) and Steve Kozari (seven more in six games). They were followed by rookie Garrett Rank (six more power plays to opponents), Dan O’Roarke, Brian Pochmara, Ian Walsh and Trevor Hanson (five more).
Those who awarded St. Louis more power plays include Tom Chmielewski (plus six in two games), Jon McIssac (plus four in five games) and Gord Dwyer (plus three in six games). Everybody’s favorite referee to hate, Tim Peel, awarded both the Blues and opponents 19 power plays in seven games. Peel officiated more Blues’ games than any other ref. Also evening out calls were veterans Chris Rooney and Dave Lewis. One would expect more of a balancing out toward the end of the regular season as the Blues were not an especially dirty team or one prone to taking a lot of penalties.
Naturally, Furlatt, Kozari, O’Roarke, Pochmara and Walsh and Hanson are all working the 2017 league playoffs. The Blues’ best hope is to have Dwyer and, yes, Peel, working the game tonight. Jean Hebert and O’Roarke worked game one in St. Paul, awarding the Blues one more power play than the Wild, four to three. In game two, Kevin Pollock and Brad Meier gave the Wild the edge, three to two. Back in St. Louis, Rooney and Kelly Sutherland gave the Wild a slight advantage, four to three, and in game four, McCauley and Pochmara called it even, each team with two power plays. In game five back in Minnesota, the Wild had two more man advantages, from Francis Charron and Kozari.
While most NHL enthusiasts would prefer the officials pocket their whistles and let the boys play, at some point, blatant, obvious penalties need to be whistled. And it would be hoped there is some consistency to the calls. Yet infractions assessed in the first period are pretty much ignored in the third period and especially in overtime, as, again, referees are reluctant to be accused of deciding the outcome of games. To quote musician Bruce Hornsby, apparently “That’s just the way it is; some things will never change.”
Expect this second-round series between the Blues and the Predators to go seven games and be thankful the Note has home-ice advantage. The wish is that the officiating does not favor one team over the other or decide the outcome of any single game, especially during game seven in St. Louis.