How do you stop the dirty play in the NHL?

Jeff Blay: It’s no secret the 2012 NHL Playoffs have begun with a nasty tone and have been quite controversial. Between the massive amounts of scrums, fights and penalty minutes that have been handed out through the first round, in addition to several suspensions and injuries, as San Jose Sharks’ coach Todd McLellan put it, some of the series have been “borderline chaos.” What doesn’t help this situation is some of the highly criticized officiating, which includes several missed calls (such as the Danny Briere offside) in addition to the lack of control officials have had over the players. While Game 4 of the Pittsburgh/Philadelphia series was toned down quite a bit opposed to Games 2 and 3, the chatter amongst NHL fans and media has yet to cease, and by the looks of it, will only continue as we push further into the post-season. Of all the hoopla in the first round, what are some of the biggest occurrences that you think have either affected the outcome of a series or set a bad precedent for the future?

Tim Kolupanowich: Well first of all, at this point a blown offsides call is the least of their worries. From what I noticed in Game 3 in Philadelphia, the officials had no control over the players. The brawl in the first period wasn’t an instantaneous event, it started several minutes after the initial scrum behind the net. The on-ice officials simply didn’t do a good enough job separating the players and getting them to their respective benches, allowing the players to remain in each others’ faces, setting sparks on a fuel canister that already is the Philadelphia-Pittsburgh rivalry. The same thing in the third period; after two headshots thrown by James Neal, he was only given a single minor for charging. Had the referees given him a misconduct (as former referee Kerry Fraser feels they should have) he wouldn’t have had to skate past all the Flyers and that brawl would have been avoided as well. I’m all for tough, physical hockey and I’m a fan of fighting (to a point), but these playoffs are getting out of control. Do you think the on-ice officials can do a better job preventing these situations?

On-ice officials generally do a good job at keeping dirty play to a minimum, but off-ice officials can better keep cheapshots at bay. (pirate johnny/Flickr)

JB: It’s certainly up to the officials to set the tone as far as what will be tolerated and what will not, but we also have to give them credit as being an NHL referee is very mentally and physically exhausting. A lot of pressure is put on officials and they rarely get any credit or sympathy. That said, they are professionals and when certain calls or lack thereof could potentially sway or change a all-important playoff series, they definitely have to make the right ones. Another point I’ve thought over is the fact that five years ago (and even sometimes today) fans and media would criticize refs for stepping in to these situations too early and calling penalties too often in the post-season. Not that those people are necessarily right but, I think it’s a case of the game advancing and changing much faster than those who operate and work in the league can handle or adapt to. Now more than ever, the pressure is on for the NHL to do something about player safety, but that may not be as easy as some pundits make it out to be. Nonetheless, you’re absolutely right that officials need to be on their A-games and make the right decisions when dealing with situations that can escalate quickly.

TK: You’re definitely right about the referees being under a lot of pressure and not getting enough credit. There is a fine line to walk between letting the players play and calling every infraction and they get it right way more often than not. They established they wouldn’t tolerate anything cheap in Game 4 and it hurt the flow of the game at times. But the players are looking for an edge in the game wherever they can find one and will push the envelope as far as they are allowed. That’s where I feel there is a need for greater and more consistent supplementary discipline. If you ask me, the maximum $2,500 fine for a player is a total joke. These guys run up restaurant tabs bigger than that.

JB: That’s definitely a massive flaw in the NHL’s disciplinary system. $2,500 is, like you said, a total joke. And what’s worse is that coaches, who make way less than most players, are getting fined more for simply expressing their opinion – causing no physical harm to anyone. As our favourite columnist at The Hockey News best put it on Twitter yesterday, “Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is fined 4 Zetterberg head-slams for not applauding the NHL’s unassailable reputation.” It’s clear something is wrong here. Does the officiating need to be better or is it up to the NHL’s disciplinary department to make some changes before next season? In the long run, definitely the latter. Officiating may not always be perfect but, I think they do a pretty good job overall.

According to the NHL, John Tortorella's curse was eight times worse than Shea Weber slamming Henrik Zetterberg's face into the glass. (Paul Nicholson/Flickr).

TK: The officiating is just fine; they may make some errors in judgment, but they are human and have to make the right call the first time in real speed while everyone else gets the benefit of multiple slow-motion replays. The problem is what you, Adam and just about everyone else has discussed that the NHL doesn’t seem to get is discipline is just plain laughable. Slamming someone’s face into the glass? $2,500. Calling the referees a “disgrace”? $10,000. Matt Carkner drops Brian Boyle and tried to punch the defenseless player in the face seven times? Well because he has bad aim and none of them actually landed, one game. Rangers coach John Tortorella points out a knee-on-knee hit and calls the Penguins organization arrogant? $20,000 because he (gasp!) cursed. Well, that’s a load of crap.

They are so concerned with hurt feelings, but evidence shows they really don’t care if a player ends up in the hospital or has his career put in jeopardy. The NHL is that playground bully that gives noogies and Indian burns to all the nerds, but goes crying to the teacher the moment one of them makes fun of the D he got on a test. They can make a rule change in a day if they want to. And remember that 17 game suspension to Matt Cooke last season? It worked! So why aren’t there more of those? Things looked so promising in the preseason when there were two suspensions of at least two games and the average length of the nine handed out was 6.67 games. Then the regular season comes around and the average length of the 35 suspensions was 2.97 games. There was so much promise in Brandan Shanahan and now we’re back to the Wheel of Justice. It’s pathetic.

Opps. I said something ill of the NHL. I guess I should check my inbox for a fine. Should’ve hit somebody in the head instead.

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