NHL Referee Conundrum

Consistency is arguably the most important quality of a referee. It’s too bad the 2011 NHL playoffs have been mired by inconsistent reffing.

The new rules after the lockout were supposed to free the game up for the skill players of the league and they have done just that. No more ticky-tacky hooking and grabbing. The elite players were allowed to be elite players again.

The early rounds of this year’s playoffs were a different story. It went back to the old rules. They might as well have had the police out on the ice because you had to assault someone in order to get a penalty.

Fast forward to the third round and suddenly the game has switched back to the regular season. In fact, at times it has been worse than the regular season. Penalty after penalty being called as players are constantly marching in and out of the sin bin. A player losing an edge seems to be enough to warrant a tripping call.

The players have no idea what to do. First they can get away with murder and suddenly a tap on the shin is a penalty.

There has been no consistency among each crew and frankly I’m sick of it. You all should be too.

Honestly though, the consistency line should be drawn where they call it during the regular season. All the hooking, holding and tackling should be out of the game. Let’s not give the game back to the grinders.

I don’t mind all the penalties as long as that’s how each crew is calling every game. Players need to at least know how the game is going to be called.

The Nashville-Vancouver series featured bad hockey. Not only are the Predators one of the most boring teams in the NHL but their defensive style was catered to by the referees who decided to lock up their whistles and throw away the key.

The San Jose-Vancouver series, on the other hand, has been dominated by the referees. Game 4 had the Sharks receiving 5 penalties in the first 25 minutes while that was followed by 3 consecutive 5 on 3 power-plays for the Canucks. The difference is astounding between what we saw in the first couple rounds of the playoffs.

I guess the NHL is consistent in its own way though. Their remarkable ability to consistently waver on key issues is always quite impressive. I mean, if they can’t set a precedent with the oh so important problem of head shots then why should we expect any standardization with their refereeing?

Related: NHL Head Shots

I was ready to call conspiracy in the Chicago series and prior to the 3 consecutive 2 man advantages I was ready to call conspiracy in game 4 yesterday. Well, it looks more like a product of bad reffing.

The NHL is your typical deadbeat dad. For some reason you always expect something more from them even though you realize that will never get anything. I have no idea why I still expect change for the better.

The great extent of this mounting problem isn’t realized by most people. Colour commentators and analysts should not be content with what is happening on the ice. Laughing off bad/non-calls and on a rare occasion pointing out a mistake sure isn’t going to invoke any change.

For fans to realize the problem on the ice, the one’s calling the games need to make it their business to show what is wrong with the refereeing. Once an outcry comes from fans and analysts maybe the NHL might start to listen. Okay, that might be a pipe dream of mine but it still shouldn’t be alright for people to be oblivious to or satisfied with the officiating.

The NHL has enough trouble generating an American audience and this year’s inconsistent garbage we see from the referee’s is enough to turn the casual fan away from the game. Fans have to know that this isn’t how the game is always played.

Call a penalty when it is a penalty. Sounds simple enough right?

Don’t let them play or call an excessive amount of penalties. The rule book is there for a reason so how about we have everyone follow it for a change?

It will not only make the game better for the players but more importantly it will make the game better for the fans.

Update: It didn’t matter because the Canucks took game 5 and are off to the Stanley Cup Finals. However, I failed to mention in the article below that the way the referee’s still call the overtime period is absolutely insane. On top of a game that was refereed exactly opposite to game 4, the overtime period featured 4 blatant penalties of San Jose’s and 1 blantant penalty of Vancouver’s that were not called. 2 obvious high sticks and 3 trips that my 85 year Chinese Grandmother could have seen. This isn’t an anomaly for the NHL because when it comes to overtime the whistles are put away. These refs decided they didn’t want to “decide” the game like they did in game 4 but they decide the game just as much when they choose not to call those penalties. Call the game the way you call it during the regular season. Call the game the way that you called it in the 1st and 2nd period. They’re lucky that they were in Vancouver and it took 3 brutally missed calls to get the “refs you suck” chant out of the stuck-up, corporate crowd. This is not the way that the 3rd and overtime period should be called yet the referees continue to stick to their old ways. I said it below but I have to say it again. Enough is enough, this has to change.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. Also, follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

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Exorcising the Demons?

Joe Thornton celebrates after scoring the OT winner against the Kings in round 1

Art Ross, Hart and President Trophies have defined the career of Joe Thornton. For most players that would be a good thing.

Not for “no show.”

Thornton’s ability to pick apart and dissect defences around the league is his trademark. Threading the needle would be an understatement to describe what Joe Thornton does. At least during the regular season.

The playoffs, where legends are made, have been a different beast for Thornton. All the awards and accolades that Joe Thornton has received during the regular season have defined him because of his inability to duplicate that success in the playoffs.

Thornton is your typical underachiever. It may be cruel but he has rightfully been dubbed “No Show Joe.”

Despite consistently leading his teams into the playoffs as high seeds, Joe Thornton has never reached a Stanley Cup Final. Early exits at the hands of heavy underdogs is nothing new to him.

Even “No Show Joe’s” all San Jose line for Team Canada at the 2010 Olympics failed to live up to expectations. They were the worst trio for Team Canada. Luckily, Canadian hockey has more depth than an Olympic sized swimming pool.

This year looks to be different though. Seeded 2nd in the Western Conference, the San Jose Sharks have jumped out to a 3-0 lead against the perennial Stanley Cup contending Red Wings.

Joe Thornton is finally doing his thing. Average Joe isn’t a bad thing for him.

Thornton scored the overtime winner against the L.A. Kings in game 6 of the first round that advanced his Sharks to the Conference Semi-Finals. It doesn’t matter that the puck fell into his lap off of a lucky bounce. All that matters is that he put the puck in the net.

Roberto Luongo said that the feeling of defeating the Blackhawks in game 7 was better than winning the gold medal. That feeling couldn’t have been too far off for Joe Thornton.

His career .74 points per game average in the playoffs is quite far off his career regular season average of 1.01 per game. However, it isn’t just the points average rather it has been his lack of presence in the big games. Thornton carries on his even keel demeanor, while other players turn their intensity up a notch or two. His play suffers because of it.

In the pivotal game 3 against the Red Wings on Wednesday, Joe Thornton had 3 assists in a 4-3 victory.

A lot of fans’ knees are jerking as they are already shedding the choke label off of Joe Thornton.

Not so fast there folks.

Thornton is going to have to do a lot more than sweep the Red Wings in round 2 to shed the label. He is also going to need more than taking down the Predators or Canucks in the Conference Finals, the spot where the Sharks were beaten by the Blackhawks in 2010.

Joe Thornton needs to win a Stanley Cup.

“No Show Joe” will live on unless the captain can finally lead his team to the Promised Land.

Championships shouldn’t define players in team sports. I’m a big believer in that. Hockey, basketball and football are all team games. You can’t win a championship all by yourself.

Joe Thornton is one of the exceptions.

“No Show” has played on some great teams. He has played for good coaches. He has played with outstanding players. The missing link to these championship runs hasn’t been a mystery.

Showing up this year will exorcise the demons for Joe Thornton. He doesn’t need to carry the Sharks on his back but a Stanley Cup victory would sure take the weight of the world off his shoulders.

Related: Rings Don’t Mean a Thing

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. Also, follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

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Luongo Benching Changes the Big Picture

Roberto Luongo will look to the Heavens for a win in Game 7

Alain Vigneault decided to sit Roberto Luongo Sunday night amid speculation that the decision was perhaps “influenced” by GM Mike Gillis. Maybe the Vancouver Canucks brass needs a few pair of glasses because, right or wrong, the choice to bench Roberto Luongo was incredibly short-sighted.

This was a decision no doubt spurred by desperation. A choice that is at best questionable in the short-term. This is a poorly thought out knee-jerk reaction that entails more problems than which goalie is the right man to start Game 7 (Roberto Luongo is starting FYI).

A Canuck future that was as bright as could be hardly a week ago has suddenly turned as bleak as a Hurricane Katrina. There is panic in Vancouver but the panic is not directed where it should be. They’re on the right track though.

The sudden questions concerning Roberto Luongo’s ridiculous contract are almost amusing. Seriously, are people just figuring this out now? Mike Brophy of Sportsnet addresses the issue of Luongo’s contract and what goes through the mind of a GM in crippling his team with an absurd contract in his latest column. It’s too bad there wasn’t this concern from the media when Luongo signed his contract or better yet prior to him signing the contract. However, when things go wrong we see people speak like they knew it all along. Come on now.

Related: Note to NHL GM’s – This is Getting out of Hand

Regardless, it is all in the past and the fact of the matter is that the Vancouver Canucks have to deal with a terrible contract. By starting Cory Schneider in game 6 the franchise made the worst move possible for the future of the club. No, they didn’t make a trade or give out another bad contract.

What they did was possibly ruin the psyche of an already emotionally fragile goaltender.

Mike Gillis calls himself a calculated person. Well if he was the one who handed down the fateful decision he sure made a major miscalculation. In an attempt to save the season of the team he assembled, his work that he indirectly praised, and the embarrassment of having to explain what happened to his supposedly even keel team, he looks to have made the decision that obliterated the confidence of his franchise goaltender.

The Canucks may go onto win game 7, but what if Luongo goes onto have another stinker or two. You might feel inclined to ride Cory Schneider. Sure, that’s all peaches and roses now but Schneider isn’t going to be around much longer. The guy is too good to be a backup and if the Canucks don’t trade him Schneider will be out the door faster than the Canuck fans jumping off the bandwagon once his contract is up.

What will happen in 2 or 3 years when the Canucks are in the playoffs and there is no Cory Schneider to fall back on. There has been an immeasurable amount doubt placed in the already uncertain Luongo. It is firmly entrenched in his brain that he can’t win the big game. The Olympics don’t count. Luongo played a mediocre tournament for a stacked Canadian roster

Roberto Luongo has already had trouble mentally in the tough times but having lost the vote of confidence from the people who had faith in 12 more years is a killer. Luongo already has problems handling the heat of playoff scrutiny and being told that he can’t win the big game doesn’t bode well for the future. How is the man supposed to have any confidence in himself?

Adversity is given in a Stanley Cup run. Look through your crystal ball. Do any of you see Luongo being able to handle the hardships after this incident?

Didn’t think so.

Luongo was forced to come into game 6 after Cory Schneider cramped up. Luongo was fighting the puck every time he touched it. He looked as though his more than nervous. If you combine every synonym to nervous that would probably define what Luongo was feeling when he was thrust into action during game 6.

Fans need to stop playing the Chicago card. It’s getting a bit old. Luongo is not a big game player but it’s not Chicago. It just so happens that he faces Chicago in the majority of his minimal, but growing playoff experience. Correlation does not equal causation folks.

He played outstanding in the first 3 games of the series. Everyone seems to have forgotten that at this point. Other than the first goal in game 4 that he let slip past his glove hand there haven’t been any bad goals and anyone who knows me personally knows that I’m not one to defend the $10 million man.

Sitting him out against Chicago and then playing him in the next series doesn’t mean he will miraculously return to vintage Luongo simply because he is playing a team that’s not named the Chicago Blackhawks. It doesn’t work like that. Athletes don’t gain their confidence back with the snap of a finger.

This decision that the Vancouver Canucks made to bench Roberto Luongo in game 6 may not have immediate repercussions but if an early exit is in tea leaves, make no mistake; they will pay for it in the future. It might be easy to trade Luongo’s 12 year contract on your PS3 but trading virtually untradeable contracts isn’t as easy in real life as it is on NHL ’11.

The Vancouver Canucks are stuck with Roberto Luongo and in this thoughtless decision they seem to have overlooked that.

The season is not all lost but if Roberto Luongo continues his Lebron-like clutch play he will have the fans chanting Luchoke in Vancouver and when they do they can look back on the game 6 decision to start Cory Schneider.

Related: Roberto Luongo the Ex-Factor

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. Also, follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

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Throw the Book at Torres

Raffi Torres and his crazy eyes

If the NHL wants to prove that it is serious in its war against head shots then the time is now.

In game 3 of the Vancouver Canucks’ series against the Chicago Blackhawks, Raffi Torres nailed star Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook in the head (See video here). Torres was playing in his first game back, fresh off of an, in my opinion, unjust 4 game suspension with his hit to the head of a reaching Jordan Eberle.

The hit on Seabrook was the kind of hit you cringe. It’s the kind of thing that the NHL and NFL are trying eliminate.

Head shots.

There is a lot of debate already to whether Torres’ hit was in fact illegal. You can even see in the video Raffi Torres is claiming the newly implemented rule 48 – Illegal Check to the Head. Bob McKenzie tweeted last night he believed initially that this was a classic case of rule 48 “Blindside hit, principal pt of contact to head or targeted head shot.” However, he subsequently tweeted that “When NHL GMs created Rule 48, they allowed area behind net is “hitting area” and players need to be more aware than, say, in neutral zone.”

To be honest, that second tweet just sounds like more ambiguity than anything else and it seems as though there can be a wide range of interpretations to the Torres hit.

The other big issue that McKenzie points out is “principal point of contact. Was it a straight on body check where shoulder also struck head or a “head shot.”??” There is no doubt in my mind that this is a head shot, not a case of his shoulder also striking the head. Whether or not Raffi Torres intended to hit Seabrook in the head is anyone’s guess but there is undeniably a great degree of recklessness involved in the play.

What has to be taken into account here is that Raffi Torres is a repeat offender and I’m not just talking about his most recent hit to Eberle. The CBC broadcast showed his Scott Stevens like elbow to the head of Milan Michalek way back in 2006, which is about as dirty a play as you’re going to see in the NHL.

Repeat offenders need to be punished. When repeat offenders are not punished you get Matt Cooke.

Related: NHL Head Shots

The NHL often finds ways to cop-out of making the hard decision with their interpretation of the vague guidelines set in the rule book. Although it was too harsh to suspend Raffi Torres those 4 games previously, it was (almost) nice to see the NHL make an attempt at showing the players that the Matt Cooke 10 game plus the first round of playoffs suspension wasn’t an anomaly even if it was the wrong one.

They must not revert back to their old ways.

I reiterate, this is a repeat offender. Even if there is a possibility that his hit was in the hazy boundaries of rule 48, a lengthy suspension will deter future offenders. This might have been said with the latest Matt Cooke suspension but I now believe that this decision on Torres will be the monumental verdict that will shape the nature of head shots for the NHL in the next 5 years.

Brent Seabrook shortly after Raffi Torres' shot to his head

This is the turning point in the game, the defining moment of a career. This is for all the marbles.

If the NHL wants to protect its product and its players then they have to come down hard on Torres. Anything less than five games should be heart wrenching for fans. That look of confusion that Seabrook had on the bench following the hit as he attempted to get his mind refocused, like a drunk convincing himself that he is okay to drive, will be the look on your favourite player in due time if the NHL doesn’t fix this pandemic.

Don’t think that the NHL is becoming the “No Hit League” either as some callous fans have deemed it. The safety of the player’s is priority number one and if you don’t care about that then take a look at the latest studies on the effects of concussions and then tell me what you think.

If you watched the game you must have seen Canucks defenseman Dan Hamhuis rock the world of Markus Kruger. That’s what the NHL is all about. It was as clean as my bathroom after using my magic eraser.

If you’re kid does something bad and you don’t punish him he will do it again. Colin Campbell doesn’t know whether he wants to be the good cop or the bad cop though. Well, it’s time for Colin Campbell to fully embrace his inner bad cop and throw the book at Raffi Torres.

Update: Raffi Torres was not suspended by the NHL. In other news, Benoit Pouliot and Chris Kunitz both threw out head shots on Monday in protest…at least I think they were protesting.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. I am now on twitter follow me @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

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3rd Line’s The Charm

Dave Bolland may not be around to help the Blackhawks stop Art Ross winner Daniel Sedin.

If it looks like déjà vu, feels like déjà vu, and sounds like déjà vu then it must be déjà vu. Right?

In a match made in heaven for the mindless, the Vancouver Canucks will face their newfound arch nemesis Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. In case you don’t follow the NHL, the Blackhawks have ousted the Canucks from the playoffs in each of the last two years while giving Vancouver fans a new hobby.

As Vancouverites continue to poke pins and needles into their Patrick Kane dolls, there is also a growing sense of anxiety amongst fans as to the growing likelihood of a first round upset.

The hometown fan depiction of the Chicago Blackhawks as this Mount Everest-like hurdle, that once overcome will lead to our eventual playoff glory is preposterous. The Vancouver Canucks have lost a couple of years in a row to a couple of pretty damned good teams. A Stanley Cup winning team in fact.

At an attempt to be insightful, fans also carry on the notion that somehow the Blackhawks have “gotten in the heads” of the Canuck team, especially goalie Roberto Luongo.

“They’re in our heads.” “They have our number.” I hear it around town way too much.

As clever as it makes you sound, the thought that the Canuck team itself places the Blackhawks on this glorious pedestal as well is just silly.

Although the circumstances of the series may scream déjà vu, the Blackhawks roster of 2011 hardly resembles their Stanley Cup champion roster. Despite the more well-known core of players such as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook still comprising a solid Chicago team, the immense depth that stymied the Vancouver Canucks last season is almost non-existent in the 2011 version of the Blackhawks.

The lack of depth in the salary cap pressed Chicago Blackhawk gives the Canucks a significant advantage that most likely will not be overcome by an otherwise talented group of Blackhawk players.

The key to last year’s series was the ability of the Blackhawks to shut down the vaunted Sedin twins. A combined effort from Chicago’s checking line did a magnificent job of stopping the Sedin’s and essentially Vancouver’s offence.

The problems will lie here for the Blackhawks. A number of important yet underrated checkers lost during the offseason including Andrew Ladd, Adam Burish, Ben Eager and John Madden will pose serious issues for the Blackhawks. Not to mention the questionable health of their most valuable checker, Dave Bolland, who is still out with a concussion.

Moreover, the Vancouver Canucks not only have the Sedin line to carry the offence this year but their increased production from the 2nd line, including 40 goal scorer Ryan Kesler, and improved depth in their bottom 6 will make the task that much more difficult for Chicago’s lack of an adequate checking bottom 6.

The key to this series is in the hands of the bottom 6 and primarily the 3rd lines of each respective team.

The advantage, as you have probably already determined, well that goes to the Canucks. Even though unfairly suspended Raffi Torres is out for the first two playoff games and one of the best faceoff men in the league Manny Malhotra is out for the season because of eye surgery, the Canucks still sport an incredible amount of depth. The deadline day acquisitions of Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapierre add to the plethora of possible bottom 6 candidates in the Vancouver line-up.

Vancouver’s 3rd line may hold the final key to victory but as I wrote in January, goaltender Roberto Luongo is going to need to step it up in order for the Canucks to make a serious playoff run. He has played brilliantly since Christmas but his weak playoff resume leaves much to be questioned from the franchise goaltender.

The supposed “in Luongo’s head” guy in Dustin Byfuglien has departed, which will leave no reason for fans other than choke if Roberto Luongo doesn’t continue to perform in the manner that he has for much of the season.

This fear from Canuck fans of the name and jersey of the Chicago Blackhawks does not reflect that nature of this sure to be passionate first round playoff matchup.

While the mirage of déjà vu in this series may not flee the minds of Vancouver fans, there is no doubt that a Canuck victory would be as satisfying as a cold glass of water in the middle of the Sahara.


Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. I am now on twitter follow me @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

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