NHL Decision-Making: A Case of Collateral Damage

Written by Habsterix, AllHabs.net

By wanting to improve on something, you run the risk to negatively affect what’s already working, despite your good intentions. That’s what happened to the NHL since the arrival of Gary Bettman, a man with no prior hockey knowledge, as commissioner and decision-maker of a 100-year-old league.

NHLHomer 300x170 NHL Decision Making: A Case of Collateral Damage

PENTICTON, BC. — Wanting to expand and grow the US market in search of notoriety and of a new TV contract, Gary Bettman allowed teams like Quebec City, Winnipeg and Minnesota to move into non-traditional hockey markets. Instead of solidifying what was already in place, Bettman rushed and over-expanded into other American cities, bringing the total of teams to 30 and at the same time, diluting the talent pool to what we have now. And guess what? Still not a viable US television contract to speak of, but plenty of owners and teams needing financial support from the NHL, none more obvious than the Phoenix fiasco.

But it’s when looking at the rules and the on-ice decisions that fans are truly puzzled. The arrival of the two referee system was supposed to ensure that no calls would be missed, no infractions would go unnoticed. It’s hard to argue with the theory but what the league didn’t consider is the fact that you then bring in two different personalities, and the possibility of two separate judgments on the ice. How many times have we witnessed the closer referee purposely letting the play go on by choosing not to call a penalty, only to see the other referee calling it from 100 feet away? That’s not counting that by doubling the number of referees, it brings guys up from the AHL who are not ready or for whom the play is way above their head. You’re also adding an additional body on an ice surface already over-crowded, creating havoc for everyone.

Taking advantage of the lockout, the NHL wanted to improve on the speed of the game by taking away the red line at center ice, by creating a “no-play zone” for the goaltenders, and by calling the interference penalties, in hope to say goodbye to the “dead puck era.” Again, we can’t deny that the game is faster than ever. The side effects that they didn’t think about is the fact that the defensemen now have a bulls-eye on their back when chasing the puck into the corners, and making forwards more vulnerable to open ice hits in the neutral zone. While Bettman and his pundits try to deny that there is an issue with concussions and head injuries in the NHL, stats clearly show otherwise. They simply didn’t think about that.

When in the early 90’s, they decided that star players needed additional protection against the potential of so-called goons going after them, the NHL decided to be more severe and add to the instigator rule. While they won’t admit to it, they were also hoping to reduce fighting in hockey but since many markets, especially in the US, loved that aspect, they couldn’t ban it all together. With the changes to the instigator rule, they’ve created a bigger and much, much more dangerous monster: the rat, as Brian Burke describes the cheap shot artist feeling totally secure today, hiding behind that rule. While there have always been cheap shots in hockey, I have never seen the issue being as bad as we’re seeing it now. Rats and goons rarely went after Lafleur as Bouchard, Tremblay, Nilan, Kordic or other players would be right in their face. Rats and goons didn’t dare touch Gretzky as Semenko or  McSorley would be teaching them a lesson or two. By wanting to protect the stars, the NHL exposed them instead and it’s been right in front of us for the last couple of season, even more prominent in this year’s playoffs.

I was reading recently a French reporter describing Sidney Crosby as a bad captain, based on his antics during the series against Philadelphia, and I was shaking my head. The referees aren’t calling penalties and the league’s disciplinarian has obviously received orders from up above to ease up on the great work he started at the beginning of the season, to the point where players and fans don’t know what to expect. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Shanahan resigning at the end of the season as he’s now become a puppet. With the severe instigator penalty taking much of the players ability to police themselves and keep each other accountable, the NHL has exposed its’ biggest stars instead of protecting them. Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux, Jonathan Toews, Ryan Miller, Nicklas Backstrom, Daniel Sedin, just to name a few, all have a huge bulls-eye on their heads… and that won’t get any better until the league decides to amend the instigator rule. Anti-fighting extremists will use the concussion excuse to their benefit, although a recent stat shows that less than 3 per cent of concussions are the result of fights and ignoring that the other 97 per cent is mostly from hits. Should the NHL ban hitting in hockey?

By trying to improve on a game that was already good, the NHL has created a monster and perhaps they could use this time negotiating with the NHLPA for a new collective bargaining agreement to address those issues at the same time.

En français: LNH: Les Dommages Collatéraux

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About the Author

Profile photo of J.D. Lagrange
Habsterix is a fictional character created for the sole purpose of the internet. Based on the cartoon Asterix of Gaule, his magic potion is his passion for the Montreal Canadiens. How old is he? His close friends will tell you that he’s so old, his back goes out more than he does! He was born when Béliveau lifted the Cup and remembers the days when seeing the Habs winning was not a wish, it was an expectation. For him, writing is a hobby, not a profession. Having moved to beautiful British Columbia in 1992, he started writing mostly in French to keep up his grammar, until non-bilingual BC friends pushed him into starting his own English Blog. His wife will say that he can be stubborn, but she will be the first to recognise that he has great sense of humour. He is always happy to share with you readers his point of views on different topics, and while it is expected that people won’t always agree, respect of opinions and of others is his mission statement.

2 Enlightened Replies

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  1. don says:

    Well written. My reply wont be.
    Because safety will not be important part of CBA, $$ will be and that is bout it.

    NHLPA is a union is it not? if there is a safety issue, it is up to them to demand better protection isnt it? And i do not hear many players bitching about concussions or safety; nor do i hear it from management. So i must also assume it is not hurting their bottom line. So it is all good right?

    So go nuts is what i say; run em from behind through the boards, stick em in the teeth, goon it up, it is only entertainment after all, the same as WWF is and integrity shouldnt factor in, just put on a good show!
    Slap Shot made alot of money and hell, every one loves a blood sport, we have for a couple thousand years, why try and clean it up now?

    If we can just fire that crazy clown who rants on CBC all will be good.

  2. Cliff says:

    Totally full heartedly agree. Maybe the next round of negociations will begin a correction to a more professional and proper course. How is it that only 1 or 2 of the 7 NHL teams (out of 30) in the best hockey country in the world usually do not make the playoffs? And when they do they usually don’t get beyond the first round (ok there are some exceptions in some years). Oh yes, I hear Bettman, his cohorts and disciples’ immediate answer: conspiracy theory!? Well how about a very closely micro-managed league by a few at the top with all the discretionary powers to nudge and prod subjectively in whatever direction they chose on a near-daily basis. It all adds up in the end with the results we all know and see. That is why these folks love ‘parity’ at all cost and leveling form the bottom. All ways and means of controlling the eventual overall outcome. What organization rewards its best upcoming talent by ensuring them a position with their worst team? Such is the NHL draft system. Be the best and you get to start with the worst. Does that make any sense? If they are smart the best young players will play at their real potential only ‘after’ they are drafted to avoid starting at the bottom. Maybe that’s why many Europeans are now crowding the top of the draft. They haven’t caught on yet. But look closely at who is making the difference on the ice: Canadian players with a bias towards Quebec and the QJMHL, but also Ontario and out West.

    The NHL ‘disciplinary system’ ansers directly those few who micro-manage. How sick is that! Where is the independence, fairness, transparency, accountability and on and on.

    Hopefully the NHLPA will attempt to re-balance some of this nonsense but I for one is not holding my breath.

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