Call A Penalty A Penalty, It’s Not Hard

By Scott Kanold

 

If you’ve been watching hockey in the past month or so, read newspapers, blogs, listened to the radio, then you’ve heard  all the talk of the NHL returning to the dead puck era – and era with clutching and grabbing and interferences  – the rules were the same now as they were before the lockout and after the lockout, it hasn’t changed, but the ‘enforcement’ has changed. Now if only the NHL could take it’s head out of its ass and see what a ridiculous notion that is. What if the police just decided not to enforce murder or rape, depending on where and when these crimes are taking place? Sure the police may not enforce things like J-walking, or they may let a few minor offenses go like for example catching you drinking a beer on the street, usually they’ll just make you dump it, and not charge you with it. Why? Because all you’ll get is a fine, and they have to do a lot of paper work for it, and it really isn’t worth it to them when there are bigger infractions going on. Sadly the NHL doesn’t even work in that way. They choose to enforce… uhm  I’m not sure what. Last night during the Canucks vs Canadiens game it was two ‘delay of game’ penalties. They’ll call those every time, every time. But being cross checked from behind head into the boards while they stand right in front of it, naw, we’ll let that go.

I used to get angry at the particular ref, but it’s not really their fault if there’s a mandate to call less penalties, and despite what the NHL would say, there has been, then it’s the NHL’s fault. If there wasn’t a mandate, you’d be getting more inconsistent versions of officiating, and right now, you’re getting consistency. At least in the fact that the ref’s have put away their whistles. That doesn’t come from 100 individuals deciding on their own, and it’s just a coincidence. No. Either the officials got together and decided to do it, or the NHL mandated it. I know they’d love for us to drink the kool aid and believe what they tell us, but facts are facts. We’re now seeing penalties called per game, lower than the dead puck era.

The ‘maybe’ this isn’t a mandate argument is that players and coaches have learned the new rules and figured out how to exploit it and thus the penalties and scoring are down. Really? After 5 years they figured it out in 2 months? Because that’s when this started. It’s not that. It’s an obvious mandate. A mandate that no other professional sports league would do. Why? Because a rule is a rule, not a guideline. You enforce it the same all the time. The NFL, NBA, MLB, FIFA all do the same thing. Sure there are individual ref’s who might think one play is pass interference and the other ref would let it go, that’s just a bad ref, and they don’t tell all their ref’s how to enforce it, other than, you know, enforce the rule book. It’s actually easier to run your league and it’s officiating by agreeing on a standard, and a rule book, and then enforce it as it’s written. You can see which ref’s are doing their job or not. Now, who knows, who knows what the ref’s have been told. And I’m sure the players are even more confused and concerned. Ref’s will call a head shot, but a cross check or a boarding or a trip, all equally as dangerous, are being let go? I wouldn’t be happy as a player. Hey NHL just to let you know, there’s a new CBA  coming up, sure hope no one gets seriously injured by this type of officiating, it may be on the table.

There is no good reason to change what you are enforcing on a game. No good reason at all. You hear the answer that ref’s don’t want to dictate the outcome of a game, but by not enforcing it by the rules, then that’s what they’re doing. If a team is stupid enough to take 15 penalties in a row, as crappy as that sounds to watch, that’s what that team did and the deserve 15 penalties in a row and as many goals that come from that. If a team doesn’t learn, it loses, they lost because they were taking liberties or cheating. If you’ve ever seen the Raiders play in the NFL then they shoot themselves in the foot all the time with repeatedly being flagged, but you never ever ever hear of the officials putting their flags away, you know to even things out, or to manage the game. If your officials are managing games, thats the same as throwing games. There needs to be an investigation, because not calling penalties is cheating, it’s not letting the players decide the game, because unlike what the NHL understands, penalties are a part of the game.

Call a penalty a penalty, it’s not that hard. Or don’t call anything and get the ref’s out of there if all you want is a gladiator fight. Both would be more entertaining than what we’re seeing right now.

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Cherry Misses Burke With Feable Knockout Swing

Brian Burke is against the ropes, they’re all that’s keeping him up. Don Cherry sees the vulnerability in his opponent. He walks up to finish him off. Cherry sets up, swings, and misses. And no-one is Canada is surprised.

Brian Burke has made some very questionable decisions, decisions I outlined in my last post, which have left his team far from a playoff spot without hope that they’ll be there again any time soon. In other words, he’s vulnerable. A position that delights Don Cherry. But instead of attacking these bad decisions, Cherry attacks Burke with the lamest, borderline racist approach. He attacks Burke because no Leaf players are born in Ontario. Yes, judging a person based on where he is born is a type of racism.

Where a player is born is as relevant as the color of a players skin. It means nothing. All that matters is if the player can play.

I do give Cherry credit for attacking his networks #1 source of revenue. It’s that spirit that is the core of my writings as the NHL Outsider — making those accountable, in spite of any relationship. But unfortunately Cherry wastes his time on the air and independent stance with rubbish arguments that actually create counter support for Burke.

So Don Cherry, next time you have your opponent against the ropes, stay away from attacking with the lowest common denominator and use your intelligence. I know there’s some there. And deliver a lasting, inspired knockout blow.

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With Wilson Fired, Now Burke’s Underfire

Now that Ron Wilson has been fired, the pressure shifts squarely on Brian Burke and this pressure is growing every day.  Oddly enough, this pressure was unnecessarily established by Burke’s alpha ramblings as he took over for the Leafs in November, 4 years ago. He sabotaged himself in year 1 by saying he didn’t believe in a 5 year rebuild. He was going to work to win now.  Those in Vancouver, knowing Burke’s MO, laughed at this and knew he was making a mistake based on ego.  Look at Ottawa and Edmonton, where management preached that rebuilding would take time, but it would reap great rewards, not year and years of sitting in the middle of the pack.  These markets understood the dynamics of where their teams stood in terms of talent and experience and the fans bought into a strategic long-term building game plan. Brian Murray in Ottawa now looks like a genius as he has his team fighting for a playoff spot where there was no expectation. And this lack of expectation came from Brian Murray’s own stance on where he though his club was at. It’s the classic case of undersell/overpreform, unlike Burke’s approach of oversell/underperform.

Look at the Leafs collective roster. Player after player getting long term million multi dollar contractsyet failing to perform to the expectation that these contracts demand.  The Leafs need to start building a culture of having players take less $ to play in Toronto, much like it is done in Vancouver where almost every guy has taken a pay cut to stick around with the singular goal of winning the Stanley Cup. Burke hasn’t done well in negotiating contracts and with all the experienced management guys under him, I’m surprised this is one of the organizations greatest weakness.  His contracts overpay players over a long period of time. This has been one of his gravest failings as the GM of the Leafs.

At the time Burke was brought in as President and GM of MLSE Leafs fans would have been willing to go through a 5 year rebuild plan. And if that had happened, they would have had Tyler Seguin, (a soon to be franchise center) and Dougie Hamilton (who looks like one of the best well-rounded defence prospects to come out of the CHL since Alex Pietrangelo)  Leafs fans understood the process. They saw the rewards in Pittsburg and Chicago. And that’s what they wanted.  But Burke was too impatient and arrogant to institute a 5 year rebuild. Nope, he was going to start winning now. Well, now he’s into year 4 and it looks like this rebuild, that he assured would not take five years, which hass turned out to be correct, will take at least 7. One of the greatest mismanagement of expectations in the history of the NHL.

Burke’s biggest concerns now are his players and their bloated contracts.  Next year the Leafs have $31 million tied into Kessel, Lupul, Grabo, Armstrong, Lombardi, Bozak, Connelly and Steckle. Kulimen; Fratten and Rosehill are RFAs.  On defence he has Phanuef, Komi, Liles, Schenn, Gunnarson, and Gardiner at $21.5 mill. That’s with Franson as an RFA.  That’s a full roster with many of the contracts going well beyond next year.  It doesn’t leave much wiggle room unless Burke can dump these bad contracts, ie: Armstrong, Komi, Lombardi.  And yet this team is still searching for the key ingredients every team has when they win a championship.  A #1 center with depth behind him and elite goaltending.  The Leafs have neither. And these are not easy positions to fill. Unless you draft your own or overpay for one in freeagency, you generally get fleeced in the trade market trying to acquire one.

Which brings us to the offseason.  Their biggest asset to offload which would bring inthe best return would be Phanuef. Phanuef for Jeff Carter would have been the right trade for the Leafs. The Leafs could have subtracted from a position of strength, added to an area of need, kept a level cap structure, and given the team a true#1 C. But nope, Burke doesn’t like long-term deals, even at $5.3/year where you could buy out the last 3 years cheap. Carter’s still young (26), scores goals like clockwork, wins wherever he plays (World Champoinships, World Juniors, Calder Cup, Stanley Cup Finals), and is 6’3 to boot with and incredible shot, great skater, and a nose for the net where he gets plenty of dirty goals. Sound like a guy that fits the Burke mold? I thought so too.

With that opportunity now gone they must get creative with their payroll and player assets. Will Burke bury bad contacts in the minors?
I don’t see how the can expect to challenge for a playoff spot with an underwhelming Komi, Kulimen, Armstrong, Connley, and Lombardi. And these guys are supposed to be the veterans on the team. It’s a dynamic couched in failure.

And Leafs’ fans are sure sick of failure. If Burke doesn’t correct these mistakes, his job should be on the line and if he doesn’t see that or can’t fathom that, then I’d say instead of us witnessing him eliminate blue-white disease which was his first goal here as GM, he’s become patient 0. The seed carrier spreading the disease through the entire organization. Did anyone get the feeling that Burke pushed Grabovski to the limit in their contract talks? No!  It seemed like Grabo tabled an offer and Burke jumped up and said, “where do I sign?” Negotiations should be tough for both parties. They’re uncomfortable and unpleasant.  Did all this added stress weaken Burke to the point where he didn’t have the wherewithal to tough it out with Grabo’s agent?  Maybe, but I don’t think so.  This seemed like a couple of kids sharing cake at a party. No grunt work. No holding fast to your mandate to get the player to sign a reasonable deal for both side. I see no middle ground here. Just Grabos patting Burke on the shoulder as Burke bowed on his knees.

All these issues have led to an underperforming product. And it’s Leafs fans who pay the price. Will it ever end?  If Burke isn’t willing to pay the price while negotiating contracts, he’s going to end up paying the ultimate price, loss of pride for failure and being fired.  Maybe it won’t be Burke calling a talk show host a coward before he hangs up on him in mid interview, nope, in the future, I see it more like Brian calling an owner/President of an NHL organization asking for a job and getting hung up on.  His acts old, his desire’s dwindling, and he just doesn’t pick the right fights.  Get aggressive with players agents.  Use leverage, like the fact Grabo wants to stay in TO.  That’s a huge chip in your pocket.  Bargin them down to acceptable contracts.  This will fix your depth issues.  Don’t blow off your anger at a radio host for asking a legitimate question all listeners are interested in hearing.  Or are we all cowards too?

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Canucks Give Themselves Blackeye In Fight With Hodgson

About a month ago when Canucks headcoach Alain Vigneaut was asked about Cody Hodgson’s limited icetime he said he wasn’t going to reduce Ryan Kesler or Henrik Sedin’s icetime for Hodgson. One was a Selke winner and one was a Lindsay Award winner, regardless of the fact that these awards are awards based on last year’s play and have nothing to do with what is happening on the ice this season.  Also of note, neither Kesler nor Henrik have consistently played up to the standard to be considered finalist for either of these awards this year. This comment was accepted by the media without much concern. But it should be concerning, not only for Hodgson, but also for Canuck fans and management. What if Hodgson was outplaying either of these two? Which can be argued he was for the month of January. Vigneault is sending a message that playing his best players isn’t important, hence giving your team the best shot at winning isn’t the most important thing on a nightly basis, instead appeasing his award winners is. So when Hodgson’s agent says his client and the Canuck’s goals didn’t mesh, I’d have to agree. Hodgson has every reason to be concerned at not having a chance to earn a greater role with the club, specifically when his play warrants it.  He should be concerned about being viewed prejudicially by a guy (AV) who has already attacked his character through allegations that he used an injury as an excuse for poor performance, an injury that was later discovered to be career threatening and misdiagnosed by the team’s medical staff. In spite of this mistreatment, Hodgson has never publicly spoken ill of the Canucks or AV. He has repeatedly taken the highroad. And in not going public, he has left himself open to be the target to cheapshots about his character, about being a diva, about being a me first guy. We all understand team concept, but being the repeated target of this type of mistreatment begins to wear thin on anyone including a team first guy. Canucks have a blackeye on this one and it’ll take a long time for this bruise to heal.

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Canucks Down Avs

The Vancouver Canucks survived an ugly fist period and turned what was supposed to be Hodgson vs Duchene round 2 into the JanHan/Daniel Show.The Canucks were badly out played and out shot in the first period but a Daniel Sedin wrap around bounced in off Avs goaltender Varlomov and Luongo was flawless giving the Canucks a 1-0 lead heading into the 2nd period.

Booth collided with Avs defenceman Kevin Porter half way through the first and went down violently. He had to be helped off the ice and did not return. He is scheduled for an MRI tomorrow.  

Early in the second period Luongo took a puck off the throat and went down causing a smile on Cory Schneider’s face. Luongo would miss the rest of the game but did sit on the bench for the third period. The injury is reported to be minor and he is expected to start versus Montreal in the Canucks next game.

Schneider made a couple big saves early, allowing the Canucks to maintain their lead. JanHan and Bieksa executed a give and go to perfection in the slot with JanHan driving home his 8th goal of the season giving the Canucks a 2 goal lead.

It was all Canucks in the third as Daniel scored 2 more to complete the hattrick and JanHan tied his career season high with his 9th goal of the year. Schneider completed the shutout as the Canucks cruised to a 6-0 win in Rogers Arena.

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Open Season On Goalies

A couple weeks back Milan Lucic barreled down the ice and slammed into Ryan Miller. It was a despicable play one can expect from the Bruins. Miller was obviously unhappy with the play and even unhappier that Lucic received no suspension.
 
Lucic said he only saw Miller at the last second and since he couldn’t avoid Miller, he simply braced himself in protection. NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, who has been doing an amazing job handing out suspensions, deservedly came under scrutiny for failing to suspend Lucic for this transgression.
 
Miller sat out with a concussion for a couple weeks only getting back into the starting lineup this past weekend. In his first game back, Miller was once again the target of a cheap shot, this time by Jordin Tootoo, bearing down on goal.
 
Tootoo crashed into Miller at full speed and the two went flying. Upon landing Miller flipped over onto Tootoo and started throwing rights and lefts, letting his attacker know if the NHL wasn’t going to make him pay for crashing his crease than he was.  
 
This time Shanahan did get it right by suspending Tootoo for two games, but the message from the NHL already seems to have been sent. Goalies are fair play. Tonight we saw another example of a player charging recklessly towards a goalie as Justin Abdlekater took out Brian Elliot. Maybe it’s a coincidence, maybe it’s a case of blue car syndrome, or maybe players feel they have a free run at goalies without consequences.
 
Running a goalie is cowardly. It is taught in minor hockey that you just don’t do it.  Hopefully this is the last one we see for a while, but if not, Shanahan better get tough on the culprits.

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Chicago Blackhawks Maintain Excellence Amid Roster Purge

The Chicago Blackhawks were one of the worst NHL teams for nearly a decade. This poorly run franchise did just about everything wrong on and off the ice and lost a once rabid fan base. But if a team is going to be bad long enough, it’ll eventually earn enough top draft picks to build a solid core of young players upon which to build a contender. The Hawks built this core just as the owner of the team passed away, allowing new management to establish a new business model where they could capitalize on the strengthening product on the ice.

Two years later they were Stanley Cup champions. But the following summer the team was met with overwhelming salary cap issues. A lot of those younger players contracts expired at the same time and when you’re on a team that has just won the Cup, you’re going to want a raise.

This forced management to fire the GM, Dale Tallon, and expert at evaluating talent but sub par at negotiating contracts. They brought in Stan Bowman to fix the salary cap issues. He did so by trading away 13 players from his Stanley Cup roster and focussed on rebuilding the team around Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharpe, Marion Hossa, Brian Campbell, and Dave Bolland, as good as any core in the NHL. They brought some young rookies into the lineup, including goaltender Corey Crawford, who has played liked a 10 year veteran.  They relied on young talent and the young talent responded. 

The main reason they’ve been able to maintain this success is because of the man behind the bench. Joel Quenneville is a master at developing young players and putting them in a position to succeed. He builds their confidence and makes sure they know that they can compete on a daily basis in the NHL. And they’ve responded. It’s refreshing to see a coach have so much confidence in players who are just learning the game.  And as long as that core stays intact and Quenneville continues to do his magic, the Blackhawks will continue to contend for the Stanley Cup.

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