Amidst the varying degree of calls--and lack thereof--throughout the NHL season, the question becomes, what constitutes a consistent penalty anymore?
The NHL needs to figure out what they want.
We've seen questionable calls this season. That happens. It happens across every sport. But what plucks fans' nerves is the inconsistency behind these calls.
Case in point lets go back to the New York Rangers vs Montreal Canadiens game Jan. 14. A Montreal goal was overturned after it was ruled that goalie interference took place. Andrew Shaw is bumped into Antti Raanta by Ranger Kevin Klein. Incidental contact. Fast-forward to the second period, when Carey Price was touched, interfered? with by Rick Nash, as he comes out of his crease after an initial save leaving an empty net and a goal.
No goalie interference?
The NHL’s explanation via Greg Wyshnyski of Yahoo’s Puck Daddy:
“At 6:20 of the second period in the Rangers/Canadiens game, Montreal requested a Coach’s Challenge to review whether Kevin Hayes interfered with goaltender Carey Price before the puck entered the net.
After reviewing all available replays and consulting with NHL Hockey Operations staff, the Referee confirmed that the incidental contact outside the crease between Hayes and Price did not constitute a goaltender interference infraction. Therefore the original call stands – good goal New York Rangers. Since the Coach’s Challenge did not result in the original call being overturned, the Montreal Canadiens forfeit their time-out.”
As Wyshnyski continues, the league is arguing that Price was out of the crease so any contact would be ruled incidental, as long as the attacking player makes reasonable attempt to avoid colliding with the netminder. But also that the situation is up to the discretion of the referee to determine the degree and nature of the collision, regardless of where the goalie is in relation to the crease.
“That Price’s position inside or outside the crease is ultimately immaterial, because “the spirit of the rule” says it is. From the rulebook: ‘In exercising his judgment, the Referee should give more significant consideration to the degree and nature of the contact with the goalkeeper than to the exact location of the goalkeeper at the time of the contact.’” – Greg Wyshnyski, Yahoo Puck Daddy
So that one was ruled incidental conduct. Okay.
The next instance took place Feb. 4 in Columbus. The Blue Jackets first goal of the 3rd period was wiped away due to “significant goaltender interference.” Again, the Devils challenged and the officials decided they had a case.
Sure, maybe there is goaltender interference. But “significant?” What would these officials rule in the Jan. 14 game?
Let’s switch to another topic for a second: The bugaboo of fighting. I love it. I don’t mind that the once commonplace event of dropping the gloves has decreased, but it also appears that officials are actively trying to break the potential of a fight whenever possible. I look at fighting as a way for the league to police itself. When there’s a big hit, expect the perpetrator to face the consequences.
At least that was a common sentiment.
— Aaron Portzline (@Aportzline) February 8, 2017
Blue Jackets’ coach John Tortorella explained his reasoning in that he believes the officials have been instructed to jump in and break up fights whenever possible, however, the league has denied that to be the case.
“The way I look at it, I think it has to do with concussions and all the talk about that, the scrutiny on it. That’s just speculation on my part, but I know I’ve been told one time, when I asked, ‘Why don’t you just let them fight?’…; they’ve been directed a little bit to stop that.” – John Tortorella via Aaron Portzline, Columbus Dispatch.
Continued Portzline, “NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly, in an email exchange with The Dispatch, said there has been no directive to the league’s linesman, that they’ve always been ‘instructed to pre-empt fights if they can do it safely.'”
It’s no secret the game has changed from a heavier game to a style of finesse and speed since the 2005 lockout and institution of new rules starting in 2006. The role of only being an enforcer is extinct. The guys that do drop the gloves are on the team more for their hockey ability but have the added skill of being able to delve into the rough stuff when the call beckons. When the officials allow that to be, it seems. Or when they weren’t able to stop it beforehand.
As far as fighting, my feeling has always been along the lines of players know what they’re signing up for. They assume the risk of injury every time they step on the ice. And hockey players won’t stop being hockey players.
I get the league trying to take into consideration player safety, and maybe blows to the head will ultimately add up — but then why is boxing still a thing? — and I get that a player can hit his head on the ice after a scrap.
But that can happen during live game action.
So the question I instead pose to those who don’t think fighting belongs in the sport anymore is, how much (un)safer would it be if the league permanently did away with fighting? Would the absence of fighting lead to an escalation of uglier incidents if players know the opposing team can’t rush to the line of defense after a big hit? Or the perpetrator’s head would then be on a swivel as a form of payback instead of having to answer the bell?
I’m not suggesting the league is going to turn into anarchy, or that more players are going to lose their head amid a rage of frustration, or that players are going to turn to using their stick as a weapon. Or that such incidents won’t happen anyway.
And though it may prove immaterial to counter with, How many injuries really occur during a fight? How many players have left a game because they were hurt in a fight?
We may never truly know what that impact might mean for the brain over time. And though players assume the risk of injury every time they hit the ice, and though most are millionaires, or at least paid a significant sum to play the game they love, there’s no denying the impact that has hit the families of Derek Boogaard, Bob Probert, and others.
But I do appreciate the art of the fight in the hockey sense. And though once a common commodity now is grown increasingly rarer, I can appreciate a good scrap all the more.
During Sunday’s incident involving Gustav Nyquist of the Detroit Red Wings and Jared Spurgeon of the Minnesota Wild, Nyquist appeared to intentionally spear Spurgeon in the face. Nyquist, who took exception to a cross-check by Spurgeon moments prior, was doled a double-minor for the infraction, but had the on-ice officials really seen what happened — because if the ref really sees what happened, how does Nyquist get anything less than a misconduct? — Nyquist should have been ejected.
No doubt, the NHL will take the necessary steps in making sure the Wings forward has enough time to think about what he did as an in-person hearing is scheduled later this week.
Fortunately, Spurgeon was able to return to the game, escaping serious injury by inches. Red Wings coach Jeff Blashil and captain Henrik Zetterberg tried diffusing the situation after the game saying Nyquist would not intentionally do something of this nature. Regardless of his clean prior history, he was definitely agitated in the moment enough to be able to see, and then spear, Spurgeon.
“I didn’t mean to do that. My stick gets caught, I am trying to get body position on him. I’m happy he was out there again. I had no intention of doing that. My stick gets caught. It looks bad, but I’m happy he’s OK. Obviously, I’ve got to have better control of my stick.” – Gustav Nyquist
“I don’t think he meant to spear him in the face.” – Henrik Zetterberg
“Hadn’t really looked at it. I know he got his stick up there. But I also know I’ve known Nyqui for six-plus years — there’s no chance there was any intent. I’ve seen him in every possible situation. There is no chance there was any intent.” – Jeff Blashill
Yeah okay. Look at the tape and get back to us.
Look, we know coaches and teammates will support their troubled player no matter what. But obviously looking at the live replay of the assault, there’s no question what intention looks like here.
“To me that’s one of those where you throw the guy right out of the game for a play like that.” – Eddie Olczyk during Sunday’s NBC broadcast.
I think it’s worth noting that the rare Gustav Nyquist incident is just that. Rare. Unfortunately, these incidents happen. That’s why the league has to send the message of once is more than enough.
I think the common sentiment is at least a suspension of 10-12 games, but I wouldn’t have a problem seeing Nyquist suspended the rest of the year. Suspending Nyquist until next season would put everyone in the league on notice. And as well as protecting the league, it would protect Nyquist from himself.
Repeat offender or not, Calgary Flames’ Dennis Wideman was suspended 20 games for cross-checking an official. What’s an intentional spear to the face worth?
Hit the player where it hurts. Ice time.
Also published on Medium.