Who guards the guardians is a question that goes back far longer than organized sports. It predates most of  the trappings of civilization humanity has become acclimatized to over the last two or three millennium.  When you invest someone with power, how do you prevent that power from ruining the thing it was meant to serve and protect? Note the order of those last three words, we’ll come back to them later.

Law enforcement has its own internal order keepers, sometimes effective, sometimes not. Sporting officials, and particularly NHL officiating don’t seem to have any wardens of their own integrity. Worse, the checks and balances that exist in the forms of judicial oversight and citizen pressure don’t exist.  When coaches perform poorly someone pushes them out the door. Players will get benched, demoted or not get new contracts. Referees? The same  sort of problems as police, only their failures are brushed aside and the NHL waves its hands as says “these are not the issues you are looking for”.

What should be Plato’s ideal noocracy is at best a magocracy operating on such fascinating tenets as intent to blow, that other mortals can’t comprehend or be expected to duplicate, and is often an outright idiocracy. Officials who toss players out of games because they think the player did something that did not result in injury, but don’t make calls on things like slashed/broken sticks that have been an automatic penalty since the end of the lockout are at best incompetent. When coaches who have been around for decades and played junior, collegiate, and professionally himself is moved to speak out about the unfortunately unquestionable quality of officiating, as an organization you’ve crossed the Rubicon.

The officials in any sport, just like the police or army, should be the least visible part of the system. As dangerous as head hits, boarding, and bench clearing brawls are to the sport of hockey as a whole none is as dangerous as fans (the source of revenue) coming to the belief that the players and coaches have been reduced to a trifling role in the outcome of games. Even over the premature end of the career of superstars, loss of faith in the consumer is the great danger.

Bobby Orr, Patrick Roy, Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros, Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe all eventually ended their careers. Everyone, player, coach, media owner and fan knows no player or team is bigger than the game. The great Montreal dynasties, the impressive runs of the Oilers, Islanders and others all ended and the league went on. Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar, Shea Weber, Steven Stamkos are all expected to play another decade or more. But if they go, there will be someone else to fill their spot in the roster and inspire the next generation of players, and the entire swathe of fans who like their style in the hope that player will make the play that decides the game, wins the series, brings home the cup or just knocks a rival out of the playoffs.

The scandals in sports that have aroused the most ire haven’t been the sexual, scatological, pharmaceutical or financial. While it might get a few plays during the sports report, no one cares which player is sleeping with some other guys ex or current significant other, mother or sister.  Ask anyone about Tiger Woods problems and they’ll tell you he needs to get his focus back, his marriage was his concern and all they care about is his play. Ben Rothlesberger or Kobe Bryant, again, people care what happens on the field.

But ask a question about cheating by coaches or officials who have fixed games and the reaction is anything but tame. Hockey is about the only sport in North America where if you ask 100 fans or media members who the worst or most disliked official is you can get multiple names from the majority of them. Their are two reasons for this; a) bad officiating  [if its malicious, incompetent or some combination of the two is nearly irrelevant] b) hockey is the ultimate team sport. It’s one of the most beautiful things about the sport and its surrounding culture. From the time a boy or girl is playing their first game they are taught team success  is my success and it pervades who they are an is absorbed into the people around them.

Intrusive officiating of either the incompetent or biased variety takes that away. If they players stop believing that they will stop inspiring others to sacrifice for the team or to play at all. If that happens the well of future players goes dry, all the other major sports pay far more and may demand less. Worse, the fans will notice the shift and abandon the sport like they did after (and before) the lockout in favor of other forms of entertainment that they don’t have reason to believe lie to them about who holds the whip in deciding the outcome. Officiating that damages the leagues image serves no one, and when it fails that there will soon be no one left to protect.

This hit is shoulder to thing.

The thigh is above the knee in any human I’ve ever seen.

 

Here’s rule 44:

Rule 44 – Clipping

44.1 Clipping – Clipping is the act of throwing the body, from any direction, across or below the knees of an opponent.

A player may not deliver a check in a “clipping” manner, nor lower his own body position to deliver a check on or below an opponent’s knees.

An illegal “low hit” is a check that is delivered by a player or goalkeeper who may or may not have both skates on the ice, with his sole intent to check the opponent in the area of his knees. A player may not lower his body position to deliver a check to an opponent’s knees.

44.2 Minor Penalty – A player who commits these fouls will be assessed a minor penalty for “clipping.”

44.3 Major Penalty – If an injury occurs as a result of this “clipping” check, the player must be assessed a major penalty (see 44.5).

44.4 Match Penalty – The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent by clipping.

44.5 Game Misconduct Penalty – A game misconduct penalty must be assessed anytime a major penalty is applied for injuring an opponent by clipping.

44.6 Fines and Suspensions – There are no specified fines or suspensions for clipping, however, supplementary discipline can be applied by the Commissioner at his discretion (refer to Rule 28).

 

The officials blew the call.

This is a feature that will run about every two weeks with improbable stats and situations in the National Hockey League.

Players:

  • the leading scorer in the NHL would be a guy with six or seven games less than the three men closest to him, and not named Sedin, Ovechkin, or Croby but Claude Giroux
  • the only Edmonton Oiler on a better than point per game pace would be Jordan Eberle
  • on January 6th Rick Dipietro and Sidney Crosby would have played the exact same number of games (8)
  • that Cal Clutterbuck (6) would have more special teams goals than Zach Parise (4)
  • that David Clarkson who’s career high is 17 would lead the New Jersey Devils in scoring, and the team would still be tied for a playoff spot
  • Alexandere Burrows of the Vancouver Canucks would  have more game winning goals than Phil Kessel, James Neal, Dany Heatley or Pavel Datsyuk
  • James Neal would be the first player to 10 powerplay goals
  • Zdeno Chara would have more powerplay goals than Chris Kunitz, Ilya Kovalchuk, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, or Jonathan Toews
  • Dan Girardi would lead the NHL in average time on ice at 27:17
  • Nik Lidstrom would be on pace for roughly 30% more penalties and 30% less points than last season

Teams:

  • the 26th place Edmonton Oilers would have the 2nd best powerplay
  • the New Jersey Devils would have a penalty kill clicking at 90.9% and still be the 19th placed team in the NHL
  • the Northeast division leading Boston Bruins would have a goal differential of +69 and the other five divisional leaders would have a combined +98
  • the Los Angeles Kings could have a negative goals differential, be dead last in goals per game, and still be in playoff position
  • two teams Vancouver, and Minnesota would have a winning percentage over fifty percent when trailing after one period.
  • the Anahiem Ducks, Columbus Blue Jackets and Montreal Canadiens would share the distinction of having a losing record when scoring first
  • just two teams, the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers would have a winning record when trailing first
  • the Colorado Avalanche and New Jersey Devils would each have as many wins in the overtime and the shootout as the Columbus Blue Jackets and Anaheim Ducks would total (10)
  • despite being in 30th place all season, the Columbus Blue Jackets would make it through the seasons first 31 games without being shutout
  • only two teams the Ottawa Senators and the Columbus Blue Jackets would be the only two teams to be neither shutout or have a shutout

The NHL All Star voting is done. Aside from the guys getting voted in for the first time, the NHL marketing guys who might have to learn something about a player not named Crosby or Ovechkin, and the all mighty sponsors, does anyone care about the voting?  Does anyone at all care about the sixty minutes of nominal game time? It doesn’t even vaguely resemble real NHL  game play. No one is moving, shooting or going all out, even the officials.

The fact that a guy who played less than ten percent of season is even in the top ten tells us the All Star Game is about marketing first through tenth and everything else is irrelevant.  For actual quality of play this year, Tim Thomas and Erik Karlsson are really hard to argue with. Spezza is 11th in scoring in the NHL, but much as Alfredsson and Michalek are engaging players to watch, its hard to consider them top 10-15 NHL forwards. Dion Phanuef aside from an announcer or two, his agent and apparently some Leafs fans isn’t on anyones list of top five defensemen.

Last night David Pollak and Helene Elliott pumped some hydrogen into the trade rumor fire. Between them they made it clear which teams had scouts at the Ducks and Sharks game, and that only Selanne and Koivu were “untouchable” for Anaheim.  This is as the Ducks sit just one bare point above the Columbus Blue Jackets and hold a league worst +39 goal differential. To make Twitter even more insensible Rick Nash stated he would waive his no trade clause if the team asked him.

What in the world is going on between the ears of the powers that be in Montreal? First they fire an assistant coach. Then they fire a head coach. Then they tell everyone sorry he doesn’t speak French. They they say we’ll hire a new Franco-phone coach for next season. They tell the players they aren’t holding them responsible for not showing up by handing out a big contract to a guy who is regressing offensively. There’s fights in practice, and the guys in charge have made exactly what positive changes? The Habs are 25th in the NHL and four of the teams below them have played less games. None of those teams have three games left against the Boston Bruins either.

With Ryan Nugent-Hopkins down checked with an injury, it’s time to look at some of the top rookies again. No doubt he’ll come back and be the only rookie the media and most blogs mention.

Eric Staal currently boasts a stat line of 9-16-25 -23 through 41 games played. The good news for him is that’s he’s just two goals and four assists short of matching his own rookie season. The bad news is well, everything else. Since December tenth he’s added two goals, four assists and dropped down another -5.

Goalies:

  • Richard Bachman has leaped onto the scene. When Lehtonen went out with an injury, and Raycroft simply fell down on the job the Dallas Stars called on Salt Lake City’s Bachman to stand and deliver. He’s now gotten into nine games with a 5-2-0 line, one shutout, .912sv% and 2.76 gaa.
  • Jhonas Enroth of the Buffalo Sabres has struggled lately (as has the team) with his last win coming back on November 26th. Still his numbers are solid on the season with a .921sv% and 2.49 gaa in 16 starts. Likely the only rookie netminder who will cross twenty five games.
  • Jakob Markstrom of the Florida Panthers appears to play a bit better in the NHL than the AHL, and has been recalled. In six games in the big show so far he’s got a five starts and is 2-3-0. His .928sv% is tops among rookie goalies with five or more games and is better than either Theodore or Clemmensen for the Panthers, his 2.59 gaa is about one fifth of a goal better than his AHL number.

Forwards:

  • Adam Henrique of New Jersey Devils and Windsor Spitfires fame is behind only Nugent-Hopkins in rookie scoring and is tied for the lead in game winning goals for rookies with 3. Currently he’s playing 18:23 a night leading all rookie forwards in TOI/G.
  • Matt Read is one of the other guys tied for game winning goal leads. The Flyers prodigy is also the only rookie forward who has scored both a shorthanded goal and on the powerplay. Is one of just six rookie forwards playing more than two minutes shorthanded per game.
  • Craig Smith of the Nashville Predators leads all rookie forwards in powerplay goals and is third in scoring.
  • Gabriel Landeskog is the only rookie forward who has recorded more than 100 hits, he’s seventh for rookie scoring and second for average TOI/G with respectable numbers for both powerplay and penalty kill minutes.

Defensemen:

  • Rapheal Diaz of the Montreal Canadiens (Now In English!) is quietly putting together a very respectable season in chaos central. at 2-11-13 he’s tied for the scoring lead for rookie defensemen, just three points behind the scoring leader on the blueline in Montreal. The -2 he sports is in comparison to the teams -10 goal differential. His 72 blocked shots leads all rookie defensemen.
  • Adam Larsson of the New Jersey Devils has been one of the few constants of this NHL season. Huge minutes, very important to the team and leading rookie defenders in scoring.  He’s also tops in TOI and eats up over two minutes a night of powerplay time.
  • Jared Cowen is probably the most complete rookie defenseman. The Senators blueliner is 3rd in scoring, 2nd in total ice time, 2nd in hits (with more than twice as many as Larsson who is 3rd) is 1st in shorthanded time on ice by more than a little, and is behind only Spezza and Karlsson in TOI for the Senators.

Others to watch:

Defensemen: Slava Voynov, Marc-Andre Gragnani, Jake Gardiner

Forwards: Cody Hodgson, Luke Adam

Goalie: Matt Hackett, Mike Murphy, Leland Irving

 

 

December was all things considered another good month to be a Boston Bruins fan. The way the month ended with a very lucky win against the Coyotes and forty plus minutes of sleeping and most of a period of passable effort for the sedated in a loss to the Stars shouldn’t overshadow the month as a whole.

Stars:

Brad Marchand: Continued his strong play on the year climbing into a tie for the team lead in goal scoring. Added his first short handed goal of the season, a powerplay assist, and two game winning goals while being a point per game player for the month. The month included being named NHL’s first star of the week when he had a five point game 3g 2a.

Benoit Pouliot:  Turned in the best December of his career in goals. Continued to make Julien and Chiarelli look like they own the Midas touch, played a smart game throughout the  month and moved from being a reactive part of the team going only where the system told him to being an active player and leveraging his teammates.

Andrew Ference: Boston’s favorite tree-hugging pitbull only doubled the number of points he had on the season in December. In addition to that he turned in more blocked shots than either October and November and did all of this while only taking two PIMS.

Stumbles:

Jordan Caron: He who hesitates is lost. Jordan Caron is he.

Johnny Boychuk: The Prince Of Pinchestan continues to disappoint offensively acquiring just two points in the month, turning the puck over on numerous occasions. When he’s at the height of his prowess his play can be described as “high risk high reward”, at this point the reward portion is present in a portion statistically indifferent from zero.

Tyler Seguin: Numbers down across the board. Not just offensive numbers but things that show effort as well. No one sane expect the results of a month like November when he was over a point per game to continue, and a season long 28 shooting percentage is not sustainable. The physical, neutral zone and defensive zone play however fell into the toilet. As I’m sure someone pointed out to him, the sooner the puck leaves the defensive zone and gets to the offensive zone the better chance one has to score.