The other night on social media I quipped that the NHL Officials need a summer league. Like half a dozen other off the cuff mutterings, the more I think of it, the more sense it makes. This was in reaction to the utterly putrid nature of calls in the Winnipeg Jets versus Boston Bruins game. The general state of officiating in the NHL has been bad for two or three years. This year it’s been so bad it’s ceased to be funny or excusable in anyway.

The primary functions of the bootcamp would be:

  • Evaluating and grading all officials.
  • Correcting failures of positioning, and practice
  • Evaluating potential additions to the officiating roster.

The question is of course how to do this. For me, a combination of players who are AHL and NHL free agents, players from other professional leagues wanting to be scouted by NHL teams and players recovering from injuries would make up the bulk of the players. College and major junior free agents could be added as well. A case can even be made for having a division of NAHL, USHL and similar age players present who would have a slightly slower pace and allow the officials the most time to evaluate plays. For maximum similarity to the NHL and AHL season, when the next CBA is negotiated, some players might be required to appear after certain levels of discipline.

With two to three games being played a day, and a given official working all the games, one day, they could then be critiqued with extensive video coverage of what they did right and wrong by trainers the very next day, and given a full day of recovery before being tasked with putting changes into play. Sounds exhausting? That’s part of the point. Like the players, officials work a long season. Sometimes the density of games is high or the travel is wretched. Any linesman or referee who can go through four days in six of three games a day and be better at the end than the beginning should be able to thrive in the regular season.

When to do it? Starting it the second week of April is one approach, or the second week of July when players are officially out of contract. Make it a six or so week training session. You can double duty by field testing proposed rule changes in the latter stages once the officials are having more clean games that putrid. Will the NHL adopt a fix like this? Unlikely. Whatever they do, they need to bring more accountability to the position, and cease covering for officials who just plain screw up by the numbers.

Over the last few weeks there has been a lot of discussion about David Pastrnak, his lack of a contract, the comparables, and who is to blame. Much of that is irrelevant. He’ll eventually be signed to a contact, be it in Boston or some other NHL city. He’ll eventually play in the NHL again. This will surely be superseded by some other contract dispute, trade gone awry, or major injury.

What matters is who is perceived to be at fault. The results of a recent Twitter poll speak for themselves. Given the options of blaming the player, the agent, or the organization, fans overwhelmingly voted against the player being responsible with nearly 60% squarely blaming Boston Bruins leadership. 

Just under sixty percent put the blame right in the laps of Jeremy Jacobs, Charlie Jacobs, Cam Neely, and Don Sweeney. That’s overwhelming, and something that isn’t going to go away. If this proves to be the end of Pastrnak’s tenure in Boston, this won’t be forgotten.

This isn’t a pattern. It is the pattern. Boston Bruins fans are obsessive, loud, occasionally lewd, crude, and unruly. They’re devoted, they’re emotional, but no one ever said they they don’t pay attention. This pattern of failing to pay talent market rates is clearly recognized by fans. The last time the Bruins were missing the playoffs, and losing talent over the organization failing to pay you could walk into the Garden and see two or three thousand empty seats any given game, and hear thousands of visiting fans cheering on their team.

That’s not a fan passion problem. That’s an ownership problem. When you have the means to do something, and fail to do so, the fans have the right, and some might argue the responsibility to not pay for a willfully inferior product. Nothing would embarrass any passionate, engaged ownership more than their local fanbase being drown out by visitors, many Boston Bruins observers would be hard pressed to say that the Jacobs family cares at all.

One of the biggest faults with all sports that have a review system system is how long it takes. Its bad enough in games as slow as baseball where there really isn’t a game clock and momentum is entirely mythical. In football it’s a great time, along with the sixty or seventy commercials per game to get another drink, or possibly wake up, or check your fantasy team.

In the NHL it’s gotten to the point where reviews can take as long as a major penalty. That’s huge. That’s unsupportable. That’s soul sucking to experience. That’s actually an easy fix.

As a certain Detroit native once put it “You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow.” The issue isn’t that the evidence isn’t there. The issue isn’t that the evidence is hard to decipher. It isn’t even that the technology is getting in the way. The problem is the standard of review is more exacting than real game action.

The review process suffers from what some call analysis paralysis, others would term getting stuck in the hall of mirrors. Ultimately what you call it is irrelevant once you realize it is unneeded and fixable.

So what is the ultimate solution to the biggest fixable problem? As Eight Mile Road’s most famous denizen put it, you only get one shot. Give officials one view of each camera angle. And most of all no slow motion. None. Not Even Once.  With modern videography 15, 30, and 60 to one compression replay make review an exponentially longer, and entirely unreal interpretations of reality.

Worse, its boring, boring, boring. The NHL bills itself as the fastest game on ice. Given the speed at which they review I can only assume they mean the intermission events.

Implementation should be pretty easy, and it should cut the length of time needed for each review by about 80%.

The summer is half over. We’re closer to the start of the new season, they we are to the end of the last regular season. In most ways that is fantastic. Unless your team is one of those fiddling around with their talent. Here are the restricted free agents who are pivotal to their team.

Calvin De Haan

With the departure of Travis Hamonic, someone needs to take up the slack. It’s a given that De Haan will pick up more of the vacated ice time than the elderly Seidenberg or the aging Boychuk. What remains to be seen is how soon, if at all the Islanders decide to pay him.

Nate Schmidt

While it is unlikely the former Washington Capital will see 24 minutes a night, if the Knights plan to move him rather than sign him, they may well have already have passed their use by date on movement of the freshly 26 year old alum of the Fargo Force and University of Minnesota.

Bo Hovart

Hovart is likely in for some of the longest years of his life as the Vancouver Canucks go into the post Sedin rebuild. Being unsigned this long makes me wonder if he wishes to be in British Columbia when the team comes out of that long dark tunnel. The more likely explanation is that the team is trying to explain to him that just because he was their biggest points producer last year he shouldn’t expect to be paid like one.

Leon Draisaitl

He and team mate Connor McDavid may be the catalysts for the next lockout and salary rollback. For the 2018-19 season the Edmonton Oilers have twelve players currently under contract with just $22 million to sign the rest of the roster. If Draisaitl signs for the $8-10m some expect the cap crunch begins immediately. Even at $6-7m their will be a roster purge and without the cap jumping fifteen to eighteen million, there is no way the Oilers can be competitive.  This is a very talented player, but is the General Manager able to keep things together?

Sam Bennett

Bennett had a visible sophomore slump last year, which is not unexpected. He partially redeemed himself with two goals in the four playoff games the Calgary Flames played last year. It’s reasonably save to predict him as a 50-60 point guy, but don’t be surprised by a bridge contract that pays a little closer to what he’s produced so far.

David Pastrnak

One of the more dynamic wingers in the NHL last year his rise from good to league leader can’t be understated. In the early part of the season when none of the Boston Bruins centers were performing at an even average level he was near the top of the leaderboard. Not signing Pastrnak to similar deal to Marchand’s or a little less would be the worst, and possibly final mistake of Don Sweeney’s tenure as Boston General Manager.

Mikael Granlund

On a team whose best known players are all 32 or older, they need to retain not just the youngest, but the middle years players like Mikael Granlund who made and earned his $3m last year in what counts as a career year for the 25 year old native of Finland. No one is under the illusion Granlund is The Guy in Minnesota, but he’s a guy they can’t replace from the current free agent market.

This is a series I’ve run in the past and decided to bring back/ The premise is simple: increasing NHL scoring without making drastic changes to the game, or crippling defense and goaltending at the expense of goals.

This week post is built around an idea that is already in place in some non-manpower penalties. When a team is accessed an unmatched penalty, they do not get a chance to change personnel until the next whistle or they manage to do so during the course of play.

With this rule in place officials would already know who has on the ice and not need to engage in time wasting, ineffective replay, nor would it be a “judgment call”. Time, and the flow of the game would be saved. The team moving to the man advantage would be allowed a brief period to change, and could get their desired staff on the ice. The penalized team might be stuck without a center or a defenseman, and that’s okay. If the goal of penalties is to discourage players from plays that risk injury to other players and goals being given up, this is yet another way to underscore discipline. I suspect this would move powerplay scoring up two to three percent on average across the NHL.

 

The Stanley Cup Finals are over. The hockey season is over. And worse, the NHL Front Office and Pittsburgh Penguins have won.

A team that had numerous favorable calls made for them, and at least as many calls not made against them most notably the debacle of Sidney Crosby slamming P.K. Subban’s head into the ice. Not just for the non call, not just for the non suspension, not just for the racial overtones, not for completely ignoring the concussion protocol, but because it showed explicitly what everyone who has any ability to decipher an NHL game already knows: The front office care more about which market, and player, wins the Cup than it does about what is actually best for the game, the players, or the fans.

As if further proof were needed, the Conn-Smyth went to about the fourth or even fifth most influential player on the Penguins winning the Cup. Matt Murray was stellar behind a banged up defense. Geno Malkin was unarguably better, Jake Guentzal played in hall of fame territory. Brian Doumalin was quietly the best of the Penguins defense from their 83rd game of the season right until the end. Justin Schultz did a great deal to fill the Letang void. Then there was Crosby.

In a season when Crosby should rightly have been suspended for nearly removing the finger of Marc Methot, a playoff suspension, as a repeat offender after Crosby attempted to injure Subban would have taken him out at least two games. But using the marking plan that has been in place since 2005 is far, far more important than doing what is right.

 

Terry Pegula finally got around to selecting a general manager for the Buffalo Sabres. The rumor mill was a little better than average this time with early word that Jason Botterill was the man who was getting the job. Botterhill comes out of the Pittsburgh Penguins organization where he was a fixture for about a decade. His stated goal is to build a contender every year at both the NHL and AHL levels.

Man is that delusional. In order to build a contending NHL team in the salary cap era you have to be constantly flushing talent out of your farm system. Yes there are exceptions, and Pittsburgh is one of them, but they aren’t common. Further more the biggest factors the Penguins have in their favor simply don’t apply to the Buffalo Sabres organization.

The Pittsburgh Penguins have cache they have the two of the top ten players in the NHL in Geno Malkin and Sidney Crosby. They have two cup wins in the last decade. They have an owner who won multiple cups, multiple MVPs, and who is one of those rare generational talents who actually understand’s the business side of the game as well. The other sneaky thing they do that is the kryptonite of other teams is bring players from their successful AHL franchise to their successful NHL franchise while they’re still young

While there are a lot of players who would like to play in one city for their whole career, the truth is that all of them simply want to play in the NHL the bulk of their career. If they can put a couple seasons with Malkin and Crosby on their resume, they know they will get better offers when it is time to go elsewhere. Those players also know that the next man up mantra isn’t just lip service. Unlike with the Red Wings or Boston Bruins the next roster spot will open up before players drafted into the system at 18 turn 25 or 30.

That window to get into the NHL and play for a bigger salary is longer and closer. This enables them to sign free agent out of the USHL, college, and the CHL. While Pittsburgh is hardly America’s premier metropolis, its total metroplitan area population is larger than that of Buffalo and Rochester combined. All those additional opportunities for entertainment are important when you have two or thee months off every year, and when you just want to take your billet parents or your family to a couple nice places.

Buffalo doesn’t have that winning tradition. While Eichel, Kane, Lehner, and O’Reilly are all well above average players, most hockey observers would rate the star appeal of Malkin and Crosby higher, and some would say that either Penguin outweighs the four Sabres.

Am I saying there’s no one in the world who will want to play hockey in Rochester and Buffalo? No. Just that the pool of talent is so much smaller that building not one but two contenders is likely beyond the ability of anyone, much less a newly minted general manager who like his ownership group has done two things when in the big chair. One of them is ‘jack’ and the other starts with ‘s’.

 

 

Before you start reading, take a moment and start listening to this week’s Two Man ForeCheck.

The three things that define the best of the best are:

  • Quality
  • Consistency
  • Complimentary elements

The winner of the Vezina trophy is a player who can arguably carry a team into the playoffs just about single handedly. The Norris, the Hart, the Rocket Richard, and even the Selke are all very important players for a team to have. A Norris caliber goaltender is even more important. A top forward who plays 18 minutes a night might not play as much time as a goaltender who plays just 35 games in a season. A Even a top defensemen playing 23-25 minutes a night won’t be on the ice anywhere near as much as a top or even average goalie.

Two of this years nominees are The Guy on their team. There is no bigger name.  Each of the three faces slightly different pressures in their market.

Carey Price is probably the best known. Both by virtue of his tenure as the number one in the market that pours more scrutiny on netminders than any other. Having to follow in the footsteps of hall of famers like Ken Dryden and Patrick Roy is bad enough. Given that he’s been the man in the crease for a good portion of a very, very long Stanley Cup drought in Montreal. There’s not a lot of peaks and valleys to this man’s game. He is probably the most consistent of the Vezina nominees. He does however play behind Tom Plekanec who should have at minimum two or three finalist appearances as a Selke nominee, but Shea Weber who has been likewise denied his due for the Norris. The biggest counter-weight for Price is that he was the most consistent, and had to play and win with the least scoring support of the three finalists.

Brayden Holtby had the best season of any member of the Washington Capitals. Yes Oshie set a new career high in goals, yes Ovechkin and other were good too, none were a top two or three in their position type player this year. What Brayden Holtby has is perhaps the most capable bottom to top defense of any team in the east. They don’t have a Norris quality defenseman (and neither do the Sharks), but they have six defensemen who could find roster spots on just about any other team in the NHL.

Segei Bobrovsky was the man, the myth, and has to build the legend in Columbus. They are a team who has never seen the playoff success, never had a dominant player good enough to take the team to the promised land when playing well, and never won a Cup. “Bob” is the type of player who if he can find a little more consistently will take a team to the promised land. He has several really good players in front of him, but the Blue Jackets don’t have the depth at either forward or defense of some of the top handful of teams in the NHL.

The eyeball test, and

The NHL is going the way of the NFL, and burdening the game, the fans, the broadcasters, and the players with absurdly long reviews on that just rob the fastest game on earth of all its trademark speed. You just can’t do that.

Several times a week, sometimes more than once in the same game, we’re all bored to tears watching multiple views of a something in slow motion that happened at full speed, an ever increasing number of minutes ago. The question is why?

We all know the offsides rules are there to prevent unfair advantages and force teams to play in all three zones so the game doesn’t turn into tennis on ice. And that makes sense. A guy who gets into the zone two or three seconds, or strides ahead of the opponent has a clear advantage. But how long does that advantage last? We see the fastest players in the NHL make full laps of the rink in as little as 13 seconds up to 15 seconds. Goalies go from the crease to the bench in about seven seconds.

When it stops being an advantage, shouldn’t it stop negating a goal? If a goalie  gets bumped, has a chance to reset, and three seconds later the opposing team scores that goal isn’t waived off. Why should a goal where a player entered fifteen, thirty or even more seconds before the puck enters the net be negated? Sometimes that player isn’t on the ice any more.

Here’s the rule change the NHL needs:

If a puck enters the net more than ten seconds after a play is deemed offsides, and no other infraction occurs the goal shall count.