Sunday, April 6, 2008

Saving the NHL: Part 2

This is the second in a two-part series on saving the NHL. As mentioned in part-one, I'm not interesting in advancing ideas that will "save" the NHL for casual fans, increase TV ratings, or get back on a certain network that has terrible hockey coverage and charges for half of its poorly written, poorly thought out, and under-researched online articles. Instead, I have two modest and reasonable proposals to make the game better for dedicated fans such as myself. The first proposal is actually quite easy to implement and that is to protect the players. For the love of God, they're your product; protect them. The second improvement is much more difficult to implement, but is also necessary: TRAIN THE OFFICIALS.

I understand that the NHL is a very fast game. I understand that four guys in stripes cannot see everything that occurs on the ice when 12 guys are buzzing around. I also understand the people, players and officials, have bad days, but BY GOD! the officiating in the NHL is the worst in any major sport. I don't have time nor energy to list the problems with the officiating, but anyone who has watched a large number of NHL games over the past few years knows what I mean.

The NHL, in tinkering with the game to appeal to fair-weather fans, revises the rules a lot regularly, revises the definitions of various penalties: hooking, interference, goaltender interference, etc. Because the definitions keep changing, it is important that the rules be applied consistently. Consistency from game to game, from referee to referee, is a lot to ask, I know. But consistency from period to period would be nice. Both the S.W. and his lovely wife enjoy watching hockey, but due to S.W.'s unpaying job, money is tight to see games in person. Because we are Red Wings fans, upper bowl tickets are $50 a piece after the Ticketmaster anal-rape surcharge. I want that, when I pony up $100 for tickets, $15 for parking, and $12 for beer, I can feel comfortable that I will see a fair contest in which the hardest working team will win. When S.W. and his wife want last time, we watched a game in which was decided not by the play on the ice, but the incompetence of the referees. In the early part of the game, the Osgood put his glove over the puck to freeze it, the opposing forward did not try to play the puck, he kneed Osgood in the head to dislodge the puck. Fifteen seconds later, the puck was in the net. Later, down 3-2, the Wings have a tying goal waved off for phantom goaltender interference that was called based on Tomas Holmstrom's reputation rather than the actual situation in the game. Competent refereeing: 2-3 Redwings win, Actual refereeing: 3-2 Redwings loss.

When I watch an NFL contest, I am always amazed at how many times I watch instant replay of a play where I originally disagreed with the on-field call only to see that the ref got it exactly right at full speed. In the NHL, that almost NEVER happens. The referees are wrong so often, it is unreal how little use of instant replay they NHL makes. What really gets me is that NFL referees have day jobs; NHL refs are the supposed professionals.

To fix it:
1.) More training for referees.
2.) Financially penalize referees for calling reputation based penalties.
3.) Financially penalize referees for totally blown calls.
4.) Fire Dan O'Halleran.
5.) When replay clearly shows an obviously blown call, allow it to be revised.
6.) Allow fans to vote off referees American Idol style (well, maybe not, but something to make them accountable... sheesh!)

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