The NHL has a serious problem; no, it's not the fact that our New Jersey Devils are a surprising 8-5-1 and sitting in the middle of the Metropolitan Division at the moment. No, the problem became apparent to me while watching our Devils play the Vancouver Canucks on Sunday evening. In a game marred by penalties galore, it was the consistency of the punishment for those penalties that had me shaking my head. This is an issue that I touched on briefly just over a year ago in terms of supplemental discipline, but is something that I feel needs to be addressed in terms of officiating.
Right off the bat I want to establish that I understand there will be some human error; everyone makes a mistake or two at some point, and with how fast a game of hockey moves, it is easy for officials to make mistakes. The problem I have is the abundance of mistakes already being made in what is still a young NHL season; one bad call in a game is acceptable but when the inconsistencies of officiating pile up to result in multiple bad/missed calls, it starts to become a larger issue that the NHL should be looking into.
The Game in Question
As I moved further into Connecticut this past summer, my new cable provider does not provide me with MSG+, so I had to spring for Gamecenter, which winds up working out nicely for this article as it allows me to grab screen captures of certain points of the game. Let's start with the biggest penalty of the night, which was described by Devils fans as a "clean hit" and by at least one Vancouver fan as an "attempted decapitation."
As you can see from the capture above, Larsson clearly leads with his shoulder and is targeting McCann's shoulder as well. I understand that the official can not see this, but this is the view that we had watching the broadcast at home; I'm assuming that the Vancouver broadcast probably had a similar vantage point here, so I can not fathom why any Vancouver fan would see this hit as dirty.
Now I can understand being upset that one of your promising young players took a big hit and appeared to initially be injured; we would probably all react similarly in the same situation, but at least I would not go as far as overreacting and calling it an attempt at beheading someone, especially when you look at additional angles that were shown on replay:
These two shots/pictures explain a bit more of the story to me; McCann leaves the ice favoring his left shoulder (which collided with the boards/ice) and hand, neither of which Larsson made contact with. The lower shot shows McCann as he is falling; while it isn't entirely clear, his head may have hit the dasher of the boards as he fell. The problem I have here is what justification is there for a major penalty? McCann was chasing the puck around the boards and Larsson caught him with his head dowb; don't believe me? Here are two shots just seconds apart showing McCann lowering his head and a third showing the collision:
While the time stamps may be a bit difficult to see, the clips are from 1:48:56, 1:48:57 and 1:48:58 showing just how much can happen in a few seconds in the NHL. My problem here is that we never see what the referee can from his vantage point; considering he would be to Larsson and McCann's right and would see McCann coming towards him as he goes behind the net, I must question how the difference in height and McCann lowering his head were not taken into consideration. Larsson's hit was not terribly vicious, though it was a good, solid check; meanwhile I understand the NHL is trying to get headshots/deliberate attempts to injure out of the game (and this hit was neither), but doesn't there have to be some onus on the player receiving the hit to protect themselves?
Drawing from the example above, officiating doesn't seem to have any standardization to it in the NHL; there are hits like that where nothing is called, hits like that where it is a 2:00 interference penalty (which would have been an unpopular but understandable call on Sunday), and then a situation like Larsson's where we see an incredibly rare 5:00 interference major. In this case, it shouldn't have been that extreme, let alone a penalty in my opinion; however, I would have had less of a problem if there had been some consistency in terms of discipline for similar situations.
Now I use the term "similar" a bit loosely, as a boarding call and an "interference" call aren't exactly similar; the reason I link them is because if you want to term Larsson's interference a "dangerous" hit, then what about Alexander Edler's hit on Travis Zajac?
Here's the start of the play; Zajac is to the left of the sign telling us to "Download the NHL App" as Edler (23) is a bit behind him; Travis is looking up towards Sergei Kalinin behind the net.
Zajac now has his back to the play as he tries to move the puck past Jacob Josefson and the Vancouver player; the onus is now on Edler to ease up on his hit as Zajac is in a vulnerable position.
Here are a couple of other shots showing Edler leading with his arm and propelling Zajac into the boards; now I'm not saying the official did not make the right call here. All I'm asking is do we not count pushing a player headfirst into the boards as one of the dangerous hits that the NHL is trying to eliminate from the game? I think I was a bit more concerned that the referee who called Larsson's hit (#37 Kyle Rehman) did not even raise an arm when Zajac was hit; it was another official who sent Edler to the box. How is it that we can have an official call a 5:00 interference major for one hit that he saw as targeting the head, yet not call a thing when a player is sent head-first into the boards right in front of him?
With the Territory
I'm as sympathetic to officials as can be; I would not want to have their job due to the number of split second calls they have to make. My problem is that when there's a no-call from one official on what is an obvious penalty (and I say no-call because Rehman did not make the boarding call) and then a major penalty called by the same official, does the NHL see no reason to evaluate said official? Perhaps if Zajac had done a bit of acting as McCann did (he was back on the bench before Larsson was in the dressing room) maybe Edler would have been ejected too?
I can't sit here at my keyboard and pretend I have all of the answers; the NHL is doing as good of a job as they can to keep players safe by determining what should be allowed and what shouldn't, but what good is it if the officials are not taught how to call these situations with consistency? It speaks to the same issues many have with suspensions that I have touched upon before; I'm all for harsher penalties for repeat offenders (because clearly some of them never learn their lesson) but shouldn't all first time offenders be subject to the same discipline based on what the crime was? Until we have any baseline constant for both officiating and supplemental discipline, both will continue to be seen as and spoken of as what they are; a joke.
Now I'd like to hear what you think about the consistency of the NHL's officials; do you think they are as inconsistent as I say they are in this article? Do you think they are doing as good of a job as they can? Do you feel this is something that the NHL should look at in more detail? Should one bad egg not be allowed to ruin the batch? Leave any and all thoughts below and as always thank you for reading!