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The Bigger Picture: Injuries and Officiating Consistency

Sometimes on-ice issues are bigger than one team; today I look at Tuesday’s Devils/Canucks game and analyze some things that the NHL needs to take a look into.

NHL: Vancouver Canucks at New Jersey Devils
A bid situation made worse by inattentive players and ineffective referees.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Every so often, I like to take a look at the bigger picture of the NHL; something that winds up focusing on a league-wide issue rather than a topic specific to our New Jersey Devils. This time, the issue does involve the Devils however, and more specifically, Tuesday night’s game against the Vancouver Canucks.

Technically, this is a two topic article, as it focuses somewhat on player safety and somewhat on training of on-ice officials, but it’s also about how the pair ties together. I think there were a lot of fans (both Devils and Canucks) that were unhappy about the officiating two nights ago for a variety of different reasons. We wound up having two players leave the game injured (although Travis Zajac would return for us, albeit with a broken nose) and the bigger problem was the aftermath of each situation rather than the situation itself.

Let’s start with the play where Travis wound up getting injured; it seems innocent enough with Michael Chaput of Vancouver shadowing Travis in Vancouver’s defensive zone. As Zajac goes around him towards the corner of the rink, he pivots slightly to shield the puck, resulting in his back facing Chaput.

The problem with the play itself here to me is not the initial contact, but that little extra push with his right hand; Chaput knows that Zajac’s numbers are all he can see at that point, yet he delivers that shove anyway. Now Travis wasn’t that close to the boards, but the hit still was from behind and ended with an injury. This leads to the officiating problems with this play; you have a player motionless on the ice and I understand when there are some injuries (such as a shot hitting a player where he is struggling to get off the ice) where you wait until the “shorthanded” team gains control of the puck. I think players who appear to be unconscious should be an exception and I was disgusted that play was not blown dead immediately; with all of the work the NHL is doing to eliminate head injuries from the game, here you had a player go head-first into the boards who immediately went motionless and nothing was done until New Jersey regained the puck. If a player is unconscious, the longer they are unattended, the larger the possibility of more serious problems arising becomes.

Additionally, more problems arose when John Moore went to confront Chaput; I have no issue with Moore being assessed an instigator penalty even if the boarding/hit from behind/roughing penalty that should have applied was missed. The egregious error here would be the officials assessing New Jersey a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct. I have to paraphrase Ken Daneyko here when he said that the officials need to use better judgment here, as I completely agree. The team lost its best center and best point producer so far this season to a questionable hit and they were already about to be shorthanded due to a (deserved) instigator penalty. The officials have already blown the Zajac call and already shorthanded a team that should be at worst in a 4 on 4 situation; instead of admitting that you missed a call and letting the coach vent, why double down and apply another penalty to the team you already put at an undeserved disadvantage?

Unfortunately, another hit in the game was even worse than this one, and there’s a lot of blame to go around on this next one. Midway through the second period, Taylor Hall would catch Philip Larsen in a vulnerable position and though it was not predatory or on purpose, he would wind up knocking Larsen out. I’m posting the clip of the thoroughly uncomfortable clip for reference below.

Now again my problem isn’t so much with the play; in this case it was somewhat of a bad pass from Luca Sbisa and an extremely unfortunate situation that arose from it. The bigger issues lie with the aftermath; Chaput (who should have been subjected to some sort of in-game discipline at this point) comes flying to his teammate’s aid. He immediately drops his gloves and starts taking shots at Taylor Hall, a player who clearly has no interest fighting him. Chaput makes things even worse still by pushing Hall back towards where an unconscious Philip Larsen lies on the ice. The train of stupidity continues below.

Chaput drops his stick on an unconscious man; Sbisa is skating over as well to seemingly go after Hall and his skate knocks into his own unconscious teammate’s head. Now the Devils are still down a player at this point, and Hall has just come back from injury, but nothing excuses their negligence in this situation as well. While P.A. Parenteau appears to maneuver his skate around Larsen, Kyle Quincey delivers another head hit to an unconscious player and essentially jumps over his neck as well. Thankfully nothing worse happened when it really really could have.

Just when you think the stupidity can’t get worse, you look back at the first clip and realize it did. Referee #34, Brad Meier can be seen casually skating over to where there is now a scrum on top of a player who may be seriously injured; you know you’ve screwed up your job when you’re the closest on ice official to the incident and BOTH linesmen attempt to diffuse the incident before you do. Kudos here to Jacob Markstrom and Markus Granlund for doing the right thing and attempting to protect the

To speak to a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of it all first, where is Chaput’s penalty for punching Hall here? New Jersey would get a power play moments later due to a dumb penalty taken by Erik Gudbranson, but where is the consistency? Where again is the in-game discipline for someone who has played a part in two major incidents in the game? While Hall did not engage Chaput in return, why was he not assessed a fighting major (or in the very least a roughing penalty) for hitting an opposing player in the face?

More importantly, games like this make me wonder what type of training is involved for officials in situations where a player is not moving on the ice; where’s the sense of urgency to do the right thing for someone who is not moving and could be seriously hurt? There were two instances in just one game where a man on each team was laying motionless on the ice and little was done to ensure their safety as a priority. As a Devils fan, I’m outraged at the inconsistencies in penalties; as a hockey fan, I’m both outraged and disgusted for what little care was shown to motionless players.

Players should not be exempt either here; I fully believe that anyone who struck Larsen after he was down, even his own teammates Chaput and Sbisa should face at least a fine from the league. Their actions were reckless and all of the players that skated into the scrum should be ashamed that there was any priority in their minds other than Philip Larsen’s health.

Now these are just from one game and simply the opinions of this writer, and while I believe their should be space for individual interpretations of certain rules, I think these situations are clearly defined and lie outside of “judgment” calls. I personally believe that as soon as there is a motionless player on the ice (especially in situations like these where the players heads were involved) that’s the end of the play no matter what. Additionally, there should be some urgency shown by officials in a situation where a player is motionless; even more so when he’s obviously unconscious. Players are subject to discipline for their actions; why are officials seemingly exempt for inaction?

I’d like to hear what you think about inconsistencies with both penalties in injury situations as well as how NHL officials respond. Do you think there is more that could be done for either of these? Should the NHL be disciplining officials who do not react swiftly in situations such as these? Do you think officials should have to go through a form of retraining if they bungle a situation such as this one, where little is done at first to diffuse a situation around an injured player? Leave any and all comments below and thanks for reading.