Bureaucrats write memoranda both because they appear to be busy when they are writing and because the memos, once written, immediately become proof that they were busy. ~ Charles Peters
PENTICTON, B.C. — The NHL is filled with bureaucrats who feel the need to “fix the game,” to justify their position and their pay cheque. The problem I see is that the game didn’t need that much “fixing” to start with and they have gone overboard in trying to micro-manage a product which was already excellent to start with. The reason? Over-expansion in non-traditional markets, in an attempt to draw fair-weather fans to those markets.
Has it worked? Yes… when the team wins. The Lightning packed the arena when they won the Stanley Cup. The Anaheim Ducks did the same the year they captured Lord Stanley’s prize. Not so much since, however. But wait… was it the new rules that brought the fans to those markets? Aren’t the rules pretty much the same today as they were then? Is there a remote possibility that winning is what brings fans to the rink?
In the meantime, NHL bureaucrats are trying every which way imaginable to change the roots of the game with what is, in many cases, gimmicks. Let’s add some new rules, new ways to end games, more referees, and more gravy on the poutine. That should bring fans to the game, right?
There are many examples of micro-management, bureaucrats trying to change the game for what they claim is the better. Yet, it is painfully obvious to traditional hockey fans that they have not thought those decisions through, not thinking of the collateral damage those decisions have on the actual game itself.
I will not write a whole thesis about each one of them today, as most of these points could be a column of its own, with its own debate attached to it. While I know that some people will want to argue those points by the simple fact that they are mentioned in this article, I refuse for the time being to be drawn into it until such time that I write my full take on each and every one of them.
The tighter enforcement of the instigator rule was brought forward to prevent so-called “goons” from attacking star players. What they didn’t think about is that it has given the green light to the rats of this league to play their game without fear of reprimand in tight games. Now some are talking about removing fighting from the NHL, which will undoubtedly worsen that same situation.
Someone decided that fans didn’t like tie games, although it’s been there for ages. They’ve decided that no game should end in a tie and they’ve come up with a five minutes playing at four on four. But wait, what if it’s still tied? Let’s end it with our most popular skills competition at the All Star break! Oh no doubt that some fans love it. Many hate it.
After the 2005 lockout, they chose to crack down on interference. Further, let’s not allow the goalies to play the puck in the corners! It definitely has sped up the game, but so have the unprotected contacts, putting targets in the back of defensemen chasing the pucks in the corner, resulting in more concussion and serious injuries. They didn’t think of that.
Whoever decided it wasn’t fair for the home team to have the penalty box on their side and to “fix it”, the two benches should be on the same side, should be hung. The last time I checked, each team plays the same number of home and away games, so it evens out at the end of the season. Also, having the two benches side by side has cause more problems with line changes and such than it was before. They didn’t think this one through either.
Now the best, and the actual point of this article: the two referees system. This is one of the biggest issues which need to be addressed and reversed immediately. In their wisdom, the NHL bureaucrats decided that having another pair of eyes on the ice would allow catching more infractions. It sure did. Yet, they didn’t think about the consequences.
1. Two referees, two judgments: In the days when there was only one referee, players knew, before the puck was dropped, what kind of game to expect. They knew the referees and what they called and allowed, in most cases. Now, while they know each referee, they don’t know which one will call what, bringing total inconsistency in calls made during the same game. Players, coaches and fans have no idea where they stand game in, game out.
2. Incompetence: In the past, only the best referees in North America were doing NHL games. When the league chose to double the number of red bands on the ice, guys from the AHL received a promotion. With the rule changes alone and with the speed of the game increasing, calling a game would have been a challenge for the most experienced and qualified referees. But bringing guys who are not ready and/or simply not qualified for the position, the bureaucrats created a nightmare! The refereeing in the NHL has never been as bad and as inconsistent as we’ve been seeing since the lockout of 2005. Worse, fans and teams will tell you that it channels down to every single level down, from the AHL to junior and college hockey as well.
3. Too many people on the ice: Let’s face it… players are bigger and faster than they’ve ever been, yet the ice surface has remained at the same size. Many people, including myself, believe that the NHL needs to force teams to go to an Olympic size ice but that’s another topic. In the meantime, there is less room on the ice for players to maneuver. Adding one more referee on the ice takes more space and they are getting in the way of clearing attempts, passes and/or players trying to skate away and make plays.
And I won’t even touch on the topic of linesmen not dropping the puck and chasing centermen away from faceoffs, another ridiculously amplified problem…
The solution? I’m not sure. Is it time for the league to have an official in the pressbox with a button that blows a whistle to catch stuff happening behind the play? Linesmen can call some infractions such as the too many men on the ice. Is it time to give them a couple more rules they can enforce like things happening behind the play?
The one thing I do know though is that this two referees system is not working. Not for the teams, and certainly not for the fans. It’s more than time to revert back to the three striped men on the ice. That I know. But what do bureaucrats think? After all, it’s their pay cheques that need justification.