Hockey is the most difficult game to officiate, there is no doubt.
Conspiracy theories are difficult to substantiate, mostly because most of them are unfounded.
But, just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean there isn’t somebody out there trying to get you.
The NHL playoffs are providing for most hockey fans not committed to one of the particular teams involved more annoyance than thrills, all because of the indecipherable nature of the rules in play.
Come on, a blatant high stick that draws blood but not a penalty?
One has to have a bit of belief that the NHL powers-that-be have not-so-subtly changed the rules regimen over the past year, or that referees that once were considered at least adequate have in that time become incompetent.
I have friends who will, quite wrongly, dispute this, but things seemed obviously to change after three games of last season’s Stanley Cup final, when officials seemed to have decided that no matter what the Boston Bruins did the Canucks were embellishing and therefore deserved no power play time.
That decision by the officials allowed the Bruins to overpower the Canucks – not with skill, although they had a lot of it; not with discipline, because the Canucks had that, too; not with anything but escalating (unpunished) chippiness and a supremely hot goalie.
The Canucks, built for speed and special teams play, had no answer for the violence and succumbed, finally, timidly.
Every series this post season is seeing the same kind of physical push and pushback play – and officials at all levels seem fine with it. The resulting hockey is ugly and so devoid of skillful puckhandling and dexterity it might as well be football.
The best goalie on the night wins, period.
The finals will include the rarity of the two largest media markets in America both being represented on the ice, which may have been the front office target all along, even if it diminishes the game for hockey fans and many players.
There are still those who ascribe to the nonsensical notion that, “officials shouldn’t decide games,” as if fairly enforcing the rules as written was somehow a biased activity.
The simple fact is, however, that an officials existence is supposed to be about allowing teams to compete fairly within the rules as written. If doing that job seems to favour one team over another, that is what the result of competent officials competently doing their job is supposed to look like.
The rules are written down and the game is supposed to be played within that framework. If the rules of the game are to be changed, they need to be changed in writing, not on the fly at the whim of executive or officials.
It is an old problem in the NHL.
It should not have the much more talented Montreal Canadians becoming stronger and tougher, physically and in terms of prowess at fisticuffs to end the reign of terror that the Philadelphia Flyers, “Broad Street Bullies,” outfit conducted, but it did.
What’s happening now, an officiating regime which means highly skilled teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroit Red Wings and Canucks have virtually no opportunity to earn a place in the NHL’s showcase event is and will be very bad for hockey at all levels.
If you love hockey, you should hate what is going on.