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The complaint du jour about the officiating in the Stanley Cup playoffs so far has been that there have been too many penalties being called so far. "No one is tuning in to watch the refs! Let the players decide the games."
Last year, the complaint was of too few power plays. "Just call it as written in the Rule Book!"
In other words, the usual pendulum swing and the usual unspoken call for a "15-team Rule Book" in the playoffs: One set of Rules for the other team ("call it strictly!") and a second for the team of personal rooting interest ("let them play!")
Consistent inconsistency. By the way, this goes for the games themselves. Absolute consistency is a noble goal but one that's virtually unattainable in a game played -- and officiated -- by human beings. I've touched many times on the inconsistency of the NHL Rule Book. Well, inconsistency breeds further inconsistency. That does not mean, however, that we should not demand consistently correct positioning, consistency with oneself (establish what will and will not be called and then don't switch mid-stream) and consistency in communication.
There certainly has been an uptick in NHL-issued fines for players in the first round: Brad Marchand, Derek Forbort, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Jamie Benn. Pat Maroon, Corey Perry. All received $5,000 fines (the maximum allowed by the CBA) for offenses ranging from high-sticking to slashing to unsportsmanlike conduct.
I am firmly of the belief that slap-on-the-wrist fines during the regular season are a non-deterrent to anyone. That's even more the case in the playoffs. They're handed out to give the illusion of doing something. A playoff suspension has teeth to it -- even a one-gamer. A playoff fine is a joke. By the way, I didn't believe these to be suspension-worthy cases. The Marchand slash was delivered about as forcefully as someone might brush his or her teeth. It was done with the intention of trying to get under the opposition's skin.
As we move along the playoffs, I do expect few penalties to be called. This is in part due to the push-pull effect of public reaction -- the NHL is hyper aware of controversial calls/ non-calls and tends to be reactive -- and partially due to the fact that there's a natural tendency to take fewer risks of potential potentially as the stakes grow higher and higher in the playoffs.
However, the pendulum will forever swing back and forth in the public discourse. Everyone is a ref this time of year, yet we can't recruit or retain enough of 'em from the grassroots upward. Go figure.
A 2018 inductee into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.
Visit Paul's official websites, YaWannaGo.com and Officiating by Stewart