Here it is, folks:
Bottom line: a penalty in the 1st/2nd period should be a penalty in the 3rd or OT. Who knows when the decisive moment in the game will be?
— Gord Miller (@GMillerTSN) June 6, 2013
That’s TSN’s Gord Miller. He’s been TSN’s voice for hockey for almost as long as I can remember. He calls World Juniors and he calls most of TSN’s NHL games. To say he’s one of the most influential people in hockey is no exaggeration. So when he’s critical of officiating, the league ought to pay attention.
It’s impossible for the refs to get every call right every time, but that sentiment doesn’t change the way we fans feel every time we see a call they miss. And, just because they didn’t call a penalty, doesn’t mean Dustin Penner didn’t elbow David Bolland in the head last night, or Logan Couture two weeks ago.
Officiating has been glaringly-terrible for several seasons now, and the league continues to bury its head in the sand. Play-by-play guys and fans are dismissed as homers when they’re critical of bad or missed calls. And nothing gets fixed.
Well, TSN and others have done a great job making a mockery of the puck-over-the-glass delay-of-game penalty and it’ll be changed, but otherwise, nothing changes. I love the puck-over-the-glass penalty because it’s clear-cut. The refs can’t put their whistle away in a close game and arbitrarily change the rules of any individual game.
And don’t think for a second that’s not what happens when the refs “let ‘em play.” Each and every game gets played under a different set of rules.
And that different set of rules for every game is what makes a game dangerous. When Hockey Canada announced their bodychecking ban recently, my twitter feed was filled with “teach the kids how to hit” type stuff. That opinion’s not wrong at all. It’s very important to teach kids how to hit, and how to take a hit. That makes bodychecking safe.
But when refs aren’t consistent in penalizing unsafe and illegal hits, the players are going to take advantage of it. And that makes it unsafe.
There was a time, not very long ago, that any contact with a player’s number or nameplate was met with ridicule and shame. Now, we get Brad Marchand acting incredulous about being penalized for such a hit.
And why wouldn’t he be? Even if he’d never gotten away with a hit like that before, he’s surely seen others get away with it.
Here‘s a whole game from this year’s playoffs. Watch it. See how often contact is initiated from behind. And see how often it gets called. Improve the standard of officiating (as in, any contact from behind is a penalty) and the game will be safer. Will we see guys turning into it? Sure. But soon enough, we’ll also see guys holding up on those kinds of plays, which again makes things safer.
It’s time to stop dismissing complaints about officiating*, and instead, start demanding better. These games mean too much to fans, and are worth too much money to broadcasters, and are decided on too-narrow of margins for the league to continue to pretend like its officiating isn’t up to snuff. There is no excuse for four on-ice officials to have missed those Penner elbows. There’s no excuse for the league not handing down supplemental discipline for them either (here’s an idea: cameras catch an elbow the refs missed, the player gets an automatic one-game suspension and the two refs working the game each get a $1250 fine, and that should fix it up real quick).
*One caveat here: no game in any sport has ever been decided by one call, and no game in any sport ever will be in the future. So spare me your “that one call cost my team a win” garbage and instead, count up all the calls the refs missed and email your tally to the league.
NHL.com player profile pages (or profile pages at any other website) need to start including players’ disciplinary-hearing information. I want to be able to go to Duncan Keith’s page, and see how many times he’s had to talk to Brendan Shanahan. Feels like the kind of information we fans should have as we settle in for our daily “should that guy be suspended” debates.
And since the league’s been slow-playing the crap out of announcing their decision (my guess: if they’re waiting for The Big Game to start before announcing, they’re announcing something stupid), let’s dive into it. Keith was suspended in March 2012 for five games for an elbow Shanny said was “dangerous, reckless, and caused injury.” His high stick, which is a pretty favourable description, on Carter didn’t cause injury but was at least as dangerous and infinitely more reckless. A body check that causes injury is, unfortunately, part of the game. Swinging your stick at your opponent–no matter what part of their body you were aiming for–is not.
So the league’s in a tough spot. They banished Marty McSorley for a whole year when he pulled a similar stunt. He was charged with assault. But that was before Shanahan, in February. And McSorley was never a Norris-caliber defenseman, nearing the end of his career. Keith, who is gaining a reputation for being a little reckless both on and off the ice, is a Norris-caliber defenseman in his prime, and in the conference final.
There’s no doubt in my mind he should be suspended for at least the rest of this series. But there’s also no doubt in my mind the league’s hoping to sweep a non-suspension under the rug around puck drop.
PREDICTABLE UPDATE: The league really showed Keith who’s boss and what’s right on this one. For this reckless and dangerous act, the league gave Keith a whopping one game suspension. One. It’s hard to believe a team as good as the Hawks will miss his 25-30 minutes in game four. And since it’s playoffs, he won’t even lose a game cheque. That’ll teach him! The message today, as it was when Matt Cooke and Brad Marchand got away with egregious checks from behind with no additional punishment, is that anything goes in the playoffs. So maybe just disregard the next but here about the league finally adding safety measures.
In other player-safety news, the PA announced they’re going to grandfather in mandatory visors. That’s good news. Of course, there’s still a lot of time for the Board of Governors to screw it up, so for now I’ll just say it’s great to see the NHL finally following the CHL’s lead.
And we’re getting a hybrid icing trial during pre-season this fall. I’m glad the league is looking at changing the way icing works. It’s very dangerous right now, and needs to be changed. I’m firmly in the automatic icing camp. My main worry with the hybrid model, in which two players race to the faceoff dot instead of the goal line, is that contact between the faceoff dot and goal line has the potential to be very dangerous, and could lead to even more players sliding fast and hard into the end boards.
But good on the league for finally starting to address this stuff.
The Canes new unis look a lot like Hockey Canada’s unis, and I’m sure Nike will have something to say behind closed doors about that. I have always really liked the hurricane warning flags they used as trim. It made their jerseys unique without doing something crazy. It was a great little detail that I’ll miss. Overall, a cleaner look. The biggest blunder in the new uni set is keeping the black alternate.
The Stars new jerseys look good too. The green is fun, and on their new home jerseys I love the striping that they’ve… uh… borrowed from the Blackhawks. But as much as I like the jerseys, that logo is so boring. The weird bevels and shadows–and even weirder places they disappear, shift or reappear–the whole thing is just very uninspired. I realize there’s not a lot of design space in the name “Stars,” and that the local football team already has dibs on the best and most obvious logo, but that’s no excuse for a dud like this. Maybe if they’d gone with a more flat design, using fewer bevels, like so.
Maybe even make the star gold, to keep that in the colour set. And nudge the D to the right a bit. Alas, another example of all that could have been.
Get in on the latest hockey craze, currently taking Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and all of Canada by storm–THE GREAT GOALIE CRISIS OF 2013!!
Last night, TSN seemed to dedicate their existence to “WHAT’LL THE KINGS DO NOW?!?!” hyperbole. It was as though Jonathan Quick never had a bad game before.
Then, this morning, an ominous tweet from Rob Rossi:
Based off several conversations today, this is a pretty big game for Vokoun as starting goalie.
— Rob Rossi (@RobRossi_Trib) June 3, 2013
After saving the Penguins from the horrors of Marc-Andre Fleury’s goaltending, and allowing just 14 goals in seven games, Tomas Vokoun is officially on the bubble after daring to allow three goals against a Bruins team good enough to compete in the conference final.
And to top it all off, the growing movement to ban European goalies from the CHL.
I’m pretty sure this goalie hysteria is all just preemptive anxiety about Team Canada’s goaltending uncertainty heading into the Sochi Olympics next February. As the Kings-Blackhawks game showed last night, the hysteria has reached the point where Canadians don’t even care that the American goalie played poorly–THERE WAS A GOALIE AND HE HAD A CRAPPY NIGHT! OH MY GOD WHAT’LL CANADA DO NEXT FEBRUARY?!?!
The Kings didn’t lose last night because Quick had an off night. They lost because they haven’t put a 5 next to their name in the boxscore since Wayne Gretzky called the Great Western Forum home. Pittsburgh didn’t lose Saturday night because Vokoun came unglued–they lost because guys like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were suddenly too busy trying to prove they’re rough-and-tumble ruffians instead of scoring goals.
As for the CHL problem, well maybe there’s something there. Most likely, we’re in the midst of a slight developmental lull for Canadian goalies. Remember when Quebec was a goalie factory? That was probably an unsustainable boom. These things ebb and flow. Fancystats are also changing the way teams evaluate (and measure the importance of) goaltending. So it’s all in flux a little bit right now. Crisis? Hardly. Is Hockey Canada thrilled to see three of the five goalies from last month’s Memorial Cup carrying non-Canadian passports? Probably not, but I hardly think banning European goalies from the CHL is the answer.
We’ve already danced this dance when it comes to Europeans in the CHL. That was back when Pavel Brendl and Oleg Saprykin were some of the CHL’s top products. Canada just wasn’t producing great forwards back then (Kris Beech was the highest-selected Canadian forward in the 1999 Draft), and instead of holding the development system accountable, the European boogeyman was created. The CHL has benefited (though arguably, to the detriment of some European programs) from having top Canadian juniors play against top Euro juniors all the time, and we’re in the midst of something of a golden age of Canadian talent. So a ban probably won’t work. What else is there?
In part, the CHL-NHL transfer agreement is to blame. The NHL can’t assign drafted players to the AHL or ECHL while they still have junior eligibility, which leads to a large number of 19- and 20-year old goalies blocking the development of 17- and 18-year old goalies (this blockade also makes drafting goalies a very dicey proposition, but I’ll get into that closer to the draft). But that can’t be the only reason, because that rule was also in place during strong development cycles. Maybe the CHL could implement a rule that says teams can’t play a drafted goalie in back-to-back games. Such a rule would ensure u-18 goalies get ample playing time, but such a rule may also stagnate the growth of drafted goalies or wreak havoc on competitive balance.
I know sometimes this is hard to do, but maybe instead of allowing a knee-jerk reaction to forever change the landscape of the game, we should let some common sense prevail and ride out this developmental lull.
Another day, another Jays pitcher likely headed to the disabled list.
I wasn’t watching last night when Ramon Ortiz left the game with an arm injury. Reading this morning that he slammed his glove to the ground almost immediately after throwing the pitch, before grabbing his elbow wasn’t pretty. And now he joins a group that’s become far too inclusive–Blue Jays pitchers on the disabled list.
Ortiz joins Brandon Morrow, Dustin McGowan, Darren Oliver, Sergio Santos, Drew Hutchison, JA Happ, Josh Johnson, Kyle Drabek, and Luis Perez on the DL.
Is this all just bad luck, or is there something more to it? After the 2012 regular season ended, Fangraphs pulled together some injury data and presented a chart showing the Jays had pitchers on the DL for more days than 28 other teams. That same post also includes a graph with a three-year trend from 2010 thru 2012. In the graph, same story. The Jays are second in MLB in days spent on the DL by pitchers.
Sure, long-term injuries to Dustin McGowan, Jesse Litsch, and now Hutch, Drabek and Perez help to inflate those numbers. But this isn’t a new fad in Toronto. I remember griping about pitcher injuries back in the JP Ricciardi days.
Maybe it is bad luck, but at some point you can’t keep looking at all these DL trips and shrugging them off as bad luck and start evaluating the team’s approach to strength and conditioning–especially with three 40-year old pitchers (Dickey, Oliver and Ortiz), and with oft-injured flamethrowers like Johnson and Morrow in the mix.
Now, I can’t remember any pitchers leaving the Jays organization and griping about the fitness regimen or accusing the Jays of doing a lousy job with S&C. And indeed, someone like Morrow, who’s been able to keep his diabetes in check while working with the Jays trainers, is an example of the organization doing a good job.
Maybe the Jays just have a whole bunch of guys that don’t dedicate themselves to their S&C. But after seeing Brett Cecil and Carlos Villanueva lose significant amounts of weight, and seeing Steve Delabar committing himself to getting back (and later, McGowan finally finding success in getting back using a program like Delabar’s), it’s hard to imagine that’s really the case.
Whatever the cause, the Jays need to start turning over rocks looking for answers even more frantically than they must already be. This has been a problem for at least four years, and probably longer. Enough is enough.
The one great thing about wanting to write a post about awful officiating in sports is that one never has to wait very long for a truly terrible call (or non-call) to make the post relevant.
And once again, here we are. Maybe Mika kicked that puck in Tuesday night, maybe he didn’t.
Maybe the umps in Tampa this week have blown just about every call during the Toronto-Tampa Bay series this week (Rays manager Joe Maddon was ejected twice and Blue Jays slugger Edwin Encarnacion was also ejected), maybe they haven’t.
I get it. I’m pretty sure officiating a pro hockey or baseball game is unbelievably hard. Guys make mistakes.
That’s just what happens when rules are open to subjectivity, and games aren’t equipped with enough cameras to properly review plays.
[On the topic of subjectivity: nice of the refs to go ahead and use their discretion and let Brandon Prust continue to play Tuesday night when he obviously premeditatedly elbowed Eric Gryba in the head. It's not like he alluded to vigilante retribution after the original incident or anything. It's not like the teams combined for 200-and-some penalty minutes in Game 3. Shoulda given him the gate on the spot.]
Which brings me to the wonderful IPL. Yeah, cricket. I really love watching IPL. And two of IPL’s best features are: a fair play award, and instant replay of all close calls.
Part of the criteria for scoring fair play points during a match is the respect players show to officials. This came to light during a great game Sunday night. The Pune Warriors were fielding and in the midst of blowing a pretty huge lead when they very nearly caught a break. One of their players dove for a ball. If caught, it would have resulted in a crucial out. The play was too close to call on the field, and when the umpire asked if the player caught the ball or if it was trapped, he told the umpire he wasn’t sure. The umpire closest to the play then asked the other umpire if he’d seen it. He hadn’t. So the play went to review. Immediately viewers were shown a definitive replay (I’m convinced IPL games are rigged up with 7,000 cameras), which the off-field umpire also saw. The batter was ruled safe, and the game carried on.
No players or coaches screamed at the umpires. Fans in the stadium saw the same replay we tv viewers and the off-field umpire saw, so they didn’t scream at anybody. And nobody tweeted or blogged about Pune getting robbed by a bad call. This was no three-minute NFL review. I didn’t have enough time for a bathroom or snack break while this review happened.
Obviously, in a perpetual motion game like hockey, it’s harder to review plays. You can’t really go back in time and review a close play at the blue line. But think about goal reviews. They’re terrible. They take forever. Two reasons: needlessly complicated rules, and insufficient cameras. Maybe you’ve heard an announcer say this: “there’s no conclusive angle, so they can’t overturn the call.”
[Aside: Just for fun, click here, Ctrl+F the word conclusive, lemme know what you find (or don't find)]
Or how would you like to be the Oakland A’s, who hit a home run that would have given them the lead in the top of the ninth inning during their game Wednesday. But the on-field call was that the ball hit the top of the fence and came back into play, leaving the batter with a double. The umps reviewed it, and it was still a double. Later, another angle showed the ball clearly hitting a railing beyond the outfield fence.
How is it possible in today’s high-definition world that arenas and stadiums aren’t equipped with enough cameras in the right places to make these reviews easier? And how is it possible the refs and umpires aren’t working their tails off to get every piece of information available to they can make the right calls?
I can’t imagine refs or umps look forward to getting screamed at. And I’ve never spoken to a fan who told me they were looking forward to all the bad calls at the game they had tickets to.
Yet, we’re so far gone from having any trust in the officials getting calls right that in most rinks and stadia, the people in charge of the video boards actively avoid showing replays of controversial calls for fear of inciting the crowds.
And somehow, despite all the negative attention when their officials get it wrong, none of our leagues on this side of the pond seem to have any interest in helping their officials get it right, in helping their fans have a better experience. Makes no sense.
I haven’t been watching much NHL this season. For a few reasons, including the lockout, but none more than this: I’m tired of modern hockey culture. I’m tired of what passes for hockey (see the pic above) for the last decade or so.
It’s not an overnight thing. I remember watching Tie Domi level Scott Niedermeyer with an elbow that led to the photo above. I didn’t realize that was 12 years ago until I searched out the pic. I remember that was series was full of particularly bad blood. I remember people rushing to defend Domi. And I remember having a very vivid dream that at the beginning of the next game in the series, both teams lined up for the opening faceoff and engaged in a bloody brawl. That must have been the beginning of the end for me and violence in the game.
Back in the present, I remember being particularly excited about this Montreal-Ottawa series. Two fast teams with a lot of skill sounded like the kind of hockey I want to watch. Better yet, I figured I wouldn’t even have to sit through a scrum after every damn whistle to see some of the pussy-boy all-skill, no-kill hockey that I like.
And sure enough, the first half of game one was great. End-to-end rushes, a few solid hits (all of which seemed to fall in line with the spirit of the rule–separating the puck-carrier from the puck). And who could really complain (outside of Toronto) about watching Erik Karlsson and PK Subban trade end-to-end rushes for 60 minutes? Top it all off with a couple of the league’s best goalies, and this was a recipe for something awesome.
Then, Eric Gryba hit Lars Eller. And Eller’s face hit the ice. And Eller’s face exploded. And CBC spent the rest of the game trying to explain that this blindside, predatory hit was part of the game (so much part of the game that NHL.com creatively edited the clip to avoid showing any of Eller’s blood on the ice). Not only, Garry Galley, Glen Healy, and the rest of the crew told us, was it part of the game, but also it was all Raf Diaz’s fault. Sure, the suicide pass Diaz made put Eller in a bad spot. But to blame him for a hit that very much is part of the game, but very much has no real place in it, is irresponsible. Which is not to say I blame Gryba either.
Hockey coaches teach kids from a very young age to do exactly what Gryba did. Such a hit in peewee rinks across the country would be met with at the bench with high-fives and cheers. You won’t see as much cheering on NHL benches after such a hit, but you’ll sure find a parade of people that love it and defend the hit until they’re blue in the face and I’m changing the channel.
I worked the night of game two and missed it, and I was out for a delightful dinner during game three. I found more than a dozen text messages about the embarrassing bullshit that marred game three. I read several tweets. I consciously turned off Sportscentre when those highlights came up. I shook my head, and I gave up on watching the one series that may have shown me the kind of hockey I want to see.
Sunday turned to Monday, and Monday morning we got the news the NHL wasn’t even going to be talking to anyone involved in Sunday’s series of melees, cheap shots, and other stupidity. That Rene Bourque–previously suspended for throwing elbows–didn’t get a call from what has to be the ironically-named Department of Player Safety, is an embarrassment.
That none of the players involved (particularly the Habs that seemed to start the whole thing) will be held accountable for turning an otherwise enjoyable playoff series into a macabre spectacle, is an embarrassment. That the coaches were allowed to throw mud at each other and act like children, you know where this is going.
And that no one at CBC, TSN, or the NHL is willing to spend any time really preaching that this shit needs to be gone from the game, is the most embarrassing of all. Anyway, can one of you let me know if one of the talking heads shows a little sack and calls for an end to this garbage? Until then, enjoy the line brawls, scrums, blood and concussions. I’m going to watch Worlds so I can see some fucking hockey.
Alright, Blue Jays fans. First week is in the books, and it’s safe to say it went nothing like planned. I’m here to be the eternal optimist. It’s one week out of 27. There’s a lot of baseball left to be played.
And in the next 26 weeks, this team is going to be charged with a lot of defensive errors. It’s not a great defensive team. But it’s also unlikely we’ll see two different Jays have games as bad as JP Arencibia’s Opening Day and Emilio Bonifacio’s Farrell Game inside of a week again.* Did those guys have shitty nights? Yes. Do they know they had shitty nights? Yes. Does it mean they should both be shipped to the glue factory? Not at all.
Arencibia needs more time with the knuckleball, and he’ll get chances to work with RA Dickey to improve. Bonifacio isn’t “not roster-worthy”–as someone in my twitter feed suggested–because of his poor game. He had a bad night in his 79th Major-League appearance at second base.** In both cases, these players were put into positions they were bound to fail in (Arencibia out of the sense he’d earned the OD start, and Boni by being defaulted to 2B while Brett Lawrie’s hurt), and they’ll fail in those spots again. This team is supposed to have the bats to overcome an awful night or two in the field.
And if the D doesn’t shape up, maybe the Jays can move Brandon Morrow to third base until Lawrie comes back. Buck and Pat had a lotta yuks during the game about his two stellar defensive plays Wednesday night, but make no mistake–he made two outstanding plays. I’m pretty sure I had time to watch the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy in the time it took that little dribbler to get to him, and he still got enough on his throw to Jose Reyes to start a double play. There was noothing routine about it, and that’s something the Jays defense should get used to this season.
With the rotation the Jays have, the infielders aren’t going to get many hard-hit balls this year. Thanks to the junk Dickey and Mark Buehrle throw, and the filthy heat/breaking combos Morrow and Josh Johnson throw, expect to see a lot more broken bats, high choppers, and dribblers turn into seriously ugly hits (and yes, errors). Of course, if JA Happ is going to keep setting 1-hitter pace in his starts, I don’t think the infielders are going to complain.
Two off-field issues to touch on before wrap it up. First: the crowds. The Jays had some big crowds during the first week, which was great to see. But it came with the usual garbage– everyone pointing out the attendance drop from Opening Day to game two, and too many people acting like assholes. I’ve always kind of ignored the part about the attendance drop from game one to game two, because I’ve always believed Rogers Centre is just too big. It’s great when there’s a big game and the Jays can stuff 50,000 bodies inside, but ends up being spacious (and half-empty) when a respectable 27,000 are on hand. It’s always been a non-story, but I’m sure we’ll continue to get the Drop number every season.
The other, much more concerning issue, is the people acting like idiots. I’m not going to tell anyone how to behave. There’s too much beer involved to keep that many people under control for an afternoon (or evening), and it just gets harder when things aren’t going well for the home side. But let’s dispense with one notion regarding all the assholery we heard about last week: it’s not just casual/bandwagon fans that are responsible. Season ticket holders can be assholes too. At a game with 25,000 on hand in August, when Adam Lind strikes out and boos rain down, those aren’t bandwagoners booing. Those are the so-called die-hards that spent all week calling out the casuals.
We’re all fans of this team, and we all get painted with the same brush. It’d be great if we could all stop being so fickle about it, and just cheer for our team (I genuinely got chills from the roar the crowd let out when Razzles made this game-ending catch Saturday because the sound of 40,000 happy Jays fans is the best sound in the world), but I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon. So instead, let’s stop pretending there’s two classes of Jays fans, OK? OK.
Last up, quickly on Jose Bautista’s comments about the umps last week. I have no problem whatsoever with Bautista wanting to demand better, more consistent performances by the umps. I love the passion he plays with, and I really don’t even have much of a problem with the death-glares he gives to umps whenever he disagrees with a call. But I do have a problem with him claiming he can’t perform to the best of his abilities because umps are “mediocre.” How many Toronto-area Little Leaguers tried to use that line last week? And how many Little League coaches had to straighten their kids out as a result. The umps are awful, Jose, we know that. But you can’t control them. You can only control you. Play your game, do the things you can do.
Anyway, didn’t mean to tee off like Razzles there, but it was a pretty eventful week. Next week starts tomorrow.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE WEEK
Lots of huge homers to pick from. Couple great Rasmus catches, and the aforementioned Morrow Defense Show. But for me, there’s only one. Adam Lind had a nightmare 2012 season, and got off to a pretty awful start this year. But he’s just so damn loveable. Check him out stealing second:
*Once Brett Lawrie returns, all bets are off. He’s obviously become a much better third basemen than any of us expected he’d be, but I always half-expect him to airmail every ball he throws. He could make a dozen errors in a week and I wouldn’t even bat an eye. That’s just Lawrie.
**And just, Baseball Reference’s game log suggests, his fourth ever 2B appearance on artificial turf.