Hockey is a First Rate sport, but the NHL is a Second Rate League

21 December 2015: Philadelphia Flyers right wing Wayne Simmonds (17) charges up the ice during the NHL game between the St. Louis Blues and the Philadelphia Flyers played at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Gavin Baker/Icon Sportswire)

Gene Hart said it best with this quote, “It just goes to show you how great of a sport hockey is when it is so popular with its fans even though the NHL is so poorly run”.  Hockey is an unbelievably great sport. No sport combines the speed, skill, and physicality that  hockey does.  Yet it has never risen above number four  when it comes to the four major sports in North America and it  probably never will.

I always used to  wonder why hockey wasn’t more popular. Many theories  abound as to why that is. Some say it is because it is a Canadian sport. Some fans complain that they can’t follow the puck and therefore it doesn’t translate well to TV. Years ago, when fighting was more prevalent, people complained that as long as fighting was a part of hockey, they wouldn’t watch it.

All of these explanations  may have some merit to them. But for me, it goes directly back to Gene Hart’s quote. As great of a sport as hockey is, there isn’t a more poorly run league in North America than the NHL.

From an unbelievably ridiculous playoff system that doesn’t reward teams for a good regular-season performance, to  inconsistent officiating on the ice, to no Rhyme or Reason when it comes to how they met out supplementary discipline,and to rule changes that weren’t given a lot of thought before they were implemented, the NHL leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to how well the league is run.

Let’s first take a look at the league’s playoff system. The top three teams in each division automatically qualify for the playoffs. The two remaining teams with the best records then qualify as wild cards. Also, all the teams stay in one bracket instead of getting reseeded. The result is that you have some of the best teams in the league getting eliminated in the first couple of rounds because they are meeting each other in the first and second round of the playoffs.

The League’s rationale for this was that it would create more rivalries. It has done nothing of the sort though. When you look at the fact that under this system the New York Islanders wound up playing the Florida Panthers last year in the first round of the playoffs, whereas in the old system the Islanders would have played their cross-town rival New York Rangers, this in no way has helped the teams that are Rivals meet each other in the playoffs. And as a result of a lot of the best teams going out in the first couple of rounds, you have a watered-down conference and Stanley Cup Final. Players and fans alike absolutely despise this  system. The league obviously didn’t put any thought into how a playoff system like this would wind up playing out.

Let’s now take a look at the on-ice officiating. The NHL isn’t alone when it comes to bad officiating. Anybody who watched the Philadelphia Eagles play the Carolina Panthers, or who watched game 5 of the World Series between the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers, know full well that the NHL isn’t the only league that has inconsistent officiating.

And  I am by no means trying to make this out to be a case of the officials having  it out for the Flyers. But I will use them as an example since they are the team that I watch the most. The Flyers last three games  against the Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs and Arizona Coyotes show that not only are the NHL officials inconsistent but, they are also incompetent.

Here is an example of how inconsistent the officiating is in the NHL. Against Arizona, Wayne Simmonds was pursuing a Coyote player who had the puck. Simmonds  gave him a shove with his forearm in order to try and knock him off balance. Simmonds didn’t use his stick and the Arizona player was in  the middle of the ice  so Simmonds wasn’t pushing him dangerously into the boards. Yet  Simmonds was given a two-minute penalty for cross-checking.

In Saturday night’s game against Toronto, Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere was skating towards the left-wing boards in the Toronto Zone in order to try and keep the puck from leaving the zone. The Maple Leafs Leo Karmorov was in Hot Pursuit. When Gostisbehere was about three or four feet away from the boards, Komorov violently shoved Gostisbehere  from behind causing him to crash head-first into the boards. It was what should have been a text book boarding penalty. There is even video taken from one of the referees helmets where he is looking directly at the play.  So it wasn’t a case of him not having seen it. Yet there was no call on the play. How is Wayne Simmonds called  for a penalty but, on a much more egregious play, Leo Karmorov was not? Gostisbehere returned for a few more shifts but didn’t return for the rest of the game as the result of an “upper body injury” which is most likely a concussion.

Karmorov’s blatant cheap shot leads us to how inconsistent and hypocritical the NHL is when it comes to supplementary discipline. The NHL always claims that it is  looking out for a  player’s safety. Yet when one of the best defenseman in the league so far this year gets violently shoved headfirst into the boards, not only is there no suspension for Karmorov, he isn’t even brought in for a hearing. Why? That kind of hit is exactly the kind of hit that the league keeps claiming they want to eliminate from the game. Yet Leo Karmorov is  allowed to escape scot-free. Komorov is  notorious for hits like this. So the fact that he wasn’t punished for what he did to Gostisbehere only means he will do it again. Does somebody need to get crippled before the NHL finally comes down hard on this type of hit?

The game against the Ottawa Senators was a perfect illustration of how not only are  NHL officials inconsistent but, in a lot of ways they are incompetent. Knowing the rule book shouldn’t be too much to ask of both the on ice and off ice officials. After the Flyers had battled back from several two-goal deficits to pull within one goal of the Senators, Flyers Center Sean Couturier wound  behind the Ottawa net and attempted to stuff the puck past Senators goalie Craig Anderson. Anderson appeared to do a good job of hugging the post and keeping the puck out of the net.

But after the whistle had been  blown, the officials decided to take a second look at Couturier’s attempt to stuff the puck into the net. The replay clearly showed without any doubt that the puck had completely crossed the goal line and therefore it was a good goal. The game should have been tied at 5 and the Flyers  should have come out of Ottawa with at least one point.

After further review, it was determined that, “the play had been completed” and therefore it was ruled no goal. The on-ice officials and the league itself got this wrong in so many ways. First off, the official completely missed the call by blowing the play dead. The puck  clearly had never been frozen and  therefore the whistle never should have been blown.

There is a rule in  place that says once the referee loses sight of the puck , the play should therefore be blown dead. Even though this rule has been a part of hockey since its Inception, this Rule still makes no sense to me. But that is another discussion for a different time. Also, even if the referee is in the process of getting ready to blow the whistle, the play is determined to be dead.

This is where the absolute lunacy of the NHL rulebook comes into play. There is one rule in there that says if the referee loses sight of the puck and he is in the process of blowing the whistle on a disputed goal call, even if the puck goes into the net before he Blows the Whistle, it should be ruled  no goal on the ice.

But, there’s also a rule in the rule book that states that if there is a play where the referee blew the play dead, but,  after looking at it on replay, it is determined that the puck was still loose and therefore never should have been blown dead, then the referee or  the off-ice official in Toronto can overturn the call on the  ice .So in the case of the disputed Couturier goal, both the on ice official and the league itself screwed all of this up royally. The on ice official didn’t realize that he could have used instant replay to determine whether or not the play  should have been blown dead.. And the league is at fault because it has two rules in its rule book that completely contradict each other.

Once again, the NHL wasn’t very thorough when it came to making sure there wasn’t any ambiguity when it comes to plays such as this that can determine the outcome of a game. It is completely  incomprehensible that the league can have two rules in  its rule book that completely contradict each other.

And what is really alarming about all of this is that the NHL is more worried about PR then they are about getting the call right. Anytime there is any type of controversial play, the NHL is quick to get a memo out to all of the people covering the game explaining what happened on the ice and why a certain play was ruled a certain way. Instead of worrying about bad PR, the league should worry about getting calls right.

Right after the controversial no goal  call in the Flyers game against Ottawa, the league had put a memo out that had reached the Flyers broadcasters within minutes. The NHL couldn’t get the explanation out there fast enough that the referee was in the process of blowing the  whistle and therefore the goal should not have been allowed.

Only problem was that the memo that they had sent out stating their case was completely incorrect. They didn’t realize and/or  they failed  to mention that there was a rule in place that allowed for the on-ice official to review whether or not the puck should have been blown dead. So again, both the on-ice officials and the league  office didn’t even have proper knowledge of their own rule book. This is inexcusable for a major professional sports league in North America to be so negligent in this area.

Last but not least, how the league Implements new rules without giving much thought to how they will translate on the ice. Before this year, coaches were allowed to challenge any goal that they thought may have been the result of the attacking team being offsides. The result was that it severely slowed the game down because after every goal, there was a lengthy review to see whether or not the play  was offsides.

The league wanted to  stop the game from  being constantly slowed  down by just about every goal being reviewed for off sides. This is something I was totally in favor of. They put a rule  in place that said a coach would only have one challenge per game to challenge whether or not a play was offsides when their team was being scored against. Again, something I was totally in favor of.

If a Coach challenges  an offsides call and it isn’t reversed, their team is given a two-minute delay of game penalty. This is way too severe a penalty for getting an offsides challenge wrong. It would be the equivalent of giving an NFL team  a 15-yard penalty for a failed  challenge, or a baseball team getting penalized an out for a failed replay challenge.

It’s probably a good idea to have some type of penalty in place for a failed challenge but, putting a team a man down for that goes overboard. Taking away a team’s timeout would make a lot more sense.

The Flyers were a victim of this severe penalty in their game against Nashville. Up one goal with about one minute left to play and with the Flyers just having gotten a man back on the ice that turned a 5 on 3 in to a 5 on 4, Nashville scored the tying goal. Flyers Coach Dave Hakstol decided to challenge the play saying that Nashville had entered the zone off sides.

The challenge was unsuccessful. The result was that the Flyers were given a delay-of-game penalty and were again down two men. Nashville went on to score the winning goal with just 36 seconds left in the game and as a result, the  Flyers didn’t even get a point out of a game where they were up two goals  with only three minutes left to play.

Without a doubt, a huge part of the blame for this goes on Dave Hackstol. With the Flyers being in the situation that they were in, he should not have challenged that play if he wasn’t 100% sure that the play would be overturned. With that being said though,a team shouldn’t have to worry about going a man down for  unsuccessfully challenging a play. It will make it far less likely that plays like that will get challenged and be corrected if the officials got it wrong on the ice.

If the penalty for an unsuccessful challenge were only a team losing its time out, coaches would be more likely to challenge a play and as a result if the play wasn’t called correctly on the ice, the play would be corrected. Once again, this is an example of how the NHL didn’t think a rule change all the way through before implementing it. It is another case of how poorly run this league is.

Nobody is going to be attracted to a league that is so poorly run. And when it comes to the people who love the game already, if the NHL doesn’t do right by them by putting a good playoff  system in place, by  having better on Ice officiating, by  being more consistent when it hands out discipline and by putting more thought in to how  new  rules might affect the game,, it is going to push people away from the sport. The NHL is doing a great disservice to the sport of hockey with  the incompetence of the league hierarchy. It’s time they get their act together

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