Category: Rants

NHL officiating: Consistently inconsistent

I am a firm believer that the outcome of a game is never directly effected by officiating. If you blame the officials for a loss, then about six or seven other things went wrong prior to the loss. Inconsistent officiating goes both ways, and while it may seem like your team is getting hosed, the calls and non-calls are going both ways. There is no conspiracy theory against a club.

That said, the officiating in this year’s playoffs is alarmingly terrible. As a player, you can generally deal with refs calling everything or not calling anything at all. That’s consistent officiating, even if you may or may not agree with it. The most frustrating official is the official that does not make consistent rulings; an official that lets one slash of a stick go, and then calls a penalty on the same type of play three minutes later; the official that misses someone leave their feet to decapitate someone, only to have that player suspended for 25 games later that week.

The last example may be a case of a ref just having his head turned the other way, but there have been way too many examples like this of officials just being completely inconsistent with calls. I’ll even let the Ilya Kovalchuk delay of game call from the other night –the one where it clearly went off of a Flyer’s stick– slide as just a blown call. Blown calls aren’t the issue. It’s inconsistent calls.

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The President’s Trophy was not the prize

When the Rangers “forgot to show up” for their game against the Caps on Saturday, many people panicked. How can they win in the playoffs if they don’t show up for what amounts to a meaningless game? How dare they not show up on the final game of the year! The prize wasn’t the President’s Trophy. The prize is the Stanley Cup.

Quick…who won the President’s Trophy for the 1997-1998 season? No Google allowed.

Ok, who won the Stanley Cup? The Red Wings, their second in a row.

That’s the point here. No one remembers who won the President’s Trophy. Everyone remembers who wins it all. John Tortorella knows that, and he gave regular shifts to everyone on his club. Only Michael Del Zotto and Marc Staal came close to 24 minutes of ice time, which is a good sign for Staal. Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh played 21:17 and 19:50 respectively, roughly 50 fewer minutes than they usually play </exaggeration>.

Sure they lost the game and the President’s Trophy, but there are far worse things in the game of hockey. Derek Stepan played 20 minutes after almost losing a limb on that Brooks Orpik hit, which is probably the most important thing to come from that game. Reiterating a point from above, Staal played close to 24 minutes of ice time. The Rangers will need him to be able to handle that workload throughout the playoffs if they are going to succeed. That’s two great signs for the Rangers.

The Stanley Cup is the prize in June. No one cares who wins the President’s Trophy.

The Myth Of The “Untouchable” Player/Prospect

The term “untouchable” is often tossed around on Twitter, on blogs, and around the interwebs in many different forms. “Untouchable” is a term that fans have given to players they have either grown attached to, think are special in some way, or are vital to the organization’s well being. In the business that is hockey, there is no such thing as an “untouchable” player. Everyone can be had in the right deal. Including the most important player the Rangers have had since Brian Leetch: Henrik Lundqvist.

Now, will Lundqvist be traded? Absolutely not. But let’s say the Red Wings came calling for Hank, and they offered up Jimmy Howard, Henrik Zetterberg, and a top prospect for Lundqvist. Only a fool would say no to that trade. We all love Lundqvist, but in this case, I make that trade. Remember: emotions have no place in the business of the game.

“Untouchable” is a phrase that is used for prospects as well, which is mind boggling to be honest. I again use the Bobby Ryan for Chris Kreider scenario. Ryan is proven, and still young. Kreider is still unknown, and at his absolute peak is what Bobby Ryan is today. If the Ducks ask for Kreider for Ryan, you make the trade (assuming the other pieces make sense of course).

The phrase “untouchable” is a phrase used by those who have formed emotional attachments to players, prospects, and picks. Any player, any prospect, or any pick can be had in the right deal. It is a general manager’s job to evaluate all possible trades and determine the best path for his team’s success. If that means trading the captain, or the top prospect, or the heart of the team, then so be it. It is the cost of doing business in the NHL.

Actually, the more I write this post, the more I realize there are a few players that are “untouchable”. Those are the players with no-movement or no-trade clauses. They are “untouchable” because they can’t be moved without their approval. But even then, they aren’t really “untouchable”, they are just more difficult to move.

Is there an end to the madness that is the phrase “untouchable?” Likely not, but might I suggest saying “It would take a big overpayment to get that player.” Much like the Lundqvist example above, the Rangers aren’t moving him unless there is a huge overpayment. No general manager would make that trade, but it’s a trade that would make Hank very, very movable. No one is “untouchable.” Period.

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It

The Rangers are in the middle of a four game winning streak. A streak where they have looked dominant against some teams, and managed to get victories in games where they may not have shown up for the majority of the game. The top three lines are clicking, the defense pairs are playing above and beyond anything expected, and the goaltending has been spectacular. But yet, there are still some whispers about when Sean Avery will be “unleashed.”

There is an old adage: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” This holds true with the Rangers on this current streak. Sean Avery has only been getting five minutes a game, but the top three lines have been superb thus far. The problem with trying to get Avery more minutes is that those minutes have to come from someone else. There is not a single person on the top three lines that Avery can replace without having a negative effect on the overall product on the ice.

The main argument is that he should be taking time from some of the veterans playing over 20 minutes per game, specifically Brad Richards. The problem with that logic is that Richards is getting almost five minutes per game on the powerplay, thus he is only playing 18 minutes at even strength. Eighteen minutes is normal for a top line center, and 23 minutes is normal for someone who is the powerplay quarterback.

The only other forward to play more than 20 minutes is Ryan Callahan, who plays on the powerplay and the penalty kill. Should minutes be taken away from him to make more ice time for Avery? I think a better question is would you prefer to have Avery on the ice on special teams over Callahan? The answer here should be a resounding no.

So while Avery’s recall has apparently provided some spark –the Rangers are 4-0 since the news of his recall broke, the thought of getting him more time is just irresponsible for the time being. The Rangers are winning, and there is not a soul on the top three lines that should be dropped. Sometimes, you have to make it work with what you have, and Avery has been doing that thus far. It’s about the team, not the player.

MSG Brass Fails By Ignoring Boogaard, Locomotiv And Other Tragedies

This offseason was a tragic one for the NHL, KHL, and global hockey. The tragic deaths of former Ranger Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien, Wade Belak, and the entire KHL Locomotiv squad –which included many former NHLers– have been acknowledged league wide with moments of silence and video tributes. However for MSG, the tragedies were only met with a TV timeout montage. This, in short, is an outrageous mistake by MSG brass.

To ignore tragedy across the sport is inexcusable. But to ignore the tragic deaths of current and former teammates goes beyond that. No matter what you thought about Derek Boogaard and Karel Rachunek, they were Rangers, and deserved to be honored as such by the fans, players, and management of this organization. The fact that there wasn’t even a moment of silence is complete disrespect.

Scotty Hockey and I rarely see eye to eye, but on this, we do, as he really put it best:

“How do you bury the obit for Boogaard, the lives lost in the Lokomotiv crash and other summer casualties in a bad montage during a tv timeout? People are talking, getting up, walking around … And then, on the big screen, to wipe away from the cheesy ‘we will never forget’ frame to a bunch of people waiting to cheer for their Chase-sponsored free tee shirt? Disgusts me. The team smartly skipped the pregame talent – no Blue Man Group, no Ace Frehley – and wonderfully had FDNY and NYPD hockey players as an honour guard during the player introductions but all of the goodwill earned from that was wasted away by the obit. They could have included #94 when individually naming the players and have a moment of silence then. But instead it was shoehorned in while MSG ran some commercials for crap you won’t buy. Original Six teams are supposed to be classy.”

I doubt I am alone when I say that the organization failed to properly honor those that lost their lives this summer. I hope that MSG does something to rectify this, because they dropped the ball, big time.

Shanahan Must Stand Tall In Wake Of Criticism

Last Thursday in my musings, I briefly talked about Don Cherry’s latest controversial spat against Brendan Shanahan and NHL HQ over the recent player safety rulings. Since then, several other people around hockey have come out of the woodwork to take shots at Shanny and the suspensions he has been handing out.

Hockey Night in Canada’s panelist, Eric Francis, has even gone as far to suggest that some have privately asked Bettman to remove Shanahan from his role as Senior Vice President of Player Safety.

Now I expect wannabe tough guys like Cherry to espouse their pseudo masculine bullsh*t against the recent rulings. After all, Cherry needs attention like a lonely fat kid needs X-Box. But the fact that others are spitting out their pacifiers and crying for Shanahan‘s head annoys me.

If there is anyone at HQ more capable of this job, it’s #14 himself.

Brendan is not some former lawyer who’s never touched a hockey stick, or some washed up coach with old grudges. This is a guy who once picked his teeth off the ice after a shift and kept playing. This is a guy who stood up for his teammates and took on Donald Brashear. I mean he’s a 3 time Stanley Cup Champion, and some people think he’s not right for this job? Really?

As far as the suspensions themselves, most of the whining has centered around Brendan Smith’s hit, James Wisniewski’s, and now P.M. Bouchard’s high stick. But the days of mealy mouthed Colin Campbell trying to defend himself are over.

Now anyone and everyone can see exactly what Shanahan’s looking to eliminate from the game. He regularly posts videos fully explaining his thought process on these suspensions and they’re all phenomenal.

Shanahan isn’t batting .300 on these suspensions, he’s batting a thousand. And if the NHL brass has any balls, they’ll do what Shanahan used to do and have his back.

NHL Drops The Ball With Simmonds

In case you missed it, Wayne Simmonds was not given a suspension for screaming a homophobic slur at Sean Avery during Monday night’s preseason game.  Apparently, Simmonds “forgot” what he said immediately after the game, but then somehow remembered during his disciplinary hearing on Tuesday.  When he “remembered”, he said he did not use a slur at all.  In fact, he was just asking Avery if he wanted to get some ice cream with him after the game.  Nice gesture, right?

So, the NHL listened to Simmonds, and decided he was right, and issued no suspension for the winger.  After all, it was just him asking Avery to get ice cream and discuss their difference.  But alas, there is video proof of this:

Funny how the refs say they didn’t hear anything, but there’s a zebra who goes and talks to him just one second after Simmonds ends his rant.  Maybe he whispered it?

The NHL dropped the ball on this one.  How can you possibly say that nothing happened?  I mean…come on…really?  Which blind guy reviewed this? Kobe Bryant got fined $100,000 for using the same slur, and Simmonds got nothing even remotely close.

But here’s the kicker: I’m willing to bet my savings account that if this were directed at anyone other than Avery, there would have been a huge fine and suspension.  But because it’s Avery, and his reputation precedes him, there was no penalty.  Amazing how the off-ice decisions mirror the on-ice decisions.  But that’s a story for a different day.

Listen, Avery is no angel. He has said and done way too many questionable things to get the benefit of the doubt.  However, this doesn’t even need the benefit of the doubt, this is clear-cut.  This isn’t about Avery, this is about the NHL essentially telling the world that you can’t have any discrimination for race, but discrimination for homophobia is just A-OK.  They should be one in the same.  Both are egregious acts of intolerance and ignorance, and should be punished the same way.

Good job dropping the ball, Colin Campbell. You just undid everything that Brendan Shanaban did in the past week with one poor decision.

MSG Renovation Needs To Scrap The “Sky Bridges”

Madison Square Garden is special. Some say it’s the prime location, some say it’s the history, others say it’s the people who fill the stands. Being the eternal centrist that I am, I think it’s all of the above. However, having been to arenas all over the country, I have to say that MSG is also special because of its unique architecture, which everyone knows is currently being redesigned.

There is no other arena from here to the Pacific that looks and feels the way MSG does. Most arenas I have been in look the same, even the new ones, they’re ubiquitous.  MSG is the only arena I can think of where you can look to the heavens after an amazing goal or a clutch save and see that gorgeous golden ceiling. Well, that’s about to change…

Dolan and company are renovating MSG, for good reasons no doubt, but the addition of a party bridge or sky bridge or whatever they’re calling it, makes no sense to me. It is not good for the fan experience and more importantly (to the suits); it doesn’t bring in any additional revenue.

Adding floor level suites makes sense. Companies have spent millions on sponsorships and in return received a box miles away from the ice. Now they’ll finally have a view reflective of the dollars they spend. Good for them.

Bringing back the Blue Seats makes sense. It’s part of the Garden’s history. The concourses will also be bigger (thank god), and there’s even a party deck – which will be up behind the Blue Seats - for those who wish to get out of their seats and socialize. No complaints here.

But this sky bridge thing is bugging me and I don’t get its purpose. Anyone care to explain?

A couple of years back fans launched lights from their thundersticks on to the ice endangering the players they supposedly adore. And now you want these people suspended over the arena? Um bad idea…

Ok, other than me, I’m sure there aren’t any other fans that care about that. Fair enough, but what about the view?

The whole purpose of a renovated arena is to make better sightlines. What kind of sightline do you have if there’s a bridge in your peripheral vision? If you look at the computerized mock-up, these bridges look pretty distracting. They’re right in your line of sight.

The MSG Renovation is a good thing, but if they want it to be a great thing, lose the bridges…

Weighing The Decision To Turn Pro

Everyone knows both John Tortorella and Assistant Coach Mike Sullivan threw tons of praise at Chris Kreider this past year and both coaches made it known via the media (Andrew Gross) that they would have liked Kreider to turn pro.

Soon thereafter, it didn’t take too long for Rangers fans to debate whether or not Kreider should turn pro after just two years of college.  And after reading most of your comments during that time, it looked like things were pretty split.

Kreider certainly made a tough decision, a decision only he and his family can ultimately make. However, if I were his friend or his agent, I’d probably would have told him to go for it.  He’s performed well while he has been at BC and he’s done great things at the international level.

He may not have had the sexiest stats, but he certainly has pro speed, pro hands, and most importantly a pro body (6’1 200lbs) that can probably handle the physical grind of 82 games against men. Ultimately what he’ll need to work on is his hockey IQ, which could have been better served under the tutelage of Rangers/Hartford personnel.

At college, especially a competitive one like BC, the emphasis can often be more about winning than becoming what it takes to be an NHLer. In the end Kreider made his decision to return to school, but there is a lesson in all of this for future Rangers prospects.

If education is the concern with these youngsters, you can always sell them on what Jack Johnson and Ryan Miller did and take classes during the offseason. The scholarship of course is gone, but hey your signing bonus should take care of that pricey education anyway.

I’d also push these kids to get their names on a contract for insurance reasons. In case there is some god awful scenario where someone gets injured and can’t play anymore, college will pay them zipo.  If a kid gets injured while playing at the NHL or AHL level, he can cash out on a (seven) figure insurance settlement that would set them up for life (Dan Blackburn anyone?). I know that may sound trivial or anecdotal, but hang out around hockey rinks and front offices enough and you will meet more former standouts who got injured than one can count.

As far as whether or not the pressures of being a pro would kill their development ultimately depends on what’s going on in between the ears of these kids.  Sure MDZ and Grachev have had tough times and moronic fans prematurely called for their heads.

But you know what?  Ultimately, if they come out of it strong they will be better off for it. If you can survive New York City scrutiny, you can conquer anything.  If you don’t believe me, ask Mark Messier.  He had to slay the “dragons and demons” before ending the curse.

Get that sword ready Mr. Kreider, we will be seeing you soon.

Drury =/= Naslund

Chris Drury’s decision to retire is not under the same circumstances as Markus Naslund’s decision to retire.  Comparing the two is irresponsible, wrong, careless, and to be honest, idiotic.  It actually makes me ashamed to be a Ranger fan because of all the people out there bashing Drury’s decision to retire.  It’s like Drury can’t do anything right in New York.

With Naslund, he retired of his own free will.  He did not want to play in the NHL.  He wanted to return to Sweden, to his home, to his family.  So he did.  He did what was right for him.  The Rangers had no plans on buying him out.

Drury, on the other hand, still wanted to play in the NHL.  He did not want to or plan on retiring.  He realized his time with the Rangers was up, and prepared for life post-Rangers.  At 35 years old (just turned it today), he wasn’t expecting a long term deal.  He, like pretty much every single person in the hockey world, expected to get a call from a team needing a veteran presence to guide youth.  Naturally, the Islanders and Avalanche were the rumored teams.  It turns out those rumors were false.

Now, on August 19, Drury had not received any offers, and it did not look like he was going to receive any.  It also does not appear that he was going to be given any professional tryouts.  Not receiving offers was not in Drury’s plan, and definitely wasn’t in his vision for how the offseason was going to progress.  He did not want to have the situation linger, so he retired.

Chris Drury did not screw the Rangers.  He is not greedy.  He did not purposefully force a buyout and then retire.  Any inkling that he did is just stupid.  He did not get offers, so he made the decision to retire.  It is sad that his career ended in such a manner.