NHL Referees Under Scrutiny
We have seen three playoff game sevens take place in the National Hockey League this week and some of the big time hockey commentators are taking issue with penalty calls in both the Caps-Penguins game on Wednesday and then the Ducks-Red Wings game on Thursday. Don Cherry, Mike Milbury, and Ron MacLean, all of Hockey Night in Canada, have each separately blasted the slashing call on Shaone Morrisonn that led to the opening power play goal by Sidney Crosby in game 7 on Wednesday night. In fact, on Thursday afternoon (the day after the game) during the Hockey Night in Canada Radio broadcast on Sirius 122, MacLean was still adamant that what #26 did was not a penalty. MacLean, who was on air with host Jeff Marek and guest Paul Stewart (former NHL referee), went into great detail on why it should not have been called a penalty. Cherry and Milbury both said between periods of the game on Wednesday that the call had too much influence on the outcome of the game.
Then on Thursday night both Versus commentators, Keith Jones and Brian Engblom, took issue with the slashing call made on the Ducks Ryan Getzlaf on Tomas Holmstrom that led to the first goal of that contest for the eventually victorious Red Wings.
Clearly slashing penalties, which seem to have gone up in correlation with the number of broken sticks (and that has increased due to these new flimsy and supposedly technologically advanced products), are one thing that needs to be looked at before next season. I asked both Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau and GM George McPhee about this today at Caps breakdown day.
“This is a really tough game to officiate, I think we have to say that, there is so much going on out there, it is so fast, it is not easy to officiate. What you want them to do is officiate and not try and manage the game and let each game take on its own identity and officiate it. I, like other managers and commentators, worry about some of the penalties that are called. And the first penalty the other night [on Morrisonn], for example, eight minutes left in the first period, there is no score, you got a player on their team that is trying to dump it in at our blue line. Our defenseman comes over and takes a hack at him, the puck goes in our end, that player is going off on a line change, his stick was broken, he drops it, and the referee calls it a penalty. It wasn’t a scoring chance, nobody was hurt, there wasn’t physical contact, but because there was a broken stick the referee called a penalty. Now that I don’t get in an NHL playoff game and it was game seven. So those kinds of things require more judgement and in fact, [the referee] didn’t even have his hand up until the player turned around and started skating to the bench without the stick. They get the first goal and score eight seconds later and it is over. So those things are going to have to be better, no question,” said McPhee, who clearly felt the referees had too much influence on the outcome of game seven on Wednesday.
“I was thinking this thought this morning. There are three or four penalties that they call all of the time because it takes the judgement out. The slash with the broken stick is one of them even though they didn’t call one against Pittsburgh the other night but they decided to call us but that is neither here nor there. The shooting over the glass, the hook on anything on the hands, no matter how slight. So those are penalties the refs know that if they see they can put their hand up and they can’t get called on it. All of the others are judgement calls and I would like to see some sort of variation of letting the refs have some judgement on how hard the slash was because some of these sticks can break if you breathe on them. Some you can use a sledgehammer on them. I wish the referees didn’t have the automatic judgement if the sticks breaks or if he knocks it out of his hands then it is a penalty. But that is not for me to answer, that is for [NHL Director of Officiating] Stephen Walkom to decide and [NHL Director of Hockey Operations] Colin Campbell and we’ll find out if there is a possibility if they could have a good middle ground there,” said Boudreau on how he sees the games are being officiated now.
Today was breakdown day at Kettler Ice Plex as the Washington Capitals were conducting exit interviews with the players before they head out of town for the summer. Boudreau and McPhee discussed alot of things about the team and the players were also available as they floated in and out of the locker room.
More Game 7 Thoughts
Here are some excerpts from Boudreau on Game 7 and not moving on to the Eastern Conference Finals:
“I’m not sure why we picked that night to have a clunker…only thing I can think of is it was our fifth elimination game and it was their first and their is such a different feeling of determination and maybe we were a little too complacent in game seven thinking, ok, we are going to stave off elimination again and didn’t have the same feeling as game six. It certainly didn’t feel that way in and around the dressing room before the game. You search for answers and you don’t want one game to ruin a heckuva of a good season.”
“I think we are all bummed out because watching last night we felt we certainly could have beaten either Boston or Carolina, you turn it on and watch it, then turn it off, then turn it on and watch it and get so mad thinking we are capable of beating the next next teams and then it would give me hope saying we are very close. I don’t know what has to be done but I think we are a real good team now with certainly the core coming back, if you look at the Alex’s and the Nicky’s, and the Semin’s and Green’s are under contract so there is high optimism for the future and beyond. At this point, I want to take a day off and then start again.”
“Every year your younger players are going to take lessons and be more mature. You look at Mike [Green] being 23 and Alex [Ovechkin] 23, and Nicky [Backstrom] being 21, and [Alex] Semin 25, these guys are going to take this as an experience and be more mature when the situation comes next year. They understood what it took to get beyond the first round this year, I think, because of the year’s previous experience. I think this experience is going to make them be better and be able to go further in the future.”
Injury and Contract News
Below is a rundown on the players as provided to the media by both Boudreau and McPhee today. Boudreau did comment that “All of our key players had an injury.”
Alexander Ovechkin: Injured his groin in game four of the Rangers series and also hurt his wrist sometime in the playoffs. Both injuries required pain injections before games. Can you imagine what Ovechkin might have done in the Penguins series had he been 100% healthy? The Great #8 had 14 points in 7 games in a losing effort.
Alexander Semin: McPhee said that #28 suffered a really bad sprained thumb in the playoffs and that it had to be frozen so that Semin could play some of the games. He had a tough time holding the stick so that explains a good part of the reason why he became invisible in much of the Penguins series after a decent first round against the Rangers. McPhee was also asked if he will be working on a long term contract for Semin this summer, since #28 only has 1 more year left on his current deal, and the GM was non-committal on whether he would be doing that. In fairness to Semin, he was non-committal on a long term deal for Nicklas Backstrom, who only has 1 year left, as well.
Goalies/Simeon Varlamov: The young goalie will not go down to Hershey to play because Boudreau said he is emotionally spent. He felt that perhaps the weight of five elimination games, and he won the first four, might have finally caught up to #40 in game seven when he struggled on the second, third, and fourth Pittsburgh goals. Boudreau also said it makes no sense to have him go down there and become the backup goalie with the way Michael Neuvirth is playing (had back to back shutouts in games 6 and 7 of the Wilkes-Barre Scranton series to carry Hershey into the Eastern Conference Finals versus the Providence Bruins). McPhee said the number one goalie job will be decided in training camp between #40, Jose Theodore, Neuvirth, and even perhaps Brent Johnson, although Johnson is the only one without a current contract for next season. Theodore apparently told the media (I had left by that point) that he plans to be the #1 goalie for the 2009-10 season. Boudreau says “he sees [the competition] as a great battle.”
Mike Green: He was a hot topic and both McPhee and Boudreau would not elaborate on his injury. They merely said he was having more tests but it appears the shoulder that he originally injured when trying to skate around Chris Pronger and three other Ducks back in November still has not fully healed. It does not look like #52 or any other Capital will need surgery based on what McPhee told the media. I asked Boudreau what Green had to do to avoid the big hits he took this year, especially when he became a big target of the opposition in the playoffs. “I think that is experience. He has seen it now, he knows what to expect and nobody likes to get hit so as quick as he is he is going to have to get quicker,” finished Boudreau on the Norris Trophy candidate.
Other defensemen: Tom Poti played with a fractured foot since game 1 of the Penguins series and John Erskine also suffered a fractured foot (missed two games). Morrisonn had an injured ankle that he suffered in game five of the Penguins series and also was dealing with groin issues. It is no wonder the Caps had a hard time getting the puck out of their own end given that four of their top six defensemen were badly banged up.
Sergei Fedorov: Both McPhee and Boudreau were non-committal on #91’s return but said a lot of that would be up to Sergei. Fedorov told the media that he wants to come back next year and had his agent seek out an extension back in January, which the Caps have delayed until the off-season. It will be interesting to see how much (or little) money the three time Stanley Cup Champion will take to come back and play next season. Boudreau raved about his leadership and apparently #91 still loves being around the younger players.
Viktor Kozlov: Another free agent who really wants to come back and play for the Caps next season.
Donald Brashear: Ovechkin said the Caps need him back or, at a minimum, someone who can fit his role as policeman.
Michael Nylander: Both McPhee and Boudreau described #92’s season as “A tough year.” It is clear Nylander does not fit on this team but McPhee did say it does not make financial sense to buy him out. He also said he wasn’t sure Nylander could come back and play for this team, therefore, the options left appear to be a trade (unlikely given the contract – 2 more years at $5.5 and $3M), send him to the minors, or ask him to retire.
McPhee said the evaluation process is that he talks to each player, the coaching staff, and then next week the pro scouting staff comes in to offer their perspectives on things. Once the GM has all of that info he then will start making his decisions on personnel, to include the coaching staff. Boudreau is a lock to be back but as for assistant coaches Dean Evason and Jay Leach there was no firm commitment given to them returning by either Bruce or George. As far as the system goes, Boudreau felt that what he asking of his players does not need changing but some of the guys aren’t getting the message.
“I don’t think it’s systems. We just have to get them to play the systems a little bit better. They’ve learned it for a year now. I’m not in charge of the personnel. But we’ll see what the personnel looks like next year. Sometimes you try to change people and sometimes they don’t want to change. Every team in the NHL would love guys who drive to the net. That’s one thing coaches love. But sometimes you have guys who you know are going to play a little bit on the perimeter. You can tell them until the cows come home but it doesn’t always work. But they have such great strengths in other areas. What do you do? That is not even a system thing because every team, that is what you preach going to the net, going to the net. You either go to the net because you don’t mind it or you don’t,” said Boudreau.
The schedule for the Conference Finals has been released and the Chicago Blackhawks will meet the Detroit Red Wings in game one of the Western Conference Finals on Sunday at 3pm on NBC and on Monday night the Penguins will host the Carolina Hurricanes at 730pm in game one of the Eastern Conference Finals on Versus. I’ll have my series predictions up tomorrow night but given that I’ve been on the Detroit bandwagon all year you can bet I’m picking them.
The Memorial Cup, the Canadian Hockey League Championship, began today from Rimouski, Quebec City. All of the games are on the NHL Network so even down here in the United States hockey fans can follow the games. The teams involved are the host team (Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League), the Kelowna Rockets (Western Hockey League Champions), the Windsor Spitfire (Ontario Hockey League Champions), and the Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL Champions). Last year the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL won and in game one tonight Kelowna was quite impressive in defeating Rimouski, 4-1. Calgary Flames 2007 first round draft choice (24th overall), Mikael Backlund, had a superb game Friday and I was also impressed with big, mobile defenseman Tyler Myers (12th overall pick by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2008 NHL entry draft) and forward Jamie Benn (2007 5th round pick by the Dallas Stars). All of those players are with Kelowna. Windsor has a really good team as well so I expect them to battle the Rockets for the trophy.