Thursday, May 15, 2008

Memo to the NHL

If you’re trying to increase the popularity of hockey, you might want to try as hard as possible to not make it suck. If you haven’t noticed, you’re now the ninth sport listed under the dropdown list on ESPN behind such fan-favorites as “Women’s College Basketball”, “ESPNU”, and, the very generic, “Racing” (not to be confused with NASCAR). The NHL has plummeted in fan support and is less marketable than ever. Still, your league is in the midst of an exciting playoff with a possible Detroit-Pittsburgh dream series in the Stanley Cup Finals. A Zetterberg/Datsyuk vs. Crosby/Malkin tag team match-up is more firepower in one series than the you could’ve ever hoped for.

Instead of allowing its fans—and the curious observer—to focus solely on the star-power that has taken over the playoffs, the NHL has given its fans every reason to tune out per usual. The latest example of good hockey sabotaged by shoddy officiating happened in game four of the Detroit/Dallas series. The game was tied 0-0 in the second period. Detroit had been playing marvelously throughout the period and had all the momentum. The Wings appeared to take the lead on a lethal shot by Pavel Datsyuk. Instead of rewarding the Wings with the goal they legitimately scored, the referee called it a no-goal because he claimed Thomas Holmstrom had been in the crease with his foot or butt or something. A quick overhead replay showed that Holmstrom didn’t have either skate—or any part of his body—in the crease when the shot came in. It was a phantom called that directly affected the outcome of the game. The score went back to 0-0 and Dallas picked up the first “official” goal of the game minutes later. Nobody knows for certain how the game would have ended but Dallas hadn’t been ahead in the series up until that point. The Wings certainly would’ve played differently with a 1-0 lead and likely would’ve put an end to the series.

(An overheard replay angle is shown at the one-minute mark.)

The biggest crime here is that the Wings were punished after playing a brilliant stretch of hockey which culminated with Datsyuk putting the puck in the net. Playoffs are about rewarding the best and the Wings were “the best”. They had dominated the second period and they capitalized on that dominance with an apparent goal. Momentum changed significantly after the goal was disallowed and the unfairness of the whole thing simply made the game unwatchable from a fan-perspective.

As if that wasn’t enough to sour the game, the Wings apparently got the puck across the goal-line for a second time but the play was blown dead on a terribly premature whistle by the referee. Once the whistle is blown, the play is dead. Nothing after the whistle can count or be overturned via replay. The ref’s early whistle meant he eliminated the possibility that the Wings had scored before he even knew what happened. I’m not saying that the play should’ve resulted in a goal. I’m not well-versed enough with the rules to know whether Pavel Datsyuk sliding into Marty Turco would’ve been grounds for a no-goal. However, the replay clearly showed that the puck had crossed the line. Instead of holding off on the whistle and going to replay to see exactly what had transpired, the referee immediately called it a no-goal and made no attempt whatsoever to see if the puck had cross the goal-line. Who wants to watch a sport where goals are arbitrarily allowed and disallowed for seemingly no justifiable reason? For the first time in a long time, I was glued to my TV watching hockey. It took all of two plays to turn me off.

The worst thing that can happen in a league is for officiating to negate a scoring play that was completed legally. Every possible measure should be taken to avoid such a catastrophe. The NHL has a gazillion cameras that hold the answer to what happened on every play. It’s unfathomable that the NHL would’ve ever thought it was a good idea to deny a booth-replay for goalie interference or crease violations. The last thing the NHL needs is for it to make its sport appear even worse than it already does. Unfortunately, that appears to be one of the things it is very good at.


Anonymous said...

One of the worst things for the NHL has to be the network they are on. I know there was some issues with ESPN feeling like they needed to go in another direction (for the price the NHL wanted) but going to OLN/VS. The channel, which is owned by Comcast would be great if they were in more households. Living in Detroit I used to be able to get a lot of hockey on several channels. Now that I live just outside Washington DC the only hockey I get to watch is the Capitals or an occassional weekend game on NBC as VS is not part of my basic cable package. VS is also part of a tier of a whole bunch of other channels that I would have no interest in. At the additional cost of that tier, it would essentially be the same cost over the course of the year to get the NHL Open Ice package! How can I be in one of the largest markets in the country, home to a team (and player) the league would love to market more, and not get to see more Wings or Penguins games. I'm still a fan and will follow the NHL but for potential fans, the NHL is missing out. (I don't have Comcast Cable as one of their competitors is the provider in the area. It's hilarious that with the competition I have to pay extra for a Comcast owned channel, yet get the lame Comcast Sports Channel as part of my basic cable - the channel that broadcasts the Caps. So I get one Comcast channel but not the other). The league needs to get it's products into more households and the current tv deal is incredibly limiting.

The hole issue of the Butt over the crease or clutching and grabbing and left wing locks are only important if there are fans watching the game!

redhog1 said...

your premse is spot on, but a couple points: 1) it was datsyuk, not draper, that dove for the loose puck and drove turco and the puck over the goal line. i have ref'd hockey for 20 years...there is a word for that play, it is called "goal"; 2) "second quarter" ... c'mon least say "second stanza" like ray lane used to say on TV50.

Jake said...


Here is something that you need to know about me…I have the worst memory ever and it gets worse every day. Both the “quarter” and “Draper” things were a result of that. I was watching the game when Datsyuk went through the crease but I forgot who it was and intended to look it up. In the meantime, I threw Draper’s name in just to have something written down. Well, I forgot to look it up. As for “quarter”, when I proof-read my post, I noticed “quarter” and laughed at myself and then forgot to change it. To be fair, I did manage to use “period” in the second paragraph. It’s too bad the game didn’t go to OT because I might have gotten away with “quarter”…or not.


Agreed. The NHL is doing a horrible job of marketing itself. VS all but guarantees that there won’t be any new fans. Even worse, they’re losing the fans they already have. Also, the NHL should call ESPN and request that their hockey segments feature someone other than or in addition to Barry Melrose. Their football, basketball, and baseball coverage is littered with recent players. Heck, their football coverage has some of the greatest players in NFL history (Steve Young, Emmitt Smith etc.). And then there’s Melrose and Melrose only for hockey.

redhog1 said...

thanks Jake. Hey Tony -- the VS thing is a symptom, not a cause. but you are right -- it's circular. bettman, with all the eloquence that his $6 million per year salary offers, will argue that it is a national network that gives him more households than he had available (since espn laughed at him two years ago). but the reality is that he is mortgaging the value of the real fans as 1/2 of detroit, for instance, can't watch the games on VS. my 75 year old parents with WOW who otherwise have not missed a wings game since all 82 started to be televised approx 20 years are not too happy about it. bettman is an idiot, for so so so many reasons. or maybe the owners are idiots. or maybe the fans. all i know is that that the one thing to correct the problem will never happen: admission that this is not a national sport in the united states and the termination of eight US franchises and giving back to the 22 legit franchises rather than taking from them.


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