Monday, November 21, 2005

Word From The Y'z

Steve Yzerman generated some controversy this weekend with his critical comments regarding the NHL's crackdown on obstruction.
"Everybody keeps saying this is great. It's not great," Yzerman told the Detroit Free Press. "It's not hockey... There are penalties all over."
I partly disagree with the first part of his statement. The game is different, but its changes make it better. During those stretches when there are no whistles, the game is generally faster with more flow through the neutral zone and more room for the skill players to operate. The crackdown has worked by opening up the ice without removing the puck battles. It has discouraged players from draping themselves over each other but not from dishing out open-ice hits. As a fan, this is the kind of game I've always enjoyed watching - more so than the rollerball matches in recent years.

What should be getting more attention is the second part of Yzerman's statement. He continues:

I'll just use Mathieu Schneider's penalty as an example. He steps up and takes his guy out, and his stick gets caught and the crowd cheers so the referee puts his hand up. There has to be some discretion. The referees have to use some judgment on what is a penalty and what is not. They've taken judgment out of it and I think it's somewhat made it easy on the referees just to call anything, because there is no judgment.

Good referees used to have good judgment. Now they've taken that out of the game. I'm not saying I'm blaming the referees for it, I just feel the whole thing has to be adjusted and they have to look at this seriously. They can't continue to call irrelevant things that have no business being called.

The inconsistent officiating early in the season is a bigger concern. Much of the frustration - from players and fans alike - stem from not knowing what or what won't be called. For example, the Canucks/Ducks game on Sunday had 33 minor penalties. From what I've seen, some referees officiate a black-and-white, zero-tolerance game; others don't. Some call every incidental brush to the shoulder or incidental stick to the jersey; others actually exercise judgment depending on the flow of the play.

Brendan Shanahan, Yzerman's teammate and a key member of the NHL's competition committee, on the officiating:

It's still the biggest challenge. The referees are still figuring it out. I keep reminding myself that it's only been six weeks and we're trying to erase a 10-year trend, which was really a trend of ignoring the rulebook. We didn't rewrite the rulebook. We just underlined some key points in it. But it's frustrating when you see phantom calls or players going down easily.

Without changing the standard, the referees just need to make sure a penalty's a penalty. If they're not sure, as players we would all accept a non-call more than a bad call.

It's very frustrating and it's a big concern. The longer it goes through the season, the more teams will win or lose games due to the officiating - and the more players like Yzerman will speak out.
posted by J.J. Guerrero, 6:33 AM


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