The fallout from the latest call against Rangers and fan backlash

It takes a lot of incompetence to mess up games the way the NHL continues to. This isn’t only a Rangers problem. It’s a league issue that threatens to tarnish the great sport we’re so passionate about.

Hockey is played at a very high tempo. The speed and skill of the current game has never been better. Showcasing the best players is easy. With the amount of exposure coming from the very successful outdoor games, the networks can highlight the league’s brightest stars. Though it’s perplexing that Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane seem to always play in those games while Connor McDavid is stuck in Edmonton with Leon Draisaitl.

It’s interesting that the one time NHL broadcast partner NBC decided to feature McDavid, it was against the Binghamton Devils the other day. Of course, the schedule makers and networks can’t predict the future. There isn’t a time machine like in Back To The Future. They didn’t know Taylor Hall would be hurt and need arthroscopic surgery. I get the logic of having them televise a game between the Devils and Oilers. They figured the rating Hart winner Hall would be leading a good team into Edmonton to face his former team. It didn’t play out that way.

To be blunt, NBC does a lousy job when it comes to McDavid. Don’t use the easy excuse that it’s due to Hockey Night In Canada. Of course, Canadian partners TSN and Sportsnet will get first crack at the star talent in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Winnipeg, Montreal and Toronto. Ottawa used to have those guys, but are in a rebuild that could take awhile.

As far as the troubling pattern of NHL officials unable to get together and make the right calls during games, it’s become a problem. There are too many instances where refs and linesmen are impacting games with controversial calls such as the match penalty Brendan Lemieux received on Wednesday night. That they can conference just as they did eight days prior when it came to Mika Zibanejad, and get it so wrong is frustrating.

It’s downright insulting to passionate hockey fans, who have followed the game long enough to see the changes in how it’s called. Whether it’s missing blatant infractions while continuing to call the league mandated soft hooks and holds, or overreacting to a injured player like Antoine Roussel was following the incidental Lemieux hit, more and more fans along with reporters are getting annoyed with the direction of the game.

They can cite many examples of positive things. Whether it’s commissioner Gary Bettman talking up revenue being up or the fact scoring has dramatically increased, it ignores the fact that there are issues that have become legitimate concerns for viewers.

The truth is the league has become soft. I’m not saying it should go back to the days where fights happened way more often along with melees. Nobody wants to see that. However, every once in a while, it’s good to see a tough player stick up for a teammate. Not the staged fights that still exist. With the instigator having been around for quite some time, you don’t have players policing themselves. A gripe that allows certain agitators to hide behind the rules.

It puts more pressure on the officials to make hard decisions. They aren’t perfect. Nobody is. They miss things and we complain. They also get more stuff right than most people give them credit for. Sometimes, we forget that they’re human. People make mistakes.

I feel the problem lies in how rules are interpreted. With the needed addition of Illegal Check To The Head and interference majors, they’re trying to prevent ugly incidents that were all too common. Think Matt Cooke and Raffi Torres. It also includes current Capital Tom Wilson, who plays the game on the edge.

The league is disciplining players more by handing out longer suspensions like the one Wilson served for his awful cheap shot on Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist during a preseason game. They’re even starting to go after culprits who use their stick dangerously. That’s a positive development. Let’s put it this way. Even though he wasn’t deliberately going to take out Canucks rookie Elias Pettersson, Chris Kreider got lucky that his elbow on the Calder favorite didn’t result in a suspension. He was fined $5,000. Chunk change, which infuriates fans because it happens way too often.

I wonder where the game is headed. How many times are the four officials left guessing on what they saw due to the speed of the game? How many more teams have to suffer indignities like the Zibanejad major and game misconduct that was rescinded? Calls such as the one on Lemieux decide games. Granted. The score was already 3-0 Canucks. The Rangers still had to successfully kill off a five-minute penalty.

Is it time for such tough calls to be reviewed by Toronto? I’m not sure that’s the answer. The NFL does it with certain hits that are penalized 15 yards. They want to make sure they are right. Given where the current state of the game is, it’s a possibility.

When former players like Jeremy Roenick speak out, it’s very telling.

JR played during a tougher era. I guess for right now, it is what it is. It really takes the emotion out. My reaction was anger at first followed by the way too predictable shake of the head. That’s not a good thing moving forward.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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