“The quality of mercy is not strain’d, / It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven.”
Or like a 5-on-3 power play from an NHL referee. It has been duly noted in the early going of the 2013 season (“hath a hockey fan not eyes?”) that NHL referees seem intent on calling chapter and verse from the rule book.
You could see it in the face of Edmonton head coach Ralph Krueger on Thursday when his defenceman Ladislav Smid was called for closing his hand on the puck. There was also a faceoff interference called on the Oil, a goalie interference penalty along with an instigator call on Smid for provoking a fight while wearing a facemask. Check, check and check.
“That’s not the way it was called in the past,” Krueger’s tortured expression seemed to say.
Indeed it’s not something that was called in the second half of the 2011-12 season. There were many things that were not called as the L.A. Kings made their way from eighth seed to NHL champions. It’s a point a number of general managers made at the end of the season during their meetings with NHL Ops, the people responsible for refereeing.
Vancouver president and general manager Mike Gillis spoke for the group. “Guys have learned from the rules, and they’ve adapted,” said Gillis this summer. “I’m a fan of offensive hockey, and I think the league is too. If not, we should change the name of the game to ‘goalie.’ We have to keep scoring in the game. But right now, it’s not happening.
“I think that the entertainment value is born out of having momentum changes and offensive opportunities and penalties being called. That’s great hockey, and I think everyone here would share the opinion that the hockey in the last three or four years has been the best it’s ever been. So a retreat from that doesn’t seem to make any sense to me.”
Evidently, the referees took the GMs at their word. So much so that Gillis found his own team pinched on Wednesday against Calgary when it faced back-to-back 5-on-3s for a series of penalties, including Canuck defenceman Alex Edler closing his hand on the puck. The Sportsnet cameras found Gillis canvassing the press box for justice after the Edler foul.
After the contest, Gillis was stoic. “If it’s a penalty in the first period, it’s a penalty in the third period. We told the referees we don’t want them calling situationally. We’ll be watching to see how they do.”
As always, the proof will come in the second half of the season and the playoffs. Last season referees started out with the best of intentions but then backed off as the games became more important. The “let the players decide” mantra prevailed. With just a 48-game season in 2013, it probably means less opportunity to waver.
Big names in play as trade deadline looms
The NHL season is only a few games old for most teams, but already some clubs are discovering they might have to make quick decisions about veteran stars before the April trade deadline.
1. Jarome Iginla. The Flames have been putting off reality with their franchise player for at least a few years. Despite Iginla’s production they’ve both missed the playoffs and failed to replenish their youth. Unwilling to be the one to say goodbye, Iginla wouldn’t ask out of the declining fortunes of the franchise.
2. But with Iginla in his final season of a $7M per season deal and the Flames off to an 0-3-1 start, it won’t be long before it’s crying time on his file. Former NHLer Jeremy Roenick said as much this week. In a structured system, Iginla can still be a sniper, one who deserves a Cup to go with his Olympic gold medals. What will he fetch? Two years ago the haul would have been considerable. Now? Not so much. Iginla can still get his Cup, but the Flames missed the boat on cashing him in for real assets.
3. Roberto Luongo. The value for the veteran Vancouver goalie is going in the opposite direction from that of Iginla. As teams across the NHL see their goaltending falter in the first few games, his value is likely going up despite hardly playing. Toronto remains a viable landing spot, but Washington, Edmonton, Florida and yes, Philadelphia, might all be reassessing their netminding. Gillis says he’s holding out for the right deal. That time might finally be here.
4. Corey Perry / Ryan Getzlaf. The Ducks are off to a good start, but their two best players are headed to unrestricted free agency this summer if Anaheim can’t sign one or both of them. The Ducks are not one of the well-heeled franchises, and both will cost premium dollars over the long term. It’s not dissimilar to Nashville’s dilemma last summer with Ryan Suter, Pekka Rinne and Shea Weber all headed to UFA.
5. You can’t keep them all. Already, Toronto fans are panting abut parking the two under their wide-open salary cap structure. What should the Ducks do, make a run at a postseason berth or accept reality and deal one or both for what should be a motherlode? Very tough call.
Columbus showing promise
NBC TV’s Pierre McGuire says one team to watch out for is Columbus. “Maybe not this year,” McGuire told the Grind. “But they are finally headed in the right direction. Since John Davidson arrived they’ve been putting a lot of the right pieces in place. Ryan Johansen is going to be a player. Look out for them.”