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Commentary: Too many NHL refs swallowing their whistles

by on February 09, 2014 1:59 AM

At least there won’t be clutching and grabbing in Sochi.

Not on the ice hockey rinks, anyway. It’s Olympic hockey, where players have more room to skate and the rules of hockey tend to be enforced.

Everybody knows that scoring is way down in the NHL, and there have been lots of discussions about how to increase the number of pucks going into nets.

Apparently, further reducing the size of the goalies’ equipment needs a two-thirds approval of the Canadian Parliament because after decreasing the size of leg pads by a couple inches, the process seems to have stalled.

There are still plenty of smart hockey people saying the nets should be enlarged. 

But there is not nearly enough discussion about the clutching, grabbing and interference that’s been allowed back into the games. The Penguins were clutched, grabbed and interfered with by the Ottawa Senators on Monday and the referees ignored it.

Several Penguins players were quoted as saying that they can’t whine about it and that they might as well get used to it because it is bound to be worse in the playoffs.

So players are openly talking about the fact that they are being illegally impeded from, you know, playing hockey, and the big discussion in North American hockey circles is about how many outdoor games should be played every year.

It’s a no-win situation for Sidney Crosby and other highly skilled players because, if they complain, they are called crybabies.

Picture Wes Welker trying to run his pass routes for the Broncos and Seahawks defensive back Richard Sherman pulling his jersey and not allowing him to run his route. Then picture the official looking right at it and not making a call. Then picture the NFL allowing it to happen and the media not having a field day with the stupidity.

That’s what’s happening in the NHL.

The clutching, grabbing and interfering is going on right under everybody’s nose, and it’s dismissed as part of the hockey culture.

Where’s Commissioner Gary Bettman?

Why aren’t referees who swallow their whistles held to account? 

In the early 1990s when the Penguins won two Stanley Cups, there was an average of almost 7.5 goals per game being scored in the NHL. In 2014, it’s less than 5.5.  

The first season after the 2004-05 lockout when the league decided to enforce the rules, the average goals per game increased from under 5.5 to over six goals per game.

But it’s not just about the goals.

The goalies are bigger and better, and their equipment is ridiculously big. It’s just harder to get pucks past them, but it’s about scoring chances and the flow and speed of the game.

The illegal clutching and grabbing and the interference are preventing the stars of the game from shining, and we’re in danger of going back to the age of the mucker and grinder.

Imagine the NBA allowing defenders to grab LeBron James’ jersey as he’s driving down the lane and preventing him from one of his 3,000 “SportsCenter” highlight dunks and no call being made.

The equivalent is happening in hockey on almost a nightly basis and it’s either accepted, ignored or justified while the people running the sport are busy trying to figure out why more people in Phoenix don’t like hockey.

• Can the Pirates afford a $20 million third baseman? The price for good, young players still a few years from free agency was established by the Braves earlier this week. They signed their 24-year-old first baseman, Freddie Freeman, to an eight-year, $135 million contract. That’s $19.3 million per year.

Pedro Alvarez, who is three years older than Freeman, will be a free agent in 2017. Freeman would have been a free agent after the 2016 season. He doesn’t hit for power the way Alvarez does, but he’s a solid .300 hitter who doesn’t strike out as much.

The salaries keep going up, and now players who don’t become free agents for a few years are signing multi-year mega-bucks contracts.

It seems it would make more sense for the Pirates to make a similar offer to Alvarez now. Who in his right mind would turn down $125-$130 million in guaranteed money?

Talk about a bird in the hand.

And, if Alvarez continues to hit 35 to 40 home runs a year between now and 2017, he, and more importantly his agent, Scott Boras, will be asking for at least $5 million more.

It might be now or never for the Pirates and Alvarez. I’m betting on never.

• Here’s what Donald Wood of Bleacher Report wrote the day after the 2010 NFL Draft: “After one of the worst picks in the first round I can ever remember, the Seattle Seahawks didn’t draft any positions of need or for the future. Pete Carroll is proving why he doesn’t belong in the NFL.”

Then Wood wrote this: “As if the day wasn’t bad enough, Seattle selecting Russell Wilson, a QB that doesn’t fit their offense at all, was by far the worst move of the draft.”

I, of course, had planned to predict back in 2010 that Wilson would be the most productive second-year quarterback in NFL history and take the Seahawks to the Super Bowl, but I forgot.



John Steigerwald's blog can be found at www.justwatchthegame.com, and he is the author of "Just Watch The Game." His column appears each Saturday.
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