Toronto Maple Leafs: Every Game Needs a Massive Amount of Penalties

BUFFALO, NY - FEBRUARY 11: NHL referee Wes McCauley #4 during the first period of a game between the Buffalo Sabres and the Detroit Red Wings at KeyBank Center on February 11, 2020 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)
BUFFALO, NY - FEBRUARY 11: NHL referee Wes McCauley #4 during the first period of a game between the Buffalo Sabres and the Detroit Red Wings at KeyBank Center on February 11, 2020 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs finally get back to work tonight against the Ottawa Senators, after another nice little break during this condensed NHL season.

While the Toronto Maple Leafs were away, the NHL became embroiled in a large controversy after notoriously bad referee Tim Peel was caught on camera saying what everyone who has ever cared about the NHL already knew to be true: NHL refs call phantom penalties in order to keep the calls as even as possible.

"Going all the way back to 2018-19, referees get what they’re hoping for 25 percent of the time, calling exactly the same number of penalties on both sides. That may not seem like much, but that jumps to 62 percent for a penalty differential of one or less and 86 percent for two or less. Over half the games being within one penalty and nearly 90 percent within two feels like it’s by design.  (The, Luszczyszyn)."

The problem with doing this is that it incentivizes teams to break the rules while not rewarding teams for following them.  For instance, a team that considers it’s special teams a net positive can liberally break the rules, thus making them harder to score against, all the while knowing that any penalties they take are likely to put themselves on the power play.

It’s one thing if a ref, realizing a mistake, calls a soft penalty to make up for it – no one should have a problem with that.  The problem is artificially keeping the power-plays even, out of some misguided idea about managing the game.

Problems with Officiating

It is unacceptable that the NHL doesn’t have uniform rules.  From the regular season to the playoffs, from the first period to the third period, then again if its close late, there are always different versions of what is a penalty.

Consistency – both in the same game and game-to-game  – is a huge problem, but it’s not the only one caused by the NHL’s unspoken edict to keep power-plays roughly even.  Another problem is safety – hockey players have pretty conclusively demonstrated that they will injure each other horribly if left to their own devices.  Therefore, the league has to enforce its rules so that that doesn’t happen.  Since, sometimes, eleven consecutive cross-checks to the neck do not warrant a penalty, we know that this isn’t happening.

As for the idea that there shouldn’t be calls in the last couple of minutes of a game, well that is just idiotic.  Until the NHL adds a rule to the rule book that states that only egregious infractions should be called when the game is close to ending, changing the rules halfway through the game is indefensible.

I get the sentiment that you want players to decide the games and not the officials.  Unfortunately, this is the kind of one-sided thinking, the prevalence of which, necessitated our schools instituting a critical thinking curriculum.

If a player breaks a rule, he by definition gets an unfair advantage.  If that player is punished by a referee for his infraction, it is the player’s choice, not the referees, and therefore the player is still the one deciding the game.  Also, if the referee does not make the call, he is still making a decision that has an effect on the game.

The entire reasoning behind the logic of having refs “put away their whistles” is so flawed as to be an excellent real-life example a fourth grade class could use in their introductory class on the concept of critical thinking .

How can a game be fair if the rules subjectively change depending on circumstances?

An oft sited argument is just as ridiculous:  nobody wants to watch a game with 25 penalties, and therefore the refs should only call a few penalties.

Again, this is – and I’m sorry to be blunt – very dumb.  The NHL started cracking down on obstruction after the 2005 lockout and guess what? It worked.  2005-06 had more power-play opportunities per game than any other year in NHL history.  The NHL stuck with it for a whole season and the hooking, holding and obstruction that nearly ruined the game and which defined the Dead Puck Era was greatly reduced.

Were the NHL to end the practice of artificially keeping penalties even, the players would adjust over time.  This would not only reward the teams that follow the rules, but it would allow skilled teams to make use of their superior rosters, it would decrease the randomness of results, and make the game better to watch.  It would also make it safer and greatly improve the NHL’s perceived level of integrity.

But in addition to ending the game management stuff, the NHL also has to make a concerted effort to define what a penalty is, and enforce it.  This may lead to a massive amount of penalties for a while, but who really cares?  Is anyone going to complain if scoring goes way up?  You always hear people complain about a “parade to the penalty box” and how it will ruin the game, but I suspect most of these people would complain about anything give the chance.  The fact is, the NHL needs a revolution in it’s officiating and if that leads to a season or two with a high amount of power-plays, I could not care in the least.

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Yes, there may be an adjustment period , but the players, as has been proven, would adjust. And like always the Worst Case Scenario People will be proven to be Chicken Littles.  It shouldn’t matter if your team just took three penalties in a row, the next penalty should go to the team that takes it, instead of punishing the team that is actually playing by the rules.