Greetings Hockey Fans,
I am, and I hope you are as well, very excited about the upcoming finish to the regular season. I have many thoughts on my mind as the NHL rolls into its last 30 or so regular season games, not the least of which is the officiating. It will probably be the biggest factor as to which bubble teams make the playoffs and which contenders make it through the playoffs.
I personally feel the NHL has had very inconsistent officiating this year, as well as every other year, but I am looking to the future not the past right now. The way the referees choose to call the upcoming crucial and decisive games will have a great impact on what kind of teams will have success down the stretch.
Perhaps the referees in a certain game decide to call every hold, hook, and interference penalty they see and don't see. This would most likely result in the team with the best special teams/more skill winning this game. This could happen quite a bit and you would end up with a lot more teams making the playoffs who rely on their power play and penalty kill to win them games. This is not bad for the league as teams with good power plays are usually skilled teams and may deserve to be in the top 16. However, if the NHL referees who end up in the playoffs call a more loose interpretation of the game and "lets the players play" are these teams going to be able to adapt? Or fall by the wayside as a team like the Ducks steamroll eveyone with their grit again.
If the referees and NHL deicde to let the players scrap it out for those playoff spots and tend to hide their whistles for the last 30 games of the season then we may end up with more hard working teams full of "heart and soul" players. Again this is not a bad thing as I belive everyone can appreciate the way these teams battle for every inch on the ice and take no prisoners throughout a 7 game series. That is unless at the start of the playoffs the NHL "cracks down" yet again on obstruction and what not. This will once again result in different types of teams being successful in not just the first round of the playoffs, but throughout the playoffs as the crack down slows down as it always has. Leaving maybe an Anaheim or Vancouver looking plenty bitter if the first round referees bite them as they watch the Stanley Cup Final wondering where all the penalty calls went.
I feel bad for the players trying to figure out on a night to night basis what they can and cannot do. I feel worse for the GMs and coaches because they are a bad trade or losing streak away from losing their jobs. How are GMs suppose to have long term plans if they do not know one game to the next where the game is going. Is it going to be primarily speed and offence or is it defence and tight checking which is going to rule the roost when it matters most? In the end, all one can do is try to hybrid your team in this era of the NHL. With the salary cap most teams cannot do this and will always have holes. Almost all teams have either not enough offence or not enough defence, or are one injury away from not enough offence because the rest of team has to be pluggers in case the games change all of a sudden.
All in all, I believe the NHL and its referees will determine what GM made the right moves at the upcoming trade deadline, which style it takes to hang in through the marathon and most importantly which team is vacationing with the Stanley Cup this summer.
Then again, I've been wrong before.