Commissioner Gary Bettman takes a lot of flack for the way he has ran and continues to run the NHL. Some of it I've always felt is undeserved. Similarly to Bud Selig and the MLB, I believe that Bettman really does things that he feels in the best interests of the league and the sport. And it's hard for me to hate someone the way plenty of fans do when I know he's got good intentions.
That said, good intentions don't always leave good results. Plenty of Bettman's decisions haven't had such great results (although a lot of the bad things were out of his control, period). There are two major changes that have taken place under Bettman that I really don't like. (Stay with me to see where the NBA comes into this.)
The first is the way tie games are decided. I didn't care for 4-4 hockey where each team is guranteed a point because I didn't feel the game should change in OT (4-4 instead of 5-5), and I thought it was dumb to have some games hand out 3 total points and some games hand out just 2. And I don't like things any better with the shootout. Again, that's not normal hockey to decide the game. Again there is the 3 point versus 2 point games. Plus, I actually have no qualms with ties; I never saw the need to have every game end with one team winning.
But those changes can be argued for as they brought positives. No doubt that 4-4 hockey is more exciting end to end, and there's no doubt that a shootout, regardless of what it decides, is an exciting event to watch. And this is a case where I think Bettman and the owners knew they might need to deviate from the traditional methods in order to strengthen the league by attracting more fans with a more exciting game. Okay, fine. I can accept that.
The major change that I really don't like is the decline in fighting from the game. There's not one argument that can convince me it's a good idea. Fighting may be dangerous, but there are much more dangerous common plays in hockey (and other sports) that go on. It's just a small risk players take when they play. Does it have an impact on kids? Other than making them want to go to and watch them games more, I don't think so. Any kid that can't understand how fighting in hockey is different than punching someone on the street needs better parents.
Fighting is integral to the game. It's exciting to watch fights, but it also keeps play more exciting. How many times do we have to hear how much a Marty McSorely or a Tony Twist helped create space for guys like Wayne Gretzky or Brett Hull to do their magic before we and the NHL higherups believe it?. As it is now, anybody will hit anyone, so the stars don't have as much room to work with. That's not great, but perhaps not terrible either, but what IS terrible is that often it's not just hitting, it's hitting cheaply and/or with intent to injure. We NEED fighting back in the game. Players need to know they're going to have to answer to guys like McSorely and Twist if they run at a star player. The new style of play in the NHL might rule out guys who can't do much but fight, but there's a new breed of enforcers coming into the NHL who can play. Guys like DJ King of the Blues. It's fine that enforcers need to have skills, but we still NEED them to be able to enforce.
So those are my qualms with Bettman's NHL. A lot of people have those and others. Some people are convinced he's trying to run the NHL just like the NBA (where he once worked) whether on ice or off. I don't know about that.
What I do know is that the NHL has another problem that isn't soley Bettman's doing (as it's been around a while), and the NBA just showed it knows how to deal with the same type of problem. It's time for Bettman and the NHL to follow suit.
That problem is of course officiating. There's no reason to be nice about it; NHL officiating is down right awful. They want to call play closer, and that's fine, but the execution is terrible. Penalties are called that literally did not happen at all. Major violations are ignored or missed (which with two refs cluttering up the ice is unacceptable). Whistles are blown too soon because the refs just can't seem to keep their eye on the puck. Goal reviews (I'm not just criticizing on-ice officials) are ridiculous. They aren't always called for when they should be. They are called for when they obviously don't need to be. And simple calls take way too long to make killing momentum. Point is, NHL officiating is ridiculously poor.
When a major injustice happens in the NHL (such as the Ottawa-St. Louis game from about a month ago when the Blues had two definite goals stripped away and had the referee talking crap instead of actually explaining), you hear nothing of substance out of the NHL offices. Usually the NHL backs up it's refs to no end. Sometimes they'll reluctantly admit a mistake (as they did to the Blues, but not without trying to downplay the meaning of the calls by pointing out that the Blues weren't a playoff team and had allowed two shorthanded goals in the game). They never announce what happens to the refs who screwed up though. Fans are left to assume nothing happens. We know they're "rated", but we have to doubt that they face any serious consequences like fines or suspensions. And the rating process is questionable.
Take a ref like Mick McGeough. He played the primary role in robbing the Blues vs. Ottawa, and he also completely robbed the Oilers of an OT with Dallas earlier in the year after he inexplicably called (and defended his call) a hand pass on a faceoff that the Oilers scored immediatley off of (it was inexplicable because it was CLEARY a pass off of the stick). Every game I see McGeough reffing he seems to miss calls left and right and get into it with the players.
Yet, the "ratings" have McGeough working the playoffs, while a veteran ref who does an overall good job (despite how much fun it is to pick on him) like Kerry Fraser is held out of the playoffs.
Point being, there seems to be no accountability for refs, and any accountability that does exist is clearly not evident to the fanbase.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the major arena sports, you've got David Stern and his NBA. The NBA has faced it's share of problems, but there is no commissioner like David Stern who take such quick and decisive actions to try and move past those problems. Sure his iron fist can at times be a fault, but more often than not, it's a large strength. And that fist isn't so iron that he won't listen to the people that matter. When the NBA changed to a synthetic ball this year, his players hated it. It took just a couple of months for him to announce the NBA would go back to the old leather ball for January 2007. Stern knows how to run a league.
So when one of the NBA refs had an absolutely unacceptable showing, Stern was quick to act. Referee Joey Crawford has reffed more postseason NBA games than any other active ref, but that didn't matter. He'd had some questionable incidents before, and this time he ejected NBA Good Guy and All Star Tim Duncan from a game after giving him two quick and very questionable technical fouls and repeatedly asking him if he wanted to fight.
It took all of one day for David Stern to suspend Crawford for the rest of the season (including the playoffs) and maybe longer citing "improper conduct" and "inappropriate comments made to Duncan during the game.". This suspension was publicly announced, and Stern released a statement himself.
"(Crawford's actions) failed to meet the standards of professionalism and game management we expect of NBA referees."
"Especially in light of similar prior acts by this official, a significant suspension is warranted."
"Although Joey is consistently rated as one of our top referees, he must be held accountable for his actions on the floor, and we will have further discussions with him following the season to be sure he understands his responsibilities."
How refreshing it is to see a league actually dealing with poor officiating!
Stern's actions are great for two reasons. One, because he's dealing with a problem in his league, and two, because he's making it very clear to his fanbase that such problems will be dealt with.
I don't have as big of a problem with Gary Bettman as a lot of people do. He doesn't thrill me, but I don't hate him. Maybe he follows the NBA's lead too much, maybe not. Lots of middleground in all of that for me.
All I know is that this is a case where he ABSOLUTELY should follow David Stern's lead. Get tough on his officials. Don't put up with poor and officiating and improper actions by officials. Hold them accountable. And then make sure we, the fanbase, know that beyond a shadow of a doubt they are being held accountable.
Thanks for reading. This blog thing was kinda fun.