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NHL names officials for 2011 playoffs; Will they actually use their whistles?

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The NHL named the 20 referees and 20 officials who will legislate the 2011 playoffs today. Some of the familiar names include Paul Devorski, Stephen Walkom and Dan O’Halloran, but if you really need to know every guy you’ll eventually heckle during the next two-plus months, they’re listed at the bottom of this post.

This list of referees brings up an important question, though: will the NHL send them a message to actually make calls during the playoffs or will the pervasive “just let ’em play” illogic prevail?

Instead of boring you with fractions and decimals, the easiest way to notice the fact that the league is starting to sink back into those ugly, pre-lockout habits can be seen in the scoring leaders. Daniel Sedin’s 104 points is the lowest Art Ross Trophy-winning total since Martin St. Louis won it with 94 in 2003-04 while Corey Perry was the only player in the league to hit 50 goals.

Referees are turning a blind eye to instances of obstruction and interference more and more, if you ask me (and many other increasingly concerned observers). One might look at a subtle pick or a moderate grab as a “part of the game,” but these tactics allow slow, lower-skill players to dumb the game down when hockey should be opening every door for the fastest, most talented guys to shine.

As Mike Chen astutely points out, the beginning of the 2011 playoffs could provide the league with an opportunity to send a message about making the proper calls rather than swallowing whistles to silence angry fans and whiny coaches.

More and more first-time and returning fans will gravitate toward these games as the postseason goes on, so why not display the sport at its best instead of allowing mediocre teams to muck things up with their clutching and grabbing?

Chances are, things will just get worse because of that aforementioned “just let ’em play” mentality, especially since the league has been getting off the hook lately. For the last three seasons, luck has been on the NHL’s side when it comes to high-profile, elite teams meeting in the Stanley Cup finals. If they let the on-ice mugging (er, I mean “defense”) go too far, we could be in for another New Jersey Devils-Anaheim Ducks-type snooze fest.

Hopefully the cream will rise to the top, but here are the list of officials who will be given the power to allow the best to be the best (or not). (List via NHL.com.)

Referees (20):
Paul Devorski
Eric Furlatt
Marc Joannette
Greg Kimmerly
Steve Kozari
Dennis LaRue
Chris Lee
Wes McCauley
Brad Meier
Dan O’Halloran
Dan O’Rourke
Tim Peel
Brian Pochmara
Kevin Pollock
Chris Rooney
Francois St. Laurent
Kelly Sutherland
Stephen Walkom
Ian Walsh
Brad Watson

Linesmen (20):
Derek Amell
Steve Barton
David Brisebois
Scott Cherrey
Greg Devorski
Pat Driscoll
Ryan Galloway
Shane Heyer
Brad Kovachik
Brad Lazarowich
Steve Miller
Jean Morin
Brian Murphy
Jonny Murray
Derek Nansen
Tim Nowak
Pierre Racicot
Tony Sericolo
Jay Sharrers
Mark Wheler

WATCH LIVE: Stanley Cup Final Game 1 – Sharks at Penguins

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Pittsburgh Penguins fans sit outside of Consol Energy Center prior to Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The wait is finally over. The 2016 Stanley Cup Final is about to begin.

Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks received some time to lick their wounds after three grueling playoff rounds, so expect Game 1 to be fun, even if there might be a subtle bit of rust here or there.

The star power is considerable. The beards are burly (at least on the Sharks’ side). It’s time to get cracking.

Game 1 airs on NBC. You can also stream it via the link below and enjoy some “NHL Live” coverage leading in.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Vlasic on the unenviable task of matching up against Crosby

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 21:  Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 and Sidney Crosby #87 of Canada look on during the Men's Ice Hockey Semifinal Playoff against the United States on Day 14 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 21, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
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Plenty of people believe that the San Jose Sharks’ defense is superior to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ personnel, but it’s one thing to be better on paper. When you’re on the ice, against a speedy and talented team, can you really stop the Penguins?

All signs point to sorely underrated Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic drawing the difficult assignment of trying to slow down Sidney Crosby.

Vlasic, a former Team Canada teammate of Crosby (as you can see from this post’s main image), realizes that he’ll have his hands full. In fact, he seems to believe that this will be an even tougher challenge than trying to solve St. Louis Blues sniper Vladimir Tarasenko.

The fantastic all-around defender isn’t exactly expecting to reinvent the wheel in his strategy against Crosby.

“It will be the same as in the first three series,” Vlasic said, via The Hockey News. “We’re playing against the top players on every time – Sid, (Evgeni) Malkin and those types of guys for Pittsburgh. Me and (Justin Braun) will just keep doing what we did, taking away time and space and hopefully it works out.”

The two players have had glowing things to say about each other for some time, but don’t be surprised if this high-level competition turns those happy thoughts into hard feelings.

It stands as one of the matchups to watch in what could be a fresh and fascinating Stanley Cup Final.

Red Wings look to future in net … a future possibly without Howard

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 07:  Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings makes a save against the Boston Bruins during the first period at TD Garden on April 7, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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This summer looks like it could be one of changes for the Detroit Red Wings, even beyond the most obvious storyline of Pavel Datsyuk‘s future.

One area where the Red Wings would like to make some tweaks is in net, namely in trading Jimmy Howard. The Detroit Free-Press points out that GM Ken Holland admitted that moving the former franchise netminder “might be good for the organization.”

It’s reasonable to wonder what kind of market there will be for Howard, whose deal ($5.29 million cap hit through 2018-19) looks pretty tough to stomach on paper.

Maybe it’s best to consider the Red Wings’ options if Howard starts the 2016-17 season off on a strong note, or something of that nature. Perhaps an expansion draft could “solve” that problem if Detroit cannot find any takers?

The Red Wings remain forward-thinking and patient, which likely explains why the Free-Press focuses on their confidence with prospect Jared Coreau.

“In the big scheme of things, he’ll play in Grand Rapids for another year, but now we know he can play a lot of minutes if needed,” Goalie coach Jeff Salajko said. “Jimmy Howard played four years in the minors. We’re not rushing Jared, but he is going to be an NHL goalie, there is no doubt in my mind about that.”

In other words, a pairing of Petr Mrazek and Coreau wouldn’t just be a cost-effective duo … it might just be the Red Wings’ ideal scenario in the not-too-distant future.

Stanley Cup Final referees: McCauley, O’Halloran, O’Rourke, Sutherland

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 13:  Referee Dan O'Halloran #13 holds up a face-off between the Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators during their NHL game at First Niagara Center on December 13, 2011 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Dave Sandford Getty Images)
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From the NHL:

refs

Pretty veteran crew, including three returnees from last year’s final.

Per the NHL, O’Halloran and O’Rourke will call tonight’s series opener from Consol.