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Canucks captain Sedin: Officiating standards ‘absolutely’ changed this year

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Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin says the standard for what constitutes a penalty has changed.

And not for the better.

“Yes, absolutely,” Sedin told The Province when asked if officiating standards were different this year. “I think it’s too late now, but going into next season you’ve got to go back to the last lockout where they called everything.

“Guys are going to stop hooking if they know they’re going to get called. Right now there’s way too much of that.”

What’s curious about this statement is the NHL made an effort this summer to specifically address it.

From Aug. 21-22, a mini-summit of GMs, coaches, players, officials and the league’s hockey ops department met in Toronto and discussed significant rules — most pressingly, the standard for obstruction penalties.

From Sports Illustrated’s Stu Hackel:

The meeting grew out of the GMs gathering in March during which some expressed concern that the league had softened its resolve to restrict interference, hooking and holding.

That perception had also been circulating in the media, and while it wasn’t part of the GMs’ complaints, the fact is that with goal scoring having declined annually since the post-lockout rules were implemented, the return of clutching and grabbing was blamed.

Teams averaged 6.16 goals per game in 2005-06. Last season, it was 5.32 per game, on a par with the Dead Puck Era just prior to the lockout.

NHL Senior VP of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell said he didn’t think the obstruction standard was broken, “but I don’t think it’s perfect, either.”

He also admitted several teams questioned if the standard had slipped as the 2011-12 season progressed.

Why?

Well, the numbers put forth raised some eyebrows.

Last February, NHL.com columnist John Kreiser took notice of a sharp decline in power plays:

With the season set to pass the two-thirds mark on Saturday, the average number of power plays in a game has fallen to levels not seen in more than three decades.

Entering the weekend, the 810 games played this season have had an average of 6.90 power plays — the lowest figure since 1978-79, when the 17-team NHL averaged 6.77 power plays in its 680 games.

Further data research from The Score’s Backhand Shelf suggested that, in ’11-12, the league was on pace for far fewer hooking and holding penalties than in ’10-11.

There are generally two counterpoints to claims that officiating standards have declined:

1) Penalties are down because players have adjusted to new rules and officiating standards.

2) Referees are letting more obstruction/holding go because it slows down players and, therefore, can have a tangible effect on collisions, impact and concussions.

Of course, there are also those who feel Sedin’s comments are simply a skill guy complaining about physical play.

But on that note, check out what ex-NHL referee Kerry Fraser had to say.

“I would have to agree [with Henrik],” Fraser said. “[Coming out of the lockout] there was a commitment from every faction in the game to limit the restraining fouls we had let go for so long. It was a culture shock, but players had to change the way they played and it flushed out a lot of players who couldn’t cheat.

“There are a combination of things that have resulted in a less stringent standard [today].”

McDavid, Crosby, Price and Kane lead All-Star voting through first week

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 23:  Connor McDavid #97 of the Edmonton Oilers skates against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center on November 23, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Oilers defeated the Avalanche 6-3. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
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Voting for the 2017 NHL All-Star game has been underway for more than a week now, and on Tuesday afternoon the league announced the early leaders from each division.

The game, which will take place in Los Angeles on Jan. 26, will feature the same format as last year’s game with the four divisions taking part in a 3-on-3 tournament.

Connor McDavid, the NHL’s leading scorer, is the top vote-getter in the Pacific Division, while Sidney Crosby, currently the NHL’s leading goal scorer, is leading the Metropolitan Division.

Montreal’s Carey Price and Chicago’s Patrick Kane, the past two MVP winners, are leading the Atlantic and Central divisions respectively.

Unlike last season when John Scott dominated the voting, there are no surprise players in the early results. The league put new voting guidelines in place this season and limited voting only to players that are on an active NHL roster.

Here are is an early look at the top-five vote getters from each division.

Montreal (Price and Shea Weber), Pittsburgh (Crosby and Phil Kessel), and San Jose (Brent Burns and Joe Thornton) are the three teams that currently have two players in the top five of their division.

Atlantic
1. Carey Price, Montreal
2. Jaromir Jagr, Florida
3. Shea Weber, Montreal
4. Jack Eichel, Buffalo
5. Patrice Bergeron, Boston

Central
1. Patrick Kane, Chicago
2. P.K. Subban, Nashville
3. Jonathan Toews, Chicago
4. Patrik Laine, Winnipeg
5. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis

Metropolitan
1. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh
2. Alex Ovechkin, Washington
3. Phil Kessel, Pittsburgh
4. John Tavares, NY Islanders
5. Taylor Hall, New Jersey

Pacific
1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton
2. Brent Burns, San Jose
3. Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary
4. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles
5. Joe Thornton, San Jose

James Neal could return to Predators lineup tonight

DENVER, CO - MARCH 05:  James Neal #18 of the Nashville Predators celebrates his goal against the Colorado Avalanche to tie the score 2-2 in the third period at Pepsi Center on March 5, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. The Predators defeated the Avalanche 5-2.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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The Nashville Predators lineup could be getting a big lift on Tuesday night against the Colorado Avalanche with the possible return of winger James Neal.

Neal, who has been sidelined since Nov. 25 with an upper body injury, returned to practice on Tuesday for the team’s morning skate and has been activated from injured reserve according to Adam Vingan of the Tennessean.

The original diagnosis for Neal was to be sidelined on a week to week basis, but it appears he is on the verge of making a return to the lineup after just 10 days.

If he returns on Tuesday he is expected to skate on a line with Colin Wilson and Mike Fisher, according to the team.

Prior to the injury Neal had been on quite a scoring tear for the Predators with 10 goals and four assists over a 13-game stretch. It was during that stretch that the Predators had started to turn their season around after a slow start and were quickly climbing the Western Conference standings. They were then hit by a series of injuries that took both Neal and Ryan Ellis out of the lineup. Since Nov. 25 the Predators have now lost three out of their past four and sit in 10th place in the Western Conference, two points behind Winnipeg for the second playoff spot (the Predators, though, still have four games in hand).

Neal’s 10 goals are still tops on the team. Nobody else has scored more than seven.

Scheifele injury not long-term, but he’ll miss his third straight game tonight

Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele celebrates after scoring against the Toronto Maple Leafs during first-period NHL hockey game action in Toronto, Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darren Calabrese)
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Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg’s No. 1 center and the NHL’s eighth-leading scorer with 26 points through 26 games, will miss his third contest in a row this evening when the Jets host the Red Wings at the MTS Centre.

But fear not, Jets fans. Scheifele won’t be out much longer.

“He’s getting better,” head coach Paul Maurice said on Tuesday, per the Jets’ Twitter account. “He skated this morning and felt incrementally stronger each day. This is not a long-term injury.”

Scheifele, 23, hasn’t played since a 6-3 loss to Edmonton on Dec. 1. His absence is, quite obviously, a big one — in addition to the offensive production, Scheifele averaged over 20 minutes per night and led the team in faceoffs taken.

He’d also developed terrific chemistry with rookie sniper Patrik Laine, who sits second in the NHL in goals right now with 16.

To their credit, the Jets have done well without Scheifele in the lineup. They beat the Blues 3-2 in OT on Saturday, then followed that up with a 2-1 win in Chicago on Sunday.

Eichel is good to go against McDavid and the Oilers

ANAHEIM, CA - FEBRUARY 24:  Jack Eichel #15 of the Buffalo Sabres looks on during the second period of a game against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center on February 24, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The Buffalo Sabres played the Washington Capitals close last night, giving themselves a chance to beat one of the best teams in the NHL — on the road to boot.

Though the Caps eventually won in overtime, it was another encouraging performance by the Sabres, who’ve been a much better side since Jack Eichel returned to the lineup.

Buffalo (9-10-6) has gone 2-1-1 in the four games Eichel has played. Tonight, another big test, as Connor McDavid and the Oilers pay a visit to KeyBank Center.

“We have to try and fight our way up the standings,” Sabres winger Kyle Okposo told reporters last night. “You might have some lulls in the season, but we already had ours. We have to make sure we’re pushing forward and doing everything we can to get two points. Getting a point is OK, but we had the lead in the third.”

Eichel will indeed play tonight. He confirmed that this morning, after there was concern he’d tweaked his ankle against the Capitals.

“I’m fine. I’m good,” Eichel said, per the Buffalo News. “Going through an injury like this, you know it’s going to come back and bother you at times, but it’s fine now.”

With Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly, the Sabres have a formidable one-two punch down the middle. When Eichel was out with his ankle injury, it was a serious challenge to fill his spot, and the Sabres just couldn’t manage it very well.

Now, with Eichel back, it’s about finding that belief — a belief that the Sabres are good enough to compete, that they don’t need to go into a shell as soon as they get the lead.

That’s what seemed to happen last night in Washington, where the Caps outshot the Sabres, 16-9, in the third period and Marcus Johansson‘s goal at 13:42 sent the game to sudden death.

“I mean give them credit, they’re a good team, but I think we’re starting to sit back and they have speed, you know?” said goalie Robin Lehner. “I think we see that we can play. We’ve just got to stop changing, changing how we play.”