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.
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.
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].”