Game management is a huge problem in the NHL and we saw some prime examples of it this weekend

Published January 17, 2022 at 10:05
If you haven't heard the term "game management" by now, you haven't been paying much attention to the hockey world. The NHL appears to have a clear mandate for its officials; make games as close as possible, even at the expense of the integrity of the game itself.

Listen, I don't want to be sitting here writing an article about NHL referees. I don't want to scream at my TV while my wife looks at me like I'm some sort of deranged idiot. Heck, I don't even want to know or care who is officiating the game I'm watching. The unfortunate truth is that until the NHL decides to make a change, these problems aren't going to go away.

Of course, as a Leafs fan, this article will be read by others as just more whining, but be honest with yourself. When was the last time your team had a multi goal lead and got a powerplay that wasn't the result of something so egregious it had to be called? When was the last time you went an entire game without looking at a penalty call, or non call, and wondering if the score was different would the call be different?

The NHL wants games to end close, and in order to do that, they've set obvious guidelines for officials. Keep calling penalties on the leading team until they aren't leading anymore. If a team is behind, the rules don't seem to apply any more. If you watch many games, or check the game logs, you'll also see that in most games, the penalty calls are either even, or within one call. Anything to avoid appearing to effect the outcome of the game, even if the infractions heavily favour one team.

The problem with ignoring calls in the name of not impacting the outcome, is you end up not calling the game evenly, which can impact the outcome. In today's example, you see Jordan Kyrou quite literally tackle Timothy Liljegren from behind, a very obvious holding penalty. The referee chose not to call it, and seconds later Kyrou sets up a Robert Thomas goal to tie the game. If the holding call wasn't enough, Kyrou threw a couple nice punches in for good measure before Liljegren could get up, so they could have nailed him for roughing as well.

Later in the game, Kyrou was nailed on a bit of a softer penalty call than the egregious non call I've just described. The prototypical «make up call.» The problem with this, however, is that while the Leafs get the power play they are owed, they get no recompense for the goal that was scored. The outcome of the game has been irreparably affected by the referees. They still got the two points, but that game could have very easily gone the other way due to the non-call on Kyrou.

The Leafs fall victim to this kind of officiating for 2 reasons. Because they are a skilled team, they are able to jump on opponents and build leads early. They also play a cleaner, more skill-based, puck possession game. Having early leads seems to give way to the refs trying to even up the game. Soft calls go against them often in these situations. The other issue is that they never really seem to get their money's worth for their 2 minutes in the box, a little hook or hold and off you go, meanwhile a punch in the face, a crosscheck to the spine or a goal preventing hook get the same 2 minutes.

Another example, also from their game against the Blues, was the incident between Michael Bunting and Torey Krug. Bunting was drilled from behind by Niko Mikkola in a pretty obvious boarding infraction, but did not get a call. When Bunting got up, he gave Mikkola a bit of a shove and a few choice words for it. Bunting was then absolutely decked by Krug while looking the other way before Krug jumped on his back and threw in a few shots as the refs tried to break them up. Krug was given 2 minutes for roughing, as he should have been. The problem was that the officials also called Bunting for unsportsmanlike conduct, simply because the Leafs were leading and giving them a deserved powerplay could stretch the game out further.

This type of officiating is extremely predictable to those who pay attention, and the truth is, this type of game management hurts the integrity of our sport and it needs to stop. Not everything needs to be even for the sake of being even. The game should be called based on the players' actions, not on the score, or who got the last power play.

Until the NHL smartens up and changes this, they will hurt their product. The only thing I can see creating change personally are new partnerships with sportsbooks. How is one supposed to bet on a game without being able to trust the officiating? If people won't bet, the NHL will lose out on money. Here's hoping the money talks!
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