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For the love of God, NHL: Enough with all the dumb penalty calls

I get what the NHL is trying to do, but it’s making its product even harder to watch.

NHL: Preseason-Philadelphia Flyers at Boston Bruins Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday night, the Bruins and Flyers played what apparently passes for a hockey game these days.

It was stop-and-go, sloppy, choppy and, at times, hard to watch.

Brad Marchand had another word for it:

“It’s a debacle out there,” said the Bruin forward after the game.

He wasn’t wrong.

The Bruins and Flyers played nearly 65 minutes of hockey in their Thursday night game. The two teams combined for 15 minor penalties. 15 penalties!!!!

This means nearly half the game was played at something other than even strength, whether it was 5v4 or 4v4.

Lest you think the game was some kind of fluke, it’s become the new norm in the NHL this preseason.

Monday’s Islanders-Rangers game featured 18 penalties. Thursday’s Stars-Avalanche game featured 20 penalties at the time of this post, and the game wasn’t even over.

The Blackhawks and Red Wings combined for 13 on Thursday as well.

What the hell is going on?

The NHL, in an attempt to “change player behavior”, is instructing its officials to call the games much more tightly, specifically around faceoff violations and stick fouls.

The result?

“It’s becoming a big joke, so there’s got to be something tweaked with it,” said Marchand after the Bruins’ 2-1 win over Philly. “You know, these games are painful.”

It’s not hard to see what the NHL is trying to do: they want to increase scoring, as they always do.

  • More penalties will lead to more power plays, which will lead to more goals.
  • If the players change their behavior and stay away from the subtle whacks and hooks, the game will open up, which will lead to more goals.
  • If the players are more hesitant to “cheat” on faceoffs, it will probably lead to more offensive zone faceoff wins, which will lead to more goals.

It’s all about the offense, baby!

However, in an attempt to increase scoring and make games more “exciting,” the NHL is killing its product and making it borderline unwatchable.

Penalties seem like they’re being called with reckless abandon, almost like the referees are being paid commission on the number of PIMs they rack up each game.

This kills the flow of the game, leading to stilted, uneven play. The players can’t get in a rhythm, and the game feels like it has a million commercial breaks due to all the stoppages.

One can almost understand the emphasis on cutting down on slashing, as no one wants to see another Marc Methot injury.

However, there’s a difference between calling a slash a slash and calling a wave of the stick a slash.

The faceoff rule is even more ridiculous. It seems like anything and everything can be called a faceoff violation.

Feet on the hashmarks? Penalty. Stick down too soon? Penalty. Cough during the faceoff? Penalty. Forget to ask the ref how his kids are doing? Penalty.

“Hopefully over time we’ll build a little bit of chemistry with the linesmen and get that sorted out, but right now it’s a little frustrating,” said Riley Nash. “Right now it feels like you flinch, you’re gone.”

How bad has it gotten?

“If you look at the percentages of how many times guys got kicked out tonight, and what it’s taking away from the teams, it’s not worth what’s coming with it,” said Marchand. “Literally both teams were laughing out there about how bad the rule is.”

By taking this odd, hard-line stance on these two areas of the game, the NHL is fundamentally changing the way the sport is played.

“We’ve been used to doing one thing for so long, and they kind of change it,” said Ryan Spooner. “I’ve been doing that since I was two, and they just kind of changed that. It’s just kind of tough, right?”

Patrice Bergeron echoed Spooner’s sentiments.

“Faceoff is a skill and you work on timing, you work on hand-eye, and you know when the linesman is going to drop the puck,” he said. “I was thinking more about him kicking me out than dropping the puck.”

Is this what the NHL is going for? Having one of its best two-way players suddenly hesitate when taking a faceoff?

Probably not, but that’s what they’ve ended up with.

“I don’t know, I wonder what they’re really trying to get out of it,” said Bergeron. “I understand that it’s feet above those lines and sticks and whatnot. That being said, it also kind of sucks. Hockey is a fast game and they’re really slowing it down.”

Ideally, the NHL is using the preseason as some kind of pilot program to see how players and fans react to certain rule-tightening.

If not, they may get the extra goals they’re craving, but there won’t be nearly as many fans to watch them.