That didn't take long, did it?
Shortly after the Washington Capitals dropped their home opener by a score of 4-2 to the Winnipeg Jets, newcomer Mike Ribeiro wasn't shy in making his feelings for the officials known. Ribeiro had just ended the game with a 10-minute misconduct and a 2-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and was feeling chatty about how he thinks the officials are treating him and his teammates.
The year is young but fans, and now players, are quickly growing frustrated with the lack of clarity from NHL officials.
Check out what Ribeiro said following the loss, as reported by Stephen Whyno of the Washington Times.
Mike Ribeiro on officials: "They believe they're like above us or like more power, they feel power, I don't know."— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) January 23, 2013
Ribeiro on refs: "I just feel like you're not allowed to talk to them anymore about situations that happens in a game."— Stephen Whyno (@SWhyno) January 23, 2013
Fans, players and coaches alike have been quick to call out NHL officiating this season. Honestly, we can't blame them. The NHL is attempting to crack down on interference this year and as a result have been blowing the whistle on what seems to be a much more regular basis. While we didn't dive in and calculate just how many penalties have been called compared to this stage last season, we are confident that the calls this year have been debated much more heavily due to their nature.
Interference is being called on plays where players bump each other, even if it's inadvertent. This new problem adds to the existing problems that have plagued NHL officials for ages and it's starting to create some tension with the players and the officials on the ice.
Imagine if you're a player that just took a high stick to the face. The official missed it, leaving you with a bit of anger and probably a pretty sore face. On the following play, you bump your opponent with your body as you both skate to the puck. It was incidental contact that's expected in a hockey game. The officials arm goes up and suddenly you're sitting in the box. Outrageous, right?
Instead of fixing what was already broken, the NHL went and made things even more confusing for those playing and watching the game. The biggest criticism against NHL officiating has been the stunning lack of consistency. The new and improved (highly debatable) push to end interference has only made matters worse. Now it's completely unclear what is a penalty and what isn't. The slightest contact on a 50-50 puck might lead to two minutes while a more direct hit that impedes progress is not. Calling such minute contact in a contact sport is mind-numbingly off target.
Clean up and clarify the original rules we're all familiar with first. Then, and only then, tackle the subject of introducing new interpretations to old rules or introducing new rules to the book.
Unfortunately, according to Ribeiro, talking to the officials is a lost cause. This is an even more troubling issue but we're not positive if this is just the case in Ribeiro's experiences or just due to the specific officiating team that was on the ice.
Players should be allowed to have a line of communication with the officials, within reason. A player should be allowed to ask for clarity and explanations as they deserve to know what's fair and what's not fair in the eyes of the official. If this request is being denied, we might have a much more serious problem with NHL officiating than we previously thought. Of course, Ribeiro might have used some...colorful metaphors...when speaking with the officials, so take his comments with a grain of salt. We'll never know what was said in that conversation.
At the very least, Ribeiro opens up the officiating debate early this season. Usually fans are able to stomach the officiating through the season's first week or two, but now that there's so much added pressure due to the shortened season we're seeing the officials called out early and often.
Let's hope the officiating improves before it gets worse.
Photo courtesy of CSN Washington
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Look. The problem isn't the officials--at least not where Washington is concerned. The issue is the exact same one that's plagued them for the past three years: Their defense is deplorable. Their forwards stink at puck support. Mike Green STILL doesn't take proper angles to the puck carrier and is a defenseman in name only as far as I'm concerned. The Caps should make him a forward where his defensive shortcomings would be (somewhat) easier to tolerate . They still have trouble clearing the puck out of their own end when they really need to. And their big guns on offense have all morphed into pip squeaks when it's time to get things done--and I'm speaking here even more so about Niklas Bakstrom--their best all-around player-- than I am about Alex Ovechkin, who I've pretty much given up on as a 50 goal scorer. The thought was that with an offensive coach behind the bench once more, this team would rediscover its lost scoring acumen. The problem with that is that Adam Oates is BEHIND the bench--not on the ice making genius passes like he once did for Brett Hull.
Cap fans, I'm afraid you're in for a long (short) season...
Let me go on record right from the top: I agree with the *intent* of the change to the interference rule. Clearly, the league wants to open up the ice more, make speed and skill more important, all those things we've heard before with other rules changes. I like the idea, in principle.
In practice, however, the arbitrary way this is being called, even in some cases where no contact occurs, is instead slowing the game down, frustrating both fans and, obviously from Ribeiro's comments, players. The fact that it isn't even consistent based on where on the ice the players are only makes it worse. Incidental contact near the blueline, or even the appearance of it where none actually exists, is going to get flagged about 80% of the time (what happens in those other 20% of cases is more than I can say), but the same kind of play on the end boards? Go ahead, slam the guy at full speed, play on, that's just hockey.
I can only imagine what's going to happen when the first player ends up in the hands of Brendan Shanahan's supplemental discipline department this season, at the rate the officiating has been going.