Monday, November 15, 2010

It's Amazing What Gets Written

If you haven't heard already, you'll be hearing from elsewhere soon. Blogger mc79 of the Edmonton Oilers stats fraternity has written an expose on Colin Campbell and his favourite and least favourite NHL players.

The piece may be interesting if it's picked up by the media (or even if it isn't) because of the answers Mr. Campbell will have to provide. We'll keep an eye.

Anyway, I am not qualified to pick up that ball and run with, so I leave you in mc79's able hands if you so wish. But as always, I like to take a sidelong glance at these issues and see if there's anything else.

Our investigative blogger friend mentioned as his source the Canadian Legal Information Institute (or CanLII). Not news to lawyers, (I'm sure, but to the rest of us perhaps. Searching the engine for "NHL" turns up quite a bit, seaching for "Campbell" and "Walkom" turns up this case and a couple of others.

It's an interesting read. I didn't read through the whole file, but there were a few things that jumped out for in this "Warren v. National Hockey League" case.

Now, we astute observers already know that NHL officiating is an interesting case study. We think we can see instances where rules are clearly ignored because one team just had 3 penalties, or is on the PK, or maybe close to putting the game into OT. Some might have dismissed this as fanciful fans seeing games through their own prism.

Guess what, though? We're right. And they write it down here.

"59. There are many aspects to being a good referee. Referees must call penalties correctly and be in the proper location on the ice to make the right call. This is true of all officials in all professional sports. Apart from the speed of the game, where NHL officials may differ from officials in other professional sports is in the exercise of discretion. Historically referees have been expected to “take the flow and characteristics of the game” and the effect of the infraction on the game into account in assessing whether to call a penalty. A penalty in the first period may not be a penalty in the second or third period. It appears that a penalty in the regular season may not always be a penalty in the playoffs. Mr. Gregson noted that if the referees called all the penalties the entertainment would be taken out of the game because, given the speed and physical nature of hockey, a penalty could be called on virtually every play. An assessment of whether a referee is good at making the right calls at the right time is extremely subjective."

OK, pretty obvious stuff here. The pandering to the Don Cherrys of the world who don't think players could adapt to any rule thrown at them. Guess that's why hockey players all throw body checks on golf courses...

Anyway, in addition to this, it seems that Mr. Warren's very tendency to call games by the rulebook -- the way the fans that I know want the game to be called -- got him fired:
"90. In 2005/2006, Mr. Warren was selected to work the playoffs. The reason for his selection to the playoffs was clearly that he was in the top half of the League’s officials. Mr. Walkom testified that in that year, the first year after the lock-out, Mr. Warren was successful because there was no judgement in the officiating of games. There was only black and white. The League expected that all penalties would be called to the letter of the rule regardless of the game situation. In Mr. Walkom’s view, Mr. Warren excelled in the circumstances which were in place during the regular season. However, Mr. Walkom’s assessment of his performance during the playoffs was not good.
This is by no means a scandal, as it was plain for all to see anyway. But for me it cheapens a lot of what goes on.

How the league expects consistent and fair results when they isnsist on applying the rules differently in different situations is mind boggling. How is a GM supposed to build a team?

And as to the notion apllication of the rules would undermine the entertainment in the game, I suggest only that if that is the case then it is the rules and not the application of them that needs to be addressed.

I leave you to enjoy the impending debacle now.

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