Well, another post-season game another WTF moment on the ice for the NHL to try and diffuse. Let’s just say that this time, thankfully, it wasn’t involving the Caps-Flyers series that’s already seen enough ink and blood spilled. Although, of course, the mele didn’t leave the Patrick Division, errrrr, the Metro.
Trading barbs is old hat for the Rangers and Penguins, particularly in recent post-seasons so with their first round meeting here it was probably inevitable that there would be some fireworks between players.
I usually try not to step in between two feuding fans since emotions run high and they’re likely not looking at anything with any sort of rational thought, but after watching a discussion turn ugly and someone tagging me in it to ref it out here’s what I ended up penning:
There’s a couple of matters of note here – the first being this, as far as I know was not a Tim Peel game. Had it been this would be an entirely different discussion.
1) you know I am not much of a conspiracy theorist. There’s not enough of a legit pattern or trend to say the league is making certain teams win or lose in general. while the league has preferences from a marketing standpoint and that’s easy to both demonstrate and defend the on-ice product doesn’t necessarily follow suit to that. If you ask me if there’s a greater deference on the player level, then yes, I would say the league as well as the players association do actively protect certain players. Those players represent assets that it’s in everyone’s best interest to protect. But I strongly believe this is at a player level in certain circumstances and not at a franchise level and with both at no where near the extreme some conspiracy theorists call it at.
2) the officials are humans and are going to make mistakes. the game is fast and they are going to miss things. the playoffs magnify this because the games themselves are under much closer fan scrutiny. However, the officials are generally bad across the board and consistently miss the same kinds of things with every team in every series. Doubt it? See point one.
3) It’s important that there was no call on the ice. This does play a role in how the league will view supplemental discipline. It isn’t just the NHL that functions like this, all major sports do. This is, as you know, in part because of the league’s relationship with the Officiating Union and in part because it’s dictated by the Player’s Union contract with the league on how it can interpret discipline. Remember too, there’s a lot of conflicting parties to the scenario and ALL have different interests in mind which is why the rules on how to interpret the “no call on the ice” are in place (and, for reference it’s the two individual players, the players union representing all the players, the individual franchises, the league representing all the franchises, the refs on the ice at the time and the officiating union representing refs in general).
4) Was the no call on the ice right, or wrong? Well, one must assume the refs saw the entire play unfold in the first place. That’s not necessarily abundantly clear in the video, I haven’t read about any of the refs commenting afterward yet, so I don’t know if they did or not.
5) If they did see the play, remember, they are judging it in real time, at ice level. They have to perceive, process and make a judgement call based on what they believe they saw and nothing more. They don’t have the benefit of the doubt to call for a play stoppage to look at an individual play and determine if it’s an infraction so a lot of times things that might not be clearly an infraction are let go because it’s more damaging to the game to call something that didn’t happen than to miss a call on something that did.
Could it be interpreted in a real time, at ice level view of the entire play unfolding that the hit caused the stick to rise and the path the player took coincidentally coincided with the uplifted stick from the hit? Absolutely this is a valid interpretation. It was actually my very initial thought looking at the play in the video without reading any of the other commentary that went with it.
Of course, penalties are subjective do a degree and assuming the ref saw the play. Does that make a player losing control of their stick ok? No. Technically, players need to be in control of their equipment at all times and by some letter of the rules even incidental contact by a high stick can be a penalty. But, since we don’t know the ref’s reasoning at the moment it’s impossible to really pin the no-call on the refs as of yet.
6) Not challengeable. Unlike the blown call on the Crawford shove in the Chi-St.L game which likely could be a Coaches Challenge this play isn’t subject to one.
7) The effects of slo-mo. IF they DID see it you have to then think about how the hit looks in real time from whatever visual perspective the ref would have ad versus in slow mo at the selected camera angle. Lots of things look completely different in hockey when slowed to a frame-by-frame multi-angle view as opposed to in real time, at ice level.
The play slowed down even by just a little bit feels much different than the real time view. The motion feels less like it’s a result of the momentum and angle of the hit to more where the player looks almost careless about how they are attempting to control the stick and even slower still how it’ moves into recklessly swinging the stick up. I will even concede, if you look at it a certain way reckless can even appear somewhat deliberate in how the sick blade is hooked as it rises so there there appears to become intent with the motion. Is there intent? Who knows, it’s a pretty solid check into the boards and a pretty big bounce back off the boards. It’s possible an experienced player just plays off the boards badly.
Look at the check Ovi put on Cooter in the Caps series. Routine check with a bad result off the boards. Look at the White hit on Orpik. Again, for all intents and purposes a fairly decent check with a bad result off the boards. Experienced players sometimes have bad luck along the boards. I don’t know if that the rebound of Letang’s stick off the check into the boards is best represented by this but I think it’s fair to say it’s a possibility just as much as it’s fair to say that it’s completely intentional with an intent to injur by Letang as some are calling it.
8) Supplemental Discipline. I don’t know the book on DOPS ability to review plays well enough but I think this likely falls in a bit of a grey area to begin with depending on which infraction you believed happened. A simple high stick on a missed call where no injury occurs probably isn’t subject to even a hearing. A deliberate use of a stick as a weapon, regardless of the initial call on the ice, particularly to the head, is worthy of a hearing.
The league certainly reviews all the film especially when the media starts circulating click-bait stories like this calling into question the reffing of a big series. But, as noted in all the above points, how you interpret that hit into that high sticking hook to the face would determine if it’s even supplemental discipline hearing worthy and there’s definitely at least one way to view the incident that would make it not DOPS’s responsibility.
What the league elects o do remains to be seen. So far, I haven’t heard anything one way or the other, but they have a tonne of options from ignoring it (which they do quite a bit), to addressing it and deferring to the on ice officials, to calling a hearing of some kind and if that happens it could go either as no discipline necessary or some combination of suspension and fine.
9) Player reputation. See point one about conspiracy theories. Do I think that because this is Letang who is a formidable star in his own right versus Stalberg who for all intents and purposes is just another forward might have some impact at the level of scrutiny this is getting? Absolutely. Letang has a bit of a reputation in the press along with the fans based on his previous actions which drive the idea that this was intentional and malicious. On the flipside it’s Letang who is one of the faces of the Pittsburgh franchise as well as one of the perennial Norris finalists and a marketable name for the league. So the media is going to be more poignant about critiquing the play while the league might have less a reason to dwell on it. Likewise the player who bore the brunt of it is neither the face of the Rangers franchise or a marketable player to the league, was not injured and most people in the media and fans other than some die-hard Rangers fans didn’t know about until Letang’s stick touched him There’s a lot of forces at work here but the league makes no bones about being an entertainment product and it’s just not entertaining to have a star player sitting as the result of a play that may-or-may not be bad.
10) I’m in NO WAY saying that Letang is innocent here. He lost control of his stick. Regardless of the how or why that probably should have been a penalty. If the league is serious about protecting ALL player’s craniums then they need to follow through on dolling out those penalties every single time.
If it’s a matter of no official saw it then let’s revisit how many officials are reviewing plays in the game, where they are revising them from and who should be responsible to catching these actions so it doesn’t happen again.
If it’s a matter of the official being unsure of the play itself (game is too fast, they didn’t get a clear enough look, the rule seemed like a grey area) then lets revisit all of the above plus training plus how the two unions are going to allow supplemental discipline occur.
If it’s a matter of “letting them play” especially if it’s in regards to it involving a super star player, well, that’s on the league and both unions to sort out on what their priorities really are. If it’s the product and not the cranium, that’s fine, but let’s then not pretend anymore.
I don’t know if that’s actually a suspendable offense. It looks bad in slow mo for sure. Looks really bad the more you look at it and really begin to take the play apart. Would I be pissed if that swing where taken at one of my team’s players? Absolutely, and I’d likely be calling for discipline after the fact as well as being pissed about the initial no call. So, I get it. But I don’t know I have a clear cut suspend him for the next game answer out of the one video I was able to find.