Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Speak no Evil

Vancouver Cannuck Alex Burrows says referee Stephane Auger told him he was going to settle a score based on disrespect and did.

Let’s be real here. Referees are people too. There are some players they like and some they don’t. Some players in this league get more leniency than others all the time based on their personality, reputation, resume and other factors. If any of the allegations of Burrows are true, the only thing Auger did wrong was say the words out loud. It absolutely goes on all the time and everyone knows it.

This controversy has many tentacles. Firstly, some players have complained to the league in the past about referees swearing at them on the ice. That is a ridiculous double standard. Watch the lips of the people on the ice during any NHL game. You can clearly see that players use foul language towards, at and about officials all the time. Players can’t continually swear at officials and then be offended when officials use foul language when communicating with them.

Officials are also in an impossible situation. There is one easy way to end all of this from happening. Under NHL rules an official is not obliged to speak with any player or coach. If he chooses to, only captains or designated alternates are supposed to be allowed to speak to the officials and only if invited to have a conversation by the official. If you watch hockey you know that all players and all coaches are continuously speaking or trying to speak to the officials. Every one of them could be penalized if the ref chose to.

Referees however can’t do that. If a player can’t communicate with an official he complains to his coach. If the coach can’t communicate with the ref he complains to his GM. The GM then calls the league and complains that officials wont communicate and the officials are then instructed to have more communication despite the fact they are supposed to have the individual power to either accept on ice communication or not.

Do referees make calls in games based on some personal bias towards some individuals or teams? Absolutely they do. All you have to do is to go through the game sheets to map the trends. These things are discussed privately with the NHL all the time. Is there a way to fix it? No. Not as long as you have human beings calling the games. Just like teachers at school, some students are treated differently for a variety of reasons. It might not be right, but it is reality.

If Alex Burrows wanted the relationship fixed with Stephane Auger he should have done it quietly and privately. If Auger wanted to keep this from becoming public he should have just nodded to Burrows and skated away.

Why was Burrows disciplined by the league and not Auger? Because Burrows broke the publicity code by talking to the media about it and any discipline for Auger would have created at least the impression there may be credibility issues in his calling of games as it relates to fairness and unbiased neutrality.

At the end of the day Burrows broke the un-spoken code about speaking. That is the greater sin in the NHL, even if he was completely correct in everything he said.

See you at the rink.


Anonymous said...

I understand where you're coming from. I think your analysis is spot on. But, I also think that the NHL has to improve in this area.

The idea of "a code" is kinda bush-league, in my books. I have no doubt that it exists. A better description may be "the culture of the NHL". I think that it has to change if it wants to grow its fan base.

If it doesn't want to grow, don't change. But, if it wants to grow, I think it has to change.

Having "a code" that isn't clearly spelled out by the rules, implies that the NHL is exclusionary. Meaning that you're not part of the sport unless you understand the "way things really work" outside of the rules.

That's how old boys clubs work. Those barriers exist in all walks of life, but the trend is that they are falling. Transparency is "in".

The NHL will always be popular in Canada. But, I think that its culture helps to impede growth in the US. The game becomes difficult to understand. Fans cannot fully engage emotionally because someone from the Canadian media tells them that some inexplicable behaviour is part of the "code".

I think Alex Burrows did the right thing. Video shows that he may have a point. The NHL is insulting the intelligence of the fan base by acting like Auger is completely innocent.

Coming out and saying "that after speaking to both parties there is insufficient evidence to make a ruling" would have been fine. No need to reprimand Burrows. Save the fines for instances where it's clear that the player is wrong.

Had they handled it properly, Burrows would have advanced the idea that refs are fallible. Auger would have felt like he was "on notice". And, he should feel that way.

Fans are not stupid. They see the video. The NHL should stop pretending the fans are stupid.

In this instance, the NHL reminds me of how the RCMP defends fellow members when they do wrong. If someone does something wrong, say it's wrong. People are not so stupid that they'll take down the whole organization. They know to fault the wrong doer.

Anonymous said...

But the "code" is wrong, therefore you should have denounced it Dean! I disagree it can't be fixed...all it takes is for some people to start speaking out against it and making it unacceptable & risky for the official to act this way.

Auger should think about how to make himself a better ref instead of issuing threats...