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Kingerksi: NHL Has it Wrong, Playoffs & League Reward the Worst not Best

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NHL playoffs, new york islanders, tampa bay lightning

After 20 years and enough diet soda and press box nachos that would kill a lesser man, I should not be surprised, but I am. In a sad and disappointed way, I truly am discouraged by the NHL playoffs and the stubborn, unmovable force that are the plumbers and plugs who have ingrained themselves into running the NHL and controlling the game’s culture.

Star players known for grace and skill do not get to direct the NHL game. No, they get less input.

Really.

You see, those star players are naturally talented. They didn’t have to work for everything, they didn’t have to fight the bully in juniors, they didn’t have to eat the knuckles to defend a teammate, and the star players certainly didn’t have to do the dirty work for their teams.

The plumber and plugs, the muckers and grinders, the clutchers and grabbers, the fighters did. And so, in NHL thinking, it is they who are the stewards of the game, not the talented players.

The league office is full of grinders. Washington, PA native George Parros heads Player Safety. In 474 career NHL games, he had 18 goals and 1092 penalty minutes.

Player Safety department member Stephane Quintal was a comparative sniper with 63 goals and 1320 PIMS in 1037 games.

NHL Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations, formerly notorious goon-friendly coach Colin Campbell has retained special influence in the league offices for nearly two decades. As a player, he had 25 goals and 1292 PIMS in 636 games. Campbell’s 2007 leaked emails in which he impugned players with concussions (well after we knew how dangerous and serious concussions are) showed the steadfast belief that tough players are hockey and talented players are there for show.

There are no players who would be considered “skill” listed publicly in NHL offices. None.

After a bout of enlightenment that featured Stanley Cup wins by the star-laden Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins, the noble warriors are again in control of the NHL playoffs. The game has been allowed to revert to the muddy grind of the late 1990s that originally chased away Mario Lemieux.

The New York Islanders might, and the Montreal Canadiens will play for the 2021 Stanley Cup. Both teams finished the regular season in fourth place in their division because they could neither skate nor score with their faster, more talented division rivals.

Sorry, but it’s true.

But hey, both are really good defensively and tough. THAT’S what the playoffs and Stanley Cup are all about, right?

If a team can squeak into the playoffs with an undertalented team but full of physical defensive-minded grinders, then dominate in the playoffs–what does that say of the regular season?

What GM in his (or eventually her) right mind would build a regular-season team with talent and skill when cheaper, less talented players are how you win the ultimate prize?

Imagine the NFL deciding defensive holding and pass interference calls should be reduced in the playoffs because they want to let the teams decide the game?

Imagine the NBA limiting foul calls to three or four per team, so the teams decide the game?

Yet the hockey culture says shut up, suck it up, fight through it, prove you’re tough enough to win the Stanley Cup. This is the noble warrior’s time to shine. The regular season is for talent. The playoffs are for grinders.

How long would it be before the NFL or NBA ratings were on par with Kitchen Ninja infomercials?

Nikita Kucherov is better? Cross-check the daylights out of him until he can’t play anymore. The other team is faster? Hold on for dear life, get in their way so they can’t get to the puck, scrum after every whistle, hack, whack, punch, cross-check, and punch some more.

That will slow them down! In the NHL playoffs, it’s allowed.

Somewhere after the 2004-05 lockout, the NHL began its crackdown on obstruction. After some adjustment period, the league settled into a nice niche in which the game sped up, scoring was way up, yet hockey games were not special teams competitions.

A few years ago, the NHL also cracked down on the little stick fouls. The hooking, the little slashes were called.

The game sped up. Scoring was way up. We were treated to the most thrilling hockey we’ve seen since the Joffa covered mullets of the 1980s.

And the funny thing is–I defend grinders and tough hockey more than most of my U.S. colleagues combined. I admire and revere the blood and guts characters who define locker rooms. Josh Anderson has a place on my team every day. Anders Lee or Brock Nelson? Hell yes.

But I also know the game grows when Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, and Sidney Crosby are on national TV doing the things that make them special. Young kids aren’t practicing their edgework to be like Jon Merrill (Genuine apologies, Jon). Young kids aren’t buying punching dummies to be like Cal Clutterbuck or re-enacting the post-whistle scrums and cross-checks when they play street hockey (or ball hockey for my Canadian friends).

Go ahead and tell the police officer who shows up that’s just hockey–it’s allowed!

It’s time to make the plugs and plumbers the supporting characters they were meant to be. Those players are vitally important, but they should not be the main attraction. It’s time to free the star players.

But the 2021 Stanley Cup Final will have at least one team that doesn’t fit the bill. Mathew Barzal and “Goal” Caufield’s pizza slices are excluded, but their teams are the primary beneficiaries of the dark ages rulebook.

It’s time the NHL playoffs kept the rulebook open, referees kept whistles in their mouth, not their pocket, and may the best teams win, not the least.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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Joseph Walker
Joseph Walker
3 months ago

You hit the proverbial nail on the head. I am so over the BS that is playoff hockey and the horrid officiating. I’m 62 years old and have been watching the pens since their inception and have never been as disenchanted with the sport as I am now. They are making the last watchable sport for me, unwatchable.

Mark Queer
Mark Queer
3 months ago

Absolutely agree whole heartedly. 4th seeded teams do sometimes make a run, but they are seeded 4th for a reason. They were just good enough to get by in the regular season. It’s sad while watching a nationally televised playoff game, to here the announcers (all of which have either played or been around the game for decades) sounding like us “homers” on our couches amazed that blatant penalties go uncalled. I love the muckers and grinders as well, they are the guys that championship teams need to win it all, but what the league is letting happen once the… Read more »

Katherine Verbeke
Katherine Verbeke
3 months ago

My sentiments exactly, I could not have said it any better. If the Islanders win, I do not plan to watch the finals.Tampa at least has some skilled players

SchulzEricT
SchulzEricT
3 months ago

They should; they’re, what, $20M over the cap?

Ricardo58
Ricardo58
3 months ago

I agree completely. However, the team that scores the most goals in a game wins the game. The NYI and Montreal teams have done that. You can dislike their play or minimize their talents, but the score board doesn’t lie. The problem or challenge is the NHL conducts two different seasons, regular and playoffs, which are played and officiated two separate ways. My eyes have seen goalie play, back six D play, grinding play and then top forward play rewarded in that order. According to the history of the NHL, it ain’t changing anytime soon. Either adapt or fade into… Read more »

Bigboyhockey
Bigboyhockey
3 months ago

You sound bitter there Dan. Grow a pair, hockey is a tough, physical game. Regular season means nothing. If the Penguins, Maple Leafs or whomever can’t hack it so be it. Enjoy the summer. It’s been the same forever. And by the way for the check on Kucherov, I’ll show two more Tampa pulled on the Isles that weren’t called.

Hatrick Pornqvist
Hatrick Pornqvist
3 months ago

Montreal doesn’t bother me one bit. The Islanders play an obstruction based game, so screw them. They hook, hold, and interfere with you every time you get the puck. It is painful to watch and I hate that team. But I think Montreal deserves a lot of credit and don’t mind their style of play at all. In fact I find it quite enjoyable. The Habs don’t generally break the rules any more or less than other teams to achieve success in their style of play. They don’t grab you and hold you up illegally. They just have an incredibly… Read more »

Bob
Bob
3 months ago

I have been a hockey fan for over 40 years and the game is becoming unwatchable. It has the potential to be so much more with the combination of speed, skill and physical play in the game. But the current NHL leadership are basically a collection of Neaderthals. Calling George Parros a grinder is being extremely generous. He is a goon. And his decisions on player discipline are a complete joke. No wonder the current crop of “grinders” have no hesitation attempting to injure other players. The NHL needs to evolve and grow up. There is plenty of room for… Read more »

David Heyl
David Heyl
3 months ago

Dan best article ever and right on the money. Please do not let the Neanderthals ruin the last great sport. Keep their feet to the fire until they change.
BRAVO!!!!!!

Jstripsky
Jstripsky
3 months ago

It’s like the NHL doesn’t understand or care that people come to see McDavid/Matthews/Crosby/MacKinnon. Put 32 teams in the league playing the clutch and grab/interference game and watch what happens to revenue. Lower revenue = lower salary cap = lower player salaries.

When that happens something might get done. Hit them where it really hurts them, in the wallet.

Dorothy Tecklenburg
Dorothy Tecklenburg
3 months ago

Absolutely. Total agreement. I stopped watching football because the goon mentality triumphed.

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[…] Kingerksi: NHL Has it Wrong, Playoffs & League Reward the Worst not Best – (Pittsburgh Hockey Now) […]

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[…] After 20 years and enough diet soda and press box nachos that would kill a lesser man, I should not be surprised, but I am. In a sad and disappointed way, I truly am discouraged by the NHL playoffs and the stubborn, unmovable force that are the plumbers and plugs who have ingrained themselves into running the NHL and controlling the game’s culture. Star players known for grace and skill do not get to direct the NHL game. No, they get less input. Really. (Pittsburgh Hockey Now) […]

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[…] take by Pittsburgh Hockey Now’s Dan Kingerski about how the NHL has the wrong approach in governing this […]

David
David
3 months ago

In the 70s, 80s, and 90s fighting and rough play were expected — these were a common part of the game — and yet it was that era that saw the most scoring in the history of the NHL As those elements of the game have somewhat been phased out so has much of the scoring. There has to be a correlation. Most former players will tell you that when you let the players police the game — with fighting, etc. — it is then that the stars are allowed to shine. History seems to support this. Is the reason… Read more »

Hatrick Pornqvist
Hatrick Pornqvist
3 months ago
Reply to  David

While I don’t disagree that there’s something positive to letting the players police the game, and the “code” being important, I would point out that the highest scoring eras in hockey have immediately followed huge expansions of the number of teams. The Oilers dynasty years where Wayne burned the NHL record books, took place in a league that’s talent pool was massively watered down by the merger of WHA teams with the NHL. There were some absolute crap teams in the post expansion years that were easy picking. Same huge jump in scoring came a decade earlier just after the… Read more »

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[…] Kingerksi: NHL Has it Wrong, Playoffs & League Reward the Worst not Best – (Pittsburgh Hockey Now) […]

Cal
Cal
3 months ago

So, you want the All-Star Game every night? No thanks, 12-8 games with no defense or checking is just as unwatchable as what you say the game is now. You didn’t mind when you had Lucic (or Kasparaitis, back in the day) pulling shenanigans.

Joe
Joe
3 months ago

I seriously don’t know what you’ve been watching… I’ve seen some really incredible hockey being played. Sergachev had like a two and a half minute shift the other night! Playoffs man! Guys putting their whole heart into it. The refs need to let the players decide what kind of game it is. The fact you’re crying about it really worries me. Do you even hockey, bro?

Joe
Joe
3 months ago

…and another thing; Carey Price! He’s legit. He deserves this.

Lars Erik Nelson
Lars Erik Nelson
3 months ago

It’s too boring. No one cares about watching less talented bums hooking, holding and cross-checking better players. You want to see boring hockey, come watch me play C league. The league needs to get its act together and fire all the old-school guys that constantly drag the game down. They are a bunch of pheasants.

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[…] Kingerksi: NHL Has it Wrong, Playoffs & League Reward the Worst not Best […]

Brian
Brian
3 months ago

This article is everything I’ve been screaming at the tv for the last season and a half. And the reason I mostly turned off the NHL playoffs for the first time since the early 2000’s

SchulzEricT
SchulzEricT
3 months ago

As a Capital fan, I’ve felt this way for a long time. The thought process that allowing cheating somehow “lets the players decide the game”, the argument that the Capitals need to learn to score 5v5 – ignoring that cheating erases a lot of our scoring chances, and that penalties are supposed to restore the balance, that’s why the rules exist – has fundamentally impacted our team’s success in the playoffs and we’ve made reactive moves to try to “build for the playoffs” by doing things like hiring worse coaches who want to play a less skilled style, or aggressively… Read more »

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