Connor McDavid is the best player in the world. There isn’t much debate about that. But what there is plenty of debate about is how the NHL rulebook is enforced at different points.
The key word here is “different.” Depending on the circumstance, what gets called in one instance might be completely ignored in another. That is one of the biggest problems in today’s NHL.
We’ve seen this over and over again. Whether it’s McDavid or another superstar, other players are able to get away with fouling them without having to serve time in the penalty box. That’s because the referees won’t call every hook, trip or cross-check that happens to them.
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In addition, the referees may call one in the first period. But then in the third period, the whistles are in their pockets. It’s as though the rulebook is different later in the game than it is in the beginning of the game. And we haven’t even talked about the playoffs yet where you basically have to commit a major in order to get a minor called.
This inconsistently in applying the rulebook is maddening to everyone involved. From a player’s perspective, not enforcing the rulebook serves as a punishment to them. They make a great play only to have someone break the rules in order to stop them. While those fouls are sometimes called, they’re not called consistently enough.
McDavid himself recently said that the rulebook needs to be called the same in the playoffs as it is in the regular season.
“Overall you just want to see some consistency from game to game, consistency throughout the night, period to period,” McDavid said. “That’s what everyone is striving for.”
Teams With Superstars Should Have an Advantage
Calling the rulebook should be simple. If you see a foul no matter what name is on the back of the jersey, you should call it if the rulebook states that it is a foul. Otherwise what is it doing in the rulebook?
Superstars have a natural advantage working for them. Take McDavid or Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon for example. Both have an exceptional skating ability that few in the league can keep up with. If either superstar skates by a defender, that defender will try to do anything to impede them. A little hook here. Some interference there. Sometimes it’s called. Other times it’s not. McDavid, MacKinnon and other superstars get punished due to inconsistency in calls. The only consistency is inconsistency. That has to change.
Superstars have the ability to draw more penalties based on the skill set they have. Teams with superstars should be near the top of the league in power play chances. MacKinnon’s Avalanche did have the most power-play chances in the NHL in 2020-21 with 207 in 56 games. McDavid’s Oilers were tied for eighth with both the Senators and Golden Knights with 174.
It’s clear the Oilers could have had plenty more opportunity on the power play had there been more consistency in enforcing the rulebook. For a team who connected on more than 27% of their chances, not enforcing the rulebook takes away potential scoring chances for them. That could affect game outcomes and ultimately standing’s points.
A Real Need to Fix This
Besides inconsistency, the league has other things they need to fix. For example, the concept of the make-up call. Nowhere in the rulebook does it say you must call a penalty on a team soon after their power play ends. But it happens a lot.
Another example of this is when a team gets a handful of power-play chances in a row. You hear broadcasters and fans then say the next penalty will be on the team that had all those power play chances. It’s human nature to try to even things out. But the rulebook doesn’t care about your feelings.
The rulebook is the rulebook. You are supposed to call what’s in the rulebook. It doesn’t matter if it’s game one of the preseason or Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. It’s the same rulebook. Even if a penalty decides the outcome of a game or a series, the onus is always on the player to play within the rules.
Of note, the NHL is looking to crack down on cross-checking. According to TSN’s Insider Trading, hockey ops will be on the look out for cross-checking and will call it more after what happened in the playoffs last season.
The time has come for the NHL to stop penalizing their superstars just because they are too good. It is right and it is justified to expect the rulebook to be called equally no matter the name on the jersey or the circumstance of the game. This game would take steps forward if they allowed their superstars to shine. That means calling the rulebook consistently no matter what.
McDavid is right. Consistency is what everyone is striving for. If we can get everyone on the same page in regards to the rulebook, the game will be much better for it.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.