Insiders are conceding that not one penalty drawn in four games by Connor McDavid might not have made the difference in the series between the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers. That said, they are certainly trying to make a case that it’s inconceivable the fastest player in the game, and a player who the NHL should be trying to promote and market as best it can, can’t get a single call.
Ken Campbell of SI.com took a long look at the lack of penalties drawn by McDavid over the course of his NHL career, specifically in playoff situations, and he’s not the only one. Host of Oilers Now, Bob Stauffer has often said that blaming the officiating is a “loser’s lament” but he’d baffled too.
McDavid has played 21 playoff games. He has been on the ice for the Edmonton Oilers for a combined 502 minutes and 30 seconds in those games. And in that time, the fastest, most talented and most dynamic player in the world has drawn a total of six minor penalties, zero in the eight games he has played in the past two playoff seasons.
And, when you consider that the Jets won the series by changing up their game plan against the Oilers, one included much tighter defense and trying to hold up Edmonton’s most skilled players (a smart strategy), it’s unbelievable that they were able to do so over the course of four close games without a single hold, hook, or slash.
Excuses, Excuses When It Comes to McDavid
People may say, ‘C’mon, don’t make excuses for the Oilers.’ I’m certainly not trying to as the team didn’t get it done when it mattered most and the Jets got the key goals at the key times. That said, ask yourself, if your star player, on whatever team it is you cheer for, drew only six penalties, one for every 83 minutes and 45 seconds he has played, would you not wonder what the heck is going on?
Campbell goes on to say, “…anyone who watched the Oilers’ first-round series against the Winnipeg Jets and would suggest that not a single infraction was committed against McDavid is either a blindly loyal Jets fan or wasn’t watching very closely.” He notes that star players tend not to get the same calls non-star players get. It’s been that way for years. But, Campbell also argues that when you look at a couple of the goaltender interference calls that have taken goals away in this year’s NHL playoffs — one in the Carolina-Nashville series and another in the Vegas-Minnesota series — it’s hard to envision a situation where the officials can justify missing so many infractions against McDavid. Those goalie interference calls led directly to goals being disallowed. A McDavid call merely would have put the Oilers on a powerplay.
Even more baffling, is that, of all people, tough guy and often-suspended forward Tom Wilson has drawn the most penalties since he entered the league in 2015-16.
The NHL Is Protecting the Wrong Thing
Campbell points out that Rachel Doerrie, a senior analyst of data and analytics at BMO, watched McDavid’s shifts against the Jets in isolation and counted at least 37 –more than nine per game – possible penalties, all that were not called. She added that there were at least three instances per game where the infractions were egregious and blatantly obvious.
When Dorerrie worked with the New Jersey Devils, she said players knew that since the officials call, at best, 20 percent of the infractions against star players, they’ll take their chances of not getting caught. She quoted one player who said, , ‘If you told me I could commit 10 infractions and I’m going to get called once or twice, I’m going to do that every time. The game plan is we commit penalties and hope they only call a couple of them.’
How can the NHL be ok with this? They want scoring up, but they won’t require the referees to simply call the game as it’s written in the rule book. Instead, they focus on the team game that hockey is “supposed to be.” Physical hockey and an upped focus on interfering with the best players in the game wins out come playoff time.
Consider Who is No Longer Playing Hockey This Season
Stauffer noted that 17 of the 18 highest-paid players in the NHL are sitting out the playoffs right now and watching. Sure, GMs will make mistakes on contracts, but these 17 players likely represent the best the game has to offer and the most skilled and elite talent in the NHL. How can so many of the game’s best not be playing hockey at the most important time?
That the NHL isn’t promoting names like McDavid, Auston Matthews, Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and others more than they do is already mind blowing. That they can’t, even if they wanted to because the officials aren’t helping promote the right thing is almost unforgivable. It’s the star players who draw in fans. It’s the star players who will grow the game and it’s the star player who will bring in a new generation of fans who don’t necessarily cheer for the logo on the front, but the name on the back of any given NHL jersey.
In 1992, Mario Lemieux called the NHL a “garage league” because of the baffling rules (or lack thereof) that benefited the marginal hockey player. 20 years later, it’s still true.