Hockey analyst Louie DeBrusk was a guest on the radio show “Oilers Now With Bob Stauffer” the day after the Edmonton Oilers won 4-3 in a shootout over the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday.
The game was hard-fought between two teams vying for a playoff spot in the Pacific Division, but the topic of conversation thereafter was the non-calls by on-ice officials on blatant infractions. Several Oilers, especially Connor McDavid, were interfered with all night. DeBrusk said about the Oilers captain, “He works his tail off to go out there and battle through checks like nobody else in the league.” He added, “He’s the fastest, he’s the best in traffic, and he’s really hard to contain. The clutching, the grabbing, the interference, the trips that go undetected, it’s unbelievable to me.”
Hockey analysts do their best to be impartial and unbiased, and DeBrusk is one of the best in the game. However, it was clear he was frustrated by the lack of calls on McDavid, and he was very candid. He talked about the referees and suggested McDavid should embellish more, “They need to do a better job at protecting the best players in the game, who again, Connor McDavid isn’t an embellisher, and it kind of breaks my heart to have to say it — every once in a while, you’re going to have to use that to your advantage.”
Non-calls by the Referees Led to DeBrusk’s Frustration
Notable non-calls on teammates led to DeBrusk suggesting McDavid should use embellishment to his advantage. At the 14:00 minute mark of the third period against the Kings, Warren Foegele was in a race for a loose puck, and Kings defender Adrian Kempe lowered his shoulder to Foegele’s head. The Oilers’ forward fell to the ice, and there was no penalty on the play. Ironically, it was Kempe who was on the receiving end of a McDavid hit on Dec. 5, in which the former Hart Trophy winner received a major penalty and a game misconduct.
Also, with six minutes to go in the third period, Derek Ryan skated hard after a puck on the boards. Kings’ forward Rasmus Kupari went in after him. Ryan’s body was turned the entire time, and Kupari didn’t let up and crushed the Oilers forward from behind. Ryan shook it off and continued the play. DeBrusk said during the in-game broadcast, “If he goes down, is there a penalty on that one?” There was zero consideration on Kupari’s part to let up. The Oilers faithful let the referees know their opinion of their officiating with chants of “ref you suck” in Rogers Place.
McDavid Has a History of Non-calls
During the 4-3 win over the Kings, McDavid was held and impeded all night by the opposition. The Kings were only called for two penalties against when there could’ve been a few more. It’s not groundbreaking news anymore, but infractions that happen on McDavid and aren’t called, still happen game in and game out. In comparison to previous seasons; however, he is in fact drawing more penalties. In 2019-2020, he drew 24 penalties in 64 games, and in 2020-2021 he drew 29 in 56 games. In 68 games this season, he is only second in the league in the category with 44 drawn.
Referee’s refusal to call obvious penalties on McDavid has been an issue since he’s been in the league, but it was a viral topic in November when former NHL head coach John Tortorella said about the Oilers captain, “He complained about it a little bit, that he wasn’t getting the calls. Just shut up. Don’t talk about it. I do think he has to change his game a bit.” McDavid replied in a media availability, “I guess I just gotta shut up about this,” when he was asked if he deserved more calls. Since then, the Oilers captain has been fairly quiet about the subject.
But is the answer for McDavid to get more calls, to embellish when there’s an infraction on him? DeBrusk also stated last week, “I never thought I would ever say this, but if you want to draw penalties in this game today, you need to start embellishing. And you only need to look to certain people, in this league that does it all the time, and they draw penalties. Matthew Tkachuk does it all the time. He’s a master at it.”
McDavid is an ambassador for the game of hockey and just registered his fifth 100-point season in seven years. Should he embellish to get calls? No. He’s a role model for the younger generation of hockey players. There are thousands of kids who want to be the next McDavid and mimic all of his moves. It would set a bad example if he started flopping. Also, he’s probably unable to just based on the fact that it’s not programmed in his DNA the way it might be for a player like Tkachuk. Although, I understand DeBrusk’s stance on it. The fact that DeBrusk — who is clearly frustrated — and who covers the team regularly, is suggesting it, shows the absurdity of the number of non-calls on the NHL’s top point producer night in and night out.
NHL Referees Need to Be Consistent
It boils down to consistency with referees around the NHL. Call a penalty when it’s a penalty. It doesn’t matter the time of the game, the score, the players involved, or the time of year. An interesting fact, in last season’s playoffs, the Oilers’ captain played 211 minutes and didn’t draw a single penalty when his team was swept by the Winnipeg Jets.
McDavid is in a league of his own, and if it means he averages more than a couple of drawn penalties a game, so be it. He’s the sport’s biggest superstar and should draw more penalties. His speed is obvious — there are hooks, holds, and interferences that happen so frequently, that it seems referees decide to put their whistle away for every second or third time it occurs. But McDavid himself has previously said, “Overall, you just want to see some consistency from game to game, consistency throughout the night, period to period. That’s what everyone is striving for.”
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NHL referees should call penalties when they’re penalties. Just because McDavid has great edgework and balance on his skates doesn’t mean the referees should away the whistle if he doesn’t fall on the ice each time he’s impeded. It would take away from the integrity of the game and set a bad example if hockey’s best player has to flop to get a call just because officials are not performing their job according to the rulebook.