All posts by Joe Russo

Hockey fanatic currently writing for FanInterference and Payingforice. Feel free to follow both!

Re-evaluating The Re-evaluation

When you sit down in the comfort of your own home and tune into an already-in-progress sporting event on television you expect a couple of things. For starters you expect to be entertained, enthralled, and emotionally invested. However, through the process of instant replay you can probably add confusion to the short list of expectations featured above.

How many times have you watched an NFL game and sarcastically joked with your friends or family “I guess I don’t know what pass interference is anymore”. Or in the NBA “I guess breathing on him is a foul now a days”. Well, begrudgingly I can now add the NHL to that less than fabled list, because I no longer know what is or is not a good goal anymore.

In the playoffs especially, the officials are there more as representations of the rule book, rather than the brute enforcers of the law. However, this may no longer be the case as the speed of the NHL playoffs and its bizarre relationship with the officiating have hit a fork in the road.

Embed from Getty Images

Prior to the 2015-16 season a brand new rule was implemented, allowing the head coach to challenge whether or not a goal should count. Now, there’s criteria that needs to be met, the goal has to have resulted in a questionably offside play by the attacking team, or a missed goalie interference call.

Albeit their mind was in the right place. When you consider time and time again questionable goals from years prior didn’t receive the attention they deserved.

Exhibit A: Blatant goal tender interference.

Exhibit B: Famously textbook offside play goes uncalled, for whatever reason.

Now it should be noted that both of these situations are examples where having the ability to challenge the play would have paid off in spades. This is not always the case. In fact sometimes perfectly good goals are wiped off the board for an infraction that had nothing to do with the end result of the play. I am, of course referencing offside calls. Nothing, and I truly mean nothing brings a perfectly good game to a sketching halt more than an unnecessarily lengthy review searching for the slightest inkling of an offside infraction.

Exhibit C: Goals being taken away well after the infraction only hurt the game.unnamed

Furthermore with the years of experience that comes with being an NHL official, one that is presumably well versed in the updates that come with the rule book. Wouldn’t you be able to come to the conclusion that JG Pageau undeniably covers the puck in the crease preventing a goal in over time of a playoff game? Need I remind you, that is in fact frowned upon and should have resulted in the very least as a delay of game penalty not to mention a penalty shot.

Image result for jg pageau covers puck in the crease

Apparently not, as neither of those calls came to fruition. This came after it was reviewed by the officials. Despite the lack of transparency one former official weighed in his take on the play.


On top of that, Noel Acciari whom appeared to have scored to end the game earlier in overtime. Later he sat dumbfounded when the goal was taken away due to a fluky goaltender interference call. The review process lasted around 5 minutes.

I’ll admit this as dramatic an example as there is. Loopholes in the rule book can be found in rare situations in sports. But one must wonder has putting every play under a microscope helped or hindered hockey?

While there was plenty of good that came with the inception of this new rule, its also caused its fair share of  damage. Perhaps allowing a coach to possess too much power over the game. In return causing the officials to question their judgement and rely on the grace of instant replay far too heavily.

According to the NHL Public Relations twitter account on 4/30 we’ve had 19 games this playoffs that needed overtime to determine a winner through 50 games played. During the entirety of last seasons playoffs just 20 games needed overtime through 90 games played.

In a league whose major critique of themselves is a lack of offense, they appear to be doing a lot to maintain the status quo. Much attention needs to be diverted to this rule in the coming off season, to the benefit of the sport itself.

You cannot allow a questionably offside play, upwards of 30 seconds in the past rule out a perfectly good goal on the ice. Especially when the major concern of the league is finding a way to manufacture more offense.

The NHL dug themselves into this hole, it’s up to the to pull themselves back out again.


Bruce Cassidy; Your New Bench Boss

While Sunday afternoon’s game 6 against the Ottawa Senators ended in heart breaking fashion, Boston rebounded hard Wednesday. The news came in the early morning hours that the “interim” tag on Bruce Cassidy had been lifted, becoming Boston’s 28th coach.

Shadowing Claude Julien until February 7th, when the club relieved the tenured bench boss of his duties and in turn promoted Cassidy. Whom made the Jacobs family look genius by going 18-8-1 down the final stretch, good enough to earn them a playoff spot.

Cassidy is anything but a one trick pony, after a solid playing career he’s been behind a bench since 1996. Twice prior coaching at the NHL level, but it was his efforts for the Providence Bruins that solidified his position. A familiarity with the core of younger players definitely doesn’t hurt.

Embed from Getty Images

With the promotion comes a lot of responsibility. Defensively Boston needs to upgrade their staff, this includes whether or not an extension for long time captain Zdeno Chara. A task made all the more difficult when considering that this off season is the expansion draft. With the emergence of Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo there may be less of an incentive to hold on to the aging veteran.

While Boston’s exit from the playoffs wasn’t picture perfect we should expect many more trips in the future.

Change Of Hart?

Canada is a country known for its unity, passion, and support. Examples of that in the sporting world is the tremendous passion displayed for the Toronto Raptors and or the Blue Jays when they reach the playoffs, despite geographic differences. What pales in comparison to both the support of Canada’s last remaining professional baseball and basketball teams is its support for Sidney Crosby, and then hockey. Like Gretzky and Lemieux before him, Crosby has dazzled at both the professional and international level. An experience that has been robbed from hockey fans recently, but that’s a blog for another day.

Vancouver 2010 - Men's Hockey Gold Medal - Canada vs. USA : News Photo

Canadian’s adore Crosby, he is the poster child for success at the NHL level. While perfectly embodying what it means to be a consummate professional.

Pittsburgh Penguins v Edmonton Oilers : News Photo

In his wake, however is his adversary of sorts, Connor McDavid. Reaching the 100 point mark last Sunday is just the beginning of Mr. McDavid’s historic season. Edmonton is back in the playoffs for the first time since the Iphone was just a blueprint, and he is the biggest reason why. While Cam Talbot’s performance in net, Patrick Maroon’s turn around season, and the addition of Milan Lucic all absolutely help the cause, only one man can drive the bus.

Sid the kid was no slouch this season either amassing 89 points, winning the Rocket Richard Trophy, and obtaining and then hurtling 1,000 career points. Proving why yet again Pittsburgh should be your favorite to come out of the east.

That love for Crosby may migrate, slightly, in the future towards McDavid.

Sure, Crosby will zero in on a chance to compete for his third ring, while McDavid and the young Oilers may be star struck in their maiden voyage towards the playoffs. But where either of them end up mid June isn’t the purpose of the discussion.

We’re now witnessing a similar Gretzky or Lemieux who is better debate. Understanding the fact that the Ovechkin/Crosby conversation has been persistent, to the point of ad nauseam even.

For the first time in a long time we yet again have two Canadians competing for bragging rights on who contributes the most to their team. Crosby has cast his shadow, McDavid wishes to write his own story.

The final frontier isn’t who wins the Hart this year, but who will win the potential face to face match-up for hockey’s ultimate prize.

The Good, Bad, And Ugly Of Bradly Marchand

Brad Marchand is a dirt bag, but every team has its sleazy player.

I love how nobody else likes Brad Marchand except for Boston sports fan. Simmialrly to Brandon Gallagher or Matthew Tkachuk.

What you cannot deny is how reliable Marchand has been for this team despite the subtraction of players such as Tyler Seguin, Jarome Iginla, Loui Eriksson, and Milan Lucic.

Admittedly, it came as no surprise that he speared Jake Dotchin’s groin area last week against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s all part of the ugly reputation that he has built up for himself. Since entering the league in the 2010-11 season, he has faced discipline from the league 6 times.

Brad received a 5 minute major and a game misconduct for leaping drastically over the line separating sportsmanship and Todd Bertuzzi or Marty McSorley. In response, the NHL Department Of Player Safety awarded him with a 2 game suspension. Which, is kind of laughable. Considering the two game suspension covers the remainder of the season. All but ensuring Boston’s most offensively reliable player will be 100% healthy for the playoffs.

Now, it can also be argued that the games between Ottawa and Washington are games in which Boston would need Marchand’s added offensive punch.

unnamed (4)

Understandably so, the sentencing wasn’t welcomed with open arms by the Twitter universe. Many firmly believed he should have received much more of a punishment as rumblings of even one additional playoff game entering the final verdict surfaced from the rumor mill. With the idea being, making him sit for that playoff game would hammer home the point. That being said, you can score all the goals you wish, challenge the league elites for top spot in points, but you’ll never get the Sidney Crosby treatment.

Don’t get me wrong, Brad showed explicit intent to severely injure Dotchin. Not only should he have been thrown out of the game, he also should have had is block taken off by any member of the Lightning. But, you can’t argue that in order to get a reputation, you have to be repeatedly suspended for your actions on the ice. Keeping this in mind, Crosby didn’t face any supplemental discipline for the prior offenses highlighted above.

Inconsistencies don’t only exist in the NFL officiating, I suppose.



Fight For Your Right

When it comes to international hockey in the United States, it is the women and not the men who have enjoyed the most success. Women such as Hilary Knight and Amanda Kessel have driven the bus in regards to motivating women to play hockey. That fact alone should be more than enough to have secured equal treatment to their male counterparts, but the playing field is far more lopsided than you think.

Embed from Getty Images

Despite the numerous successes at the Olympics, Worlds, and various other international tournaments held yearly, the discourse between pay grades is as laughable as the men’s recent go around at the World Cup Of Hockey. The best of the best receive a quarter of a hundred thousand dollars a year, and that’s just for those sitting at the top. Compare that to Patrick Kane’s 10.5 million dollar cap hit to the Blackhawks payroll and you decide what’s fair.

One of the oldest adages in the book is, you have to make money to spend money. Understandably so. Competition between the NWHL and the CWHL have caused numerous pay cuts to its players this year to stay afloat. Similarly to the WHA and the NHL in the 70’s. Symbolically, the apple that represents a love for the game grows sour if certain accommodations cannot be made.

So when the US international women’s hockey team boycotted the World Championship until their desires were met, it caused quite the ripple effect. It should be stated that this simply wasn’t a dispute over wages, rather equal benefits to their male counterparts. This included child care, maternity leave, travel accommodations and added support for the youth development program for women. Things the men have always been blessed with.

Did it help that the United States were the defending champions of the tournament? Of course. What shouldn’t be lost in translation is the good they were doing in their fight.

When the dust settled earlier this week, USA hockey offered those who possessed the courage to stand up and fight a shinny 4 year 3.7 million dollar deal.

In return, the women will report to the World’s today having hurdled yet another obstacle in the form of gender equality. I congratulate the United States women’s hockey team by simply not falling in line, but taking courageous steps towards a more unified sport.

Hockey has never been a sport in which athletes annually hold out for what they believe they deserve as far as their pay grade goes. But when it comes to things such as the CBA or Olympic participation, for the NHL, the males have routinely stood in contrast to the NHL. Behind the numerous support of the fans, who is to say this example was any different, because it wasn’t.

I whole heatedly support the women of USA hockey for standing out from the shadow cast by their male constituents. Opening the door for women in other high powered positions to use their fight as a motivator to break down the notion of a glass ceiling. In a world full of double standards and gender discrimination, these women fought for what they believed to be fair. Truly fighting the law and winning.



Water Finding It’s Level

While it may not be time to slam the panic button, your hand should be hovering over it considering Thursday nights collapse marked Boston’s fourth consecutive loss. In doing so only helping Tampa’s fleeting effort to make the playoffs. Both Ottawa and Toronto picked up huge wins, and a highly motivated New York islanders team anxiously await the opportunity to take over the final wild-card spot come Saturday afternoon.

While it should be stated that through no lack of effort were the Bruins thwarted Thursday night. In fact, their most important asset is, effort. Perhaps they should have tried their hand in trading effort for a top six forward at the deadline.

With all kidding aside, Boston shot themselves in the foot once again as a less than terrific effort in the games final frame eventually led to their demise. Yet again out-shooting their opposition only to come up short on the score board.

Rest assured, Torey Krug has stated that the fate of the last two years will not happen again this time around.

Take that how you will, but Krug’s uninspiring -14 on the season has even the biggest optimists raising an eyebrow towards the statement.

Third period collapses are some what of a specialty of the Bruins in the month of March. But it was what led up to the third period that is the most concerning. While taking the lead on three separate occasions is noteworthy. Sacrificing that lead in under a minute twice, then making Anton Stralman look like Paul Coffee a minute and change later is as deflating as it can be.

Collectively the crowd exhaled as the symbolic wind retreated from its sails. From there, it was a “wish I had that one back” goal by Jonathan Drouin to give Tampa its first lead of the game. Shortly there after, Nikita Kucherov completes the hat trick and the emphasis is pressed harder on Saturday’s showdown with the surging Islanders.

If last night was considered by most to be a must win then by all means tomorrow is do-or-die time for Boston. A win tonight by the Islanders against the defending Cup Champs means Boston is officially on the outside looking in on the playoff picture with only seven games remaining. Seven difficult games at that.

If for the third year in a row the Bruins are bounced from playoff contention with a handful of games left, one conclusion can be drawn. They’re too top heavy offensively, too porous defensively, and leaning much too hard on their 8 million dollar man, whom is paid to steal them games.

A strong effort from the bottom 6 may just be what the doctor ordered. Sooner rather than latter Cassidy will be forced to go to his backup net minders. In hopes that a new face in goal may steady the ship.


Hockey Hasn’t Broken Up With Violence

Despite what the numbers tell you, and in recent years they have been quite consistent, fighting has persevered in the NHL. Year to year, goons or enforcers in the NHL have diminished, thus the numbers of fights per game have also dwindled.

During the 2012-13 season, the league average of fights per game was 0.48. Up to this point of the 2016-17 season, the league average is 0.30, in fact the 2015-16 season saw 0.28 per game.

Now, just because the number is lower doesn’t necessarily mean there isn’t purposeful foul play at hand. Heading into Wednesday nights game against the Winnipeg Jets, Penguins GM Jim Rutherford made an interesting minor league call up. Human wrecking ball Tom Sestito dressed as a precaution, if the game were to get out of hand.

And it did.

Keeping your personal bias aside, Blake Wheeler was introduced to Evgeni Malkin elbow last month which caused an uproar. Rightly so.

Sestito’s sudden promotion obviously, was in direct relation to protecting Malkin’s well being. Geno sits among the leagues highest scorers with 70 points.

But hockey has a lot of unwritten rules, and despite your status, that doesn’t exclude you from street law.

Winning, by unanimous decision, was Mr. Wheeler. Soon thereafter, Sestito dropped the gloves with Chris Thorburn in another, rage filled dispute.

Don’t fret, the shenanigans didn’t stop there, Sestito left his final mark on the game by delivering a cheap shot to Toby Enstrom.

So, after the dust settled, it was just another day at the office for Mr. Sestito and a man who brings nothing to the table besides a professional knack for face transformation.

So, what we have learned this past week is that despite fights per game on the decline? Hockey clutches to their spades. That of course being fighting in the form of street justice. Had Malkin and Wheeler squashed their beef and simply gone on with the rest of the game, perhaps it would have ended there.

Now, this potentially leaves the door ajar for general managers to make these types of unwarranted call ups. To which I argue, with the number of fights on the decline clearly the players who pride themselves in fighting are being faded out of the game. Therefore you have two combatants, on average, not well versed in fighting. Sports should leave these types of things to its players, with little or no interference from those who no longer play.

Make no mistake, fighting and violence are never going to go away, but the days of the heavy weight bouts are seemingly long gone. For the better interest of the sport itself.