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Ed Willes, The Province
Published: Sunday, December 17, 2006


There are nights when the new NHL delivers everything Gary Bettman's administration promised and their plan starts to makes sense.

On those nights the crackdown on obstruction demonstrates its purpose. There are acres of open ice. There is marvelous speed-and-flow. The game crackles with energy and excitement.

On those nights the sacrifice of a season seems like an equitable exchange for the hockey that is produced.

But Saturday was not one of those nights.

Whether it was the head-scratching calls by the refereeing tandem of Dave Jackson and Chris Rooney, the video review that took longer than your average Sopranos episode or the over-preponderance of power plays, Saturday's game was not exactly an advertisement for the new NHL.

The game lurched from whistle to whistle without cohesion or rhythm. Eighty per cent of the offence was produced on the power play. Players struggled to locate where the line was between fair and foul.

The NHL is now almost a year-and-a-half into its rules' reinterpretation but there are just too many nights like this, when the standard appears to be completely arbitrary, when the calls take place in a vacuum and not within the context of the game.

Thursday the same refereeing tandem cheated fans out of a great game by handing out 15 power plays in the Canucks' 3-1 win over Calgary. True, this might not be the most popular theme because the right team won on both occasions. But you'd just like to know where the NHL is going with this thing because the hockey they're playing now is unrecognizable to anyone over the age of 12.

"You're going to have a good time with that one," said defenceman Willie Mitchell when he was apprised of this column's intent.

"After tonight I'm not sure," Jan Bulis answered when asked if he knew where the standard would be from night to night.

The source of Bulis's confusion is easily explained.

On a call that defied reason, he took a roughing minor during a battle for the puck with the Wild's Todd White in the second period.

Eighty-six seconds later Kevin Bieksa was sent off for attempting to hold a member of the Wild during a post-whistle scrum.

The resulting five-on-three, we remind you, was in a tie game late in the second period.

"Oh my gawd," said Bulis. "What the hell was that. I've never seen a call like that. It was a one-on-one battle. I've got both my hands on my stick. I didn't hit him. I just kind of leaned into him."

But this isn't about one fluffed call or a misjudgment or even the video replay, which the Wild had a legitimate beef about. This is about the standard. This is about the game the NHL is trying to create.

And there are just too many games players, fans and the media, like Bulis, are wondering what the hell was that.

In the first period Saturday there were five penalty calls. Exactly one involved the player with the puck, when Brendan Morrision was hauled down by the Wild's Mikko Koivu. Of the remaining four, three were weaker than Pee Wee Herman, while the fourth, a hit from behind by Minnesota defenceman Britt Burns on Bulis, made some sense.

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Wacky penalties

I think, right now, the game is over-called. The
examples are far too numerous to mention. One case in
point though, during a recent Detroit/St. Louis game,
Dallas Drake charged after Brett Lebda from a nearby
county, left his feet, and put Lebda temporarily out of
the game. No penalty on the play. What the ----?
Subsequently, he was given a 2-game suspension.
Less than 10 minutes later, Niklas Lidstrom receives
a 2 min. minor for a one-handed hook. Huh?
 
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