Los Angeles defenseman Matt Greene appeals to the referee following Martin Hanzal's goal in a Jan. 20 game. (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI via Getty Images)
If there’s anyone out there who can irrefutably claim what David Steckel’s intentions were when he collided with Sidney Crosby during the Winter Classic, you should probably submit your resume to the NHL immediately. You’ll be a shoo-in for a video review job with the league if you can also indisputably determine beyond any doubt whether or not Martin Hanzal of the Phoenix Coyotes got his stick up too high on a goal last week against the Los Angeles Kings that ultimately resulted in Kings GM Dean Lombardi being fined $50,000 for comments questioning the integrity of a league employee.
Because those two incidents illustrate clearly that even though everyone would like the league to get every call absolutely right and to the satisfaction of everyone involved, the fact of the matter is the human element will always come into play regardless of the technology.
The league has come under considerable criticism for not imposing some sort of supplementary discipline upon Steckel for a hit that likely contributed to a concussion that will force Crosby to miss the All-Star Game and could cost him both the Hart and Art Ross Trophies if he’s forced out the lineup for an even longer period. And we all know what Lombardi and the Kings think about the video review of Hanzal’s goal, the first in what was ultimately a 2-0 Phoenix win.
(Funny how that goal was so insurmountable, since there was still 31 minutes remaining in a game in which the Kings power play went 0-for-6 and couldn’t score despite outshooting the Coyotes 36-15).
Your trusty correspondent has watched replays of the Steckel hit at least 50 times and I can honestly say I’m no closer to knowing whether that was a blow to the head than I was the first time I saw it. In fact, some of the occasions you watch it and you could swear Steckel is actually trying to avoid a collision. Perhaps he knew exactly what he was doing and is very good at making what was deliberate seem innocent. Or perhaps it was what many say it was, an unfortunate accident.
The point is, unless any of us can get inside Steckel’s head, we have no idea. There is not even close to any tangible evidence that Steckel was either malicious or careless on the play. And in a society where an accused is presumed innocent and guilt must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, any decision to punish Steckel simply wouldn’t hold up to logic.
The same goes for the Hanzal goal. When viewed by these eyes, it certainly looks as though it was tipped in by a high-stick. But there were a lot of other eyes that saw the goal and determined it was inconclusive. Even when Lombardi apologized for his rant against NHL vice president of hockey operations Mike Murphy, he still maintained the wrong call was made, which is fine. But for him to suggest the NHL had better start getting these calls right because it might have “another Brett Hull situation” on its hands in the Stanley Cup final is absurd. That is exactly what the league is trying to avoid.
The fact the St. Louis Blues lost out on Kyle Wellwood and Marek Svatos on waivers after signing them and the Detroit Red Wings lost Evgeni Nabokov the same way has some GMs wondering whether the league should revisit Article 13.23 of the collective bargaining agreement, which governs players who are signed mid-season after playing in a European league.
Why? The rule is working exactly as it was designed. The fact these players must be put on waivers is to prevent teams from loading up on European players late in the season.
The players know full well when they sign these deals with one team that a team lower in the standings might put a waiver claim in on them and the teams know they risk losing the player after doing all the work to come to a contract. Nobody can blame Nabokov for not wanting to play for the New York Islanders for $250,000 since they’re destined to miss the playoffs, but it was a risk he and the Red Wings were willing to take.
And it didn’t work out. But that’s no reason to change a provision of the CBA that is clearly working.
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