Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Ducks are the right kind of dirty.

I want to start by saying something I have said over and over on both radio and TV. I have great admiration for the way the Anaheim Ducks play the game. I believe their philosophy is not new but it is brilliant. It plays on the one constant in NHL officiating. That is the official’s internal calculator. No matter how many changes to rules and their interpretation officials rarely drastically over penalize one team compared to the other. Just look through the box scores each morning and you will see that in a great many NHL games each team had about the same number of power plays. Does that mean the teams both committed the same number of fouls both called and uncalled? Usually it actually does and that is the balance that NHL referees try to maintain.

What happens if you as a team try to use that proclivity to your advantage? The late Roger Neilson once explained their philosophy when he coached the Florida Panthers. They didn’t believe their team was nearly skilled enough to have a chance to win it all. So what would the game plan be? The Hall of Fame coach’s idea was brilliant. What if you flood the game with fouls? Commit 100 fouls per game on purpose knowing the officials are only going to nail you for 6 or 7 or 8 because calling much more than that would slow the game down into un-watchability. Does the avalanche of fouls not somewhat level the playing field? It’s like death by a thousand cuts. There is no one egregious foul that changes the game, but rather a constant, numbing, frustrating dripping tap of continuous fouls which keep the opposition from ever feeling settled and in control of the game. It worked for the Panthers and it works for the Ducks.

Anaheim is the dirtiest team in the NHL and all the stats prove that. But what fans miss in their anger because their team was the victim of the Ducks “thousand cuts” game plan is the excellence Anaheim has achieved in executing this type of game plan. Getting everyone to play this way. Getting your skill players to play this way. Not an easy thing to do, but they have. It is not the type of hockey you can do half way. Everyone has to play that way to create a general look to the game that nothing is wrong or different from the way other teams play. But it is very different and believe me it is neither incidental nor accidental that the Ducks are the most penalized team in the league and have been shorthanded the most of any NHL club. In fact that is a benefit for them. When the league is criticized for not cracking down on the Ducks they just point to their penalty totals. How much more can you penalize the team which is already the most penalized team? The answer is yes you can. If a man convicted of murder is given a 3 year sentence one can certainly say he was punished but common sense tells you the penalty was not appropriate for the crime. If you are the Ducks and intentionally commit 50 or 60 fouls per game but on average only take 6 or 7 penalties per game is that not a light sentence which only encourages them to play the same way and in fact proves how effective a philosophy it is?

It is too convenient for those who think this is just whining from the guy who calls the Ottawa games. This exact same conversation goes on all around the league. It is especially prevalent in Detroit, Dallas and San Jose. Not surprising since there is a good chance one of those 3 teams will face Anaheim in the Western Final. Their talk shows are also filled with “how do those guys get away with that” the morning after each game against the Ducks. It’s a hot topic in Ottawa today because the Senators got more of the same in Orange County last night in their 3-1 loss and nobody should be surprised.

I repeat again, I am not complaining but rather just pointing out a reality. I think its brilliant managing and coaching. If I ran a team I would try to duplicate everything they do and how they do it. The Ducks know how much of a competitive advantage it is and they are experts at it. They should be applauded not persecuted. It’s the same conversation when talking about Chris Pronger. He is the dirtiest player in the NHL and I would have him on my team any time. It is a great strength not an indictment to have a player with a skill level so high play with that kind of edge. He breaks the rules all the time and gets away with a ton but that is what makes him one of the toughest opponents in the NHL. Who would not want that on their team? Pronger should carry the badge of “dirtiest player in hockey” with pride rather than getting upset when people say it, thinking it’s a shot of some kind. Most of the best players over the history of this game have also been some it’s dirtiest. Mark Messier, Gordie Howe, Rocket Richard are the first names which jump to mind.

It has taken me a great deal of time and space to get to my main point, but here it is. The only thing about this whole topic which I find distasteful is the disingenuous way the NHL treats people who point it out. It is intellectually insulting to have someone at the league level claim that home broadcasters are trying to incite fans to become negative towards the officials by simply showing plays, some of which were called and some were not. The implication that it is homerism has no credibility since Garry Galley and I on our Sportsnet broadcast also showed replays of Ottawa mis-deeds which were also uncalled. Garry and I also spent much of the first period and into the second criticizing the Ottawa forwards. While Anaheim was punishing the Senators defense with the body, the Ottawa forwards were taking fly-bys on the Ducks defense. Broadcasters on a homer telecast don’t mention those things. We do.

There is also an implication that we are bag men for Bryan Murray and his staff. Believe me Bryan is not sending us text messages during the game telling us when to start criticizing the officials on the air so it corresponds with his bench tirades. This broadcast was not an attempt to embarrass the officials, but rather on some nights the officiating and what they call and more often what they don’t has a major impact on the game. Last night was one of those nights.

The 2 biggest deciding factors in an NHL game on most nights are player error and officiating. Both are completely understandable. Hockey is a game of mistakes and officiating is always a no win situation since you are trying to manage the fastest non-motorized team sport in the world.

When we set out to broadcast a game we don’t sit down before hand to plot out ways to publicly erode confidence in the consistency of NHL officiating. But it’s pretty difficult to contend this is not a major problem in the NHL. Steve Yzerman was on Hockey Night in Canada after his induction into the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame and was asked what the number one issue facing the league was and he responded “officiating, nobody knows what a penalty is”. Is Yzerman a whiner? Is Steve plotting against the officials? No! Steve like all of us loves this game and that’s why it’s an emotional issue. But pretending it doesn’t exist is insulting. Berating and implying anyone who brings it up has a bias based on homerism is insulting.

While I applaud them for it and respect how well they do it. The fact is that Anaheim is the dirtiest team in the NHL and has the lowest foul to penalty-called ratio in the NHL and that gives them a distinct advantage. Every game is video taped. The evidence is there for anyone who wants to look at it but please don’t tell me I don’t see what I see or that I don’t know the rule book. My eyes work and I can read.

See you at the rink.


Badger said...

Great post Dean. Can we just not get the Sens to play that way?

Dan in Ottawa said...

I'd like to add that only knowledgable fans get this and are outraged by the behavior of the Ducks. As you said, NHL brass, please don't insult our intelligence with statements that real fans of the sport can prove wrong. The other issue in this is the penalty that Mike Fisher took which should have been called against the other as well for retaliating and it went uncalled causing Murray to lose and take a bench minor. This game is in sad shape right now but can be entertaining if the right teams meet.
Go Sens Go

Anonymous said...

Dean your knowledge and brilliance in commenting on the game of hockey is extraordinary. I couldn't agree with you more on the style of the Ducks play. I was thinking just the other day of how special it would be if Ottawa played that style of game and in turn then, the fans of Ottawa could listen to you fellas comment on that style of play for an 82 game season. Wow! that'd be nice.
I also want to take this oppoutunity to let you know that any tean in the league would be ecstatic to have you call their games. There's not just one thing you do good, there's a whole bunch of things that listeners enjoy while you call the game. "wrapped around him like a designer belt"...priceless amigo. The only thing that would make the Senators broadcasts better is if they we're winning. I was the e-mailer who wrote in saying that there should be some sort of contest to where the winner gets to have lunch with you and Gord to talk hockey. That would be the ultimate prize for the listeners of Ottawa. Oh ya before I stop ranting here, it's nice to see you on the CBC doing some west coast non-Seantor broadcasts and I hope we don't lose you Dean and Gordie for that matter because you guys are two of the best in the business. I give a close third to Jack Edwards, he's kind of funny too! Keep up the good work fellas. GO SENS GO!
Marco Mathias

Shawn said...

As a broadcaster for Junior A hockey I'm often telling people to give the officials a break. They're fourth level officials at best who get paid peanuts to deal with rowdy fans that often know more about the game than the refs do. However, the NHL is a different story. You're dealing with guys who make a darn good living in a professional hockey league. They must be accountable and their lack of cosistency, or as you say the "internal calculator" is influencing results as much as calling penalties would.

I know people who teach and govern officials warn them about trying not to be the deciding factor in a game. A lot of them take that to heart and just try to give each side as close to equal treatment as they can. I watch officials get intimidated and influenced by previous calls, crowds, momentum and teams in Junior A hockey. In the NHL it's not acceptable or tolerable. If people call you a complainer or a homer so be it. It's a fair and reasonable point.

But as you said, until something changes on the ice why blame the Ducks? If you can find an advantage... take it.

Anonymous said...

Very well said. It is the NHL and the way Officiating is conducted that breeds the style of play Anaheim brings to the table. If Anaheim took even half the penalties for which they deserved it would result in enough losses that perhaps it would change.

Anonymous said...

Why don't the sens play like the ducks. They already take 6-9 penalties a game. How many more can they get?

Anonymous said...

you make a great point Dean... but it's unfortunate that the game of hockey can be played this way..

Julie said...

It's even more frustrating when it happens against a team like Ottawa, who dessperately needs to win...

Anonymous said...

hey dan, you aren't a very bright person. How often do you get out and watch a game? You ever watch more than the finals and one regular season game with the ducks and senators? you make yourself sound like a poor sport. You can't take it that the senators can only beat the ducks 1 in 6 times they play. I actually watch many teams play, and every team gets away with penalties, not fouls . Refs don't pick up every call. If you watch ducks games more often, you'd see that they aren't dirty, they're physical. 2 completely different things. and how many people said, “how do those guys get away with that" when Alfredson decided to shoot the puck at Niedermayer's knee? How about Neil's charge and elbows to the head of Andy Macdonald last playoffs? Watch the game, don't try to appease your Ottawa fans who are little cry babies over this whole thing. Be a better team with a better coach if you want to win, not whine at the other team claiming they paid the refs or are taking cheap shots.

Hockey Joe said...

Dean, Great write-up and I'm glad I found this. You were able to put a first-hand account of what went on in that nightmare of a game into words, something I did rather poorly at on my own write-up on my blog. Excellent stuff.

Dan in Ottawa said...

Dear Anonymous,
At least I have the guts to use my real name when calling people out. On the one hand your praising Dean's post on the other your slamming me, seem to me like your confused like the way you don't use your real name. I am a fan of the fast talented game that is hockey and you are obviously a fan of bullying,this tells me you've had issues in the past with bullying, maybe in school or at work. My idols are Jean Beliveau and Bobby Orr, those were skilled players who gave the game its exitment. If I want to see roller derby I can watch that but fast hard hitting hockey does not include hooking, pick plays and just outright dirty hits. The only game we won against Anaheim in the playoffs is the one in which we actually got more power plays and yet like Dean says they infract so much that the refs can't call it all or think they can't but if the Ducks played 5 on 3 all night they would lose every game.
Go Sens Go

Anonymous said...

Dean might have a point but if I was to pick a team it would be the Red Wings long before the Ducks when it comes to team getting away with murder. I am always floored when I watch that team and the stuff they get away with.

Eric The Red said...

Ha- Its the nhl, obviously. Where else do you have a guy get a penalty for diving, yet the guy that "tripped" (slashed, hooked, whatever) also gets a penalty. Can't have your cake, eat it, and still be credible