During lunch with Gary Bettman, I told him that I had a beef with the officiating.
The commissioner then reached into his vest pocket and pulled out an envelope with a letter inside.
“I’m going to read you the letter,” the National Hockey League’s boss said, “and I want you to guess who wrote it.”
It was a tough read; flowing with zebra criticism and concluding with demands for reform.
“Now take a guess,” Bettman confidently went on, “and guess who?”
Knowing my longtime buddy and his candor, I snapped, “It’s gotta be Brian Burke.”
The Commish shook his head and handed me the missive. Instantly, I blushed. It was written by Rangers manager-coach Lester Patrick in the year 1933.
“You see,” noted The Lord of Hockey, “nothing has changed.”
No doubt Rod Brind’Amour would agree.
The Canes Commodore recently got fined for verbal speeding and, frankly, it’s a good thing Rod’s rants never made subtitles on the tv screen. Good Housekeeping never would give its seal of approval
Not that Brind’Amour was alone with his ref-rage. It’s as commonplace now as it was when Hall of Famer Patrick wrote that missive to then-president Frank Calder.
The difference, of course, is that contemporary officiating is far more complicated than it was when Lester Patrick was driving his 1933 Hupmobile.
What’s more the NHL has been racing toward continued improvement faster than Connor McDavid bisects enemy defenses.
But if the truth be known – at least it’s The Maven’s truth – there’s no “solution” to perfect refereeing either Brind’Amour’s book or the NHL tule book.
Anybody who sits at ice level knows that because of the obvious. The game has become faster than the naked eye and brain can follow, including all the action and assorted side episodes that endlessly erupt.
Exhibit A: There’s a collision between two players; one has slew footed the other. The ref sees it but isn’t quite sure whether it was or wasn’t a penalty. His whistle is halfway up to his mouth.
And then something else happens, the ref is distracted, no penalty.
After watching hockey for more than a half-century, I, therefore, offer two possible solutions. Take your pick while knowing neither will be adopted.
SOLUTION ONE: Tell the referees to follow the advice I once got from Hall of Fame zebra Bill Chadwick when I asked him to tell me the secret to top-notch officiating.
“Two words” The Big Whistle shot back, “common sense!”
SOLUTION TWO: Over the years, the NHL has done everything – and I do mean everything – to obtain accuracy in reffing – with one exception.
What it now needs is two sets of eyes from the sidelines. Each NHL observer will be in position to beep his on-ice buddy and clarify an uncertain – or missed – on-ice episode.
That’s the only way the human eyes – and video replays – can keep up with the fastest game in the world.
Rod Brind’Amour can yelp all he wants. Ditto for the other ref-ranters.
The Striped Ones are doing their best. The Big Whistle succeeded with his common-sense approach; but that was long ago.
Adding two aides on the sidelines seems a reasonable solution. That is, until my favorite team loses a game on a bad call.
When that happens, I’ll invite Pal Gary to lunch and the tab will be on me!
RED WINGS SUSTAINING A PLUS-500 PACE:
This was not supposed to be a rah-rah season for the Red Wings. One “rah” seemed to be enough. Terrors of the Atlantic Division, they were not to be; nor are they so far.
But the Heroes of Hockeytown have caused a few notable double-takes. For one thing, it’s rare that the same team will turn heads with two straight rookies-of-the-month yet the Wings have pulled off that feat with Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond.
Alex Nedeljkovic is rapidly emerging as a notable numero uno between the pipes. The Detroit faithful is tickled over a team that continues to dance around and above the .500 mark.
Not that the scenario is perfecto royale. Ex-Islanders buddies, goalie Thomas Greiss and D-man Nick Leddy – as my third grade teacher Agnes McNeely would say – “could do better.”
While a playoff appearance may not be on the radar, the Kiddie Korps at Little Caesars Arena is playing enough big-time hockey to make you think a second-half rush might cause still more heads to turn.
Bottom Line: Stevie Yzerman has learned well from the Jimmy Devellano “How To Rebuild A Franchise” book.
SCHMOOZING WITH AN OLD PAL-HALL OF FAMER
Brad Park showed up at Madison Square Garden for last week’s Rangers-Flyers tilt looking as good as I’ve seen him in years. I reiterated a point to the Blueshirt Hall of Famer that is not one of my original thoughts. “It’s about time The Garden put your #2 up high alongside your buddy, Rod Gilbert.”
There was no need for further discussion but we chatted about Park’s one and only fight with Bobby Orr. It wound up with the twin aces wrestling to the ice. “Bobby might have gotten a couple of shots to my head,” Brad grinned, “but nothing serious came of it.”
Then a pause: “And imagine, eventually we wound up being teammates on the Bruins. But only for a short time.”
Another legendary Ranger, Ron Greschner, moved in on us and I reminded Gresch of a playoff goal he scored against the Islanders, beating not one but two Hall of Famers on one play.
“First,” Ron remembered, “I went around Denis Potvin and then beat Bill Smith. How often did that happen?”
FIVE ON THE CONTRARIES:
1. CARTER HART may be on the comeback trail after his sieve-like 2020-21 season but he sure didn’t impress me against the Rangers last week.
2. “DON’T GO OUT on the ice looking to call penalties.” That’s the advice to referees from one NHL team president.
3. ZACH HYMAN’S two-way game is just as important to the Oilers as Connor McDavid’s all-offense style.
4. THE COYOTES reportedly are up for sale; according to Forbes magazine. And I say the report is applesauce.
5. KIRILL KAPRIZOV is the new model Al Ovechkin.
DEPARTMENT OF FREE ADVICE: Goalies who believe they’re doing the right thing needlessly dropping to their knee(s) are sadly mistaken. They’re giving up too much upstairs air. Pure standup is a better idea.
ADAM FOX’S RANGERS JEWISH CONNECTION
Chances are, that the Rangers reigning Norris Trophy-winner may never have heard of Hyman (Hy) Buller, a Montrealer who starred on defense for the Blueshirts, just as Fox is these days and nights.
Like Buller, Fox is Jewish and like Hy, Adam plays the same, superior game on the blue line as he does on defense. Similarly, Buller became an ace the moment he made his (Old) Madison Square Garden debut for the 1951-52 season.
Although Buller made the NHL’s Second all-star team in his freshman year, Hy never won a Norris but did emerge as the best D-man on the Broadway Blueshirts during his New York stint.
Chances are that neither Hy nor Adam were aware that the Rangers also boasted a top Jewish defenseman back when Lester Patrick ran the Eighth Avenue skaters during the 1934-35 season. That was Alex (Kingfish) Levinsky whose other nickname – I kid you not – was “Mine Boy.” It originally was coined by his dad who’s cheer, “That’s mine boy, Alex, out there!”
CANUCKS S.O.S. REACHES COUSIN BRUCIE
It wouldn’t have been inevitable if only the Canucks could put a few W’s back-to-back; but it didn’t happen and Vancouver g.m, Jim Benning pulled the chute on my buddy, Travis Green.
Now it’s Bruce Boudreau’s job to justify the move; or to discover that Benning’s talent selection was the problem, not Green’s coaching.
Writing for The Hockey News Annual last September, Ben Kuzma projected Vancouver for fourth in the Pacific Division, ahead of L.A., Seattle, Anaheim and San Jose. The roster remake was one reason for optimism that turned to failure.
Cousin Brucie brings all the experience and enthusiasm in the world. What’s more, he’s been waiting for the opportunity and now has what surely will be his last chance at a big-league coaching gig!