The inconsistency of NHL rule enforcement and inconsistency of accountability

I’ll invoke a name and that will inspire both groans of displeasure and distaste as well as defensive reactions from those who support their team’s player: Brad Marchand.

Brad Marchand.

Can I say it a third time? No, I’m not trying to apply a licking on your emotions (how gross a joke?)… It’s something else. It’s something larger. It’s not to incite Bruins fans specifically or re-invoke the 2018 Eastern Conference Semifinals. It’s just an opening line of evidence that needs to be cited.

“Evidence to what?” you might ask? Oh, it’s stuff that’s been doing more than just milling around the National Hockey League during the 2017-18 NHL season.  No, it’s not multiple players licking or biting opponents, it’s grander than that. Not a grander action on the player front. No, no, it’s a grander failure by the NHL, be it on-ice officials or those in the executive offices, regarding rule enforcement.

It’s been a joke this season, it’s been worse than a joke and Marchand’s oral incidents are evidence of that. It’s been inconsistent, at best, and too often the blogging fan base and professional media entities around the league will only cite the issue when the problem affects their own team or some element they hold dear. The sports world will take keenest interest in it when an over-the-top action takes place, a-la Marchand, and report or perhaps mock.

Folks, the league can’t and won’t consistently enforce its own rules and it looks like a joke by way of it… and the very base of the league, the fans and media, aren’t consistently saying anything about it.

It’s a common rite for a hockey fan to complain about officiating missing calls or making bad calls. You can see a lot of fans complain about “weak” calls that set up power play goals or questionable calls that do the same. That’s opinion… It’s also opinion with non-calls. Opinion and fan reaction dominate.

Yet when it’s the players citing inconsistent rule enforcement?

It’s happened more than a few times in 2017-18 and players through the league are on record in one way or another, stating inconsistencies. This writer has touched on it and provided quotes before. There are many more remarks to be found from players on teams that performed well in the season and those who were in the proverbial gutter.

And here we stand, on the cusp of the 2018 Stanley Cup Finals and besides the rudimentary in-game bitching and whining from fans about penalty calls (or the lack there of) there is no true and distinct message saying something is wrong in NHL officiating and rule enforcement and it must be handled, going forward.

No one is writing a thing. No one is holding on to the Brad Marchand-licking-players, disgusting, belittling-of-the-league tactic for which he has not been held accountable besides a warning. This has been complimented by a near-biting-of-a-referee incident by Marchand that drew no on-ice official penalization. This further embodies inconsistencies in NHL officiating and is detrimental to the sport.

But, hey! The game goes on, why give a care?

That’s how it feels. The game has gone on. It’s moved to the next playoff round and the grand finale of the 2018 NHL Playoffs is imminent. Teams that have fallen out of the playoffs are planning for the 2018 off-season and the 2018-19 NHL season. Teams that never made the playoffs at all are focused on the 2018 NHL draft and trying to figure out how to fix what went wrong. The wider league and issues with play regulation don’t matter…Unless NHL expansion to a 32-team league messes with things like the roster by way of an expansion draft. That’d suck just as much as the refs but oh, well.

What I’m trying to get at here is that the NHL has issues with on-ice rule enforcement and grander league regulation of on-ice incidents. No, I’m not pointing at length of suspensions as-so-much the league admitting the rules aren’t consistently or well enforced. The league has issues and the media/blogosphere/fan base have issues because they’ll accept the status-quo and not call a spade a spade. The sport is under the microscope right now because it is at its season finale and that brings the annual rite of “officials suck” decrees from fans and general acceptance that the game will be played with this inconsistent type of regulation. If it wasn’t, if rules were consistent and evenly called, on-ice play would turn into a police state by way of it.

That point bugs me… The game does need to improve itself in how it enforces the rules and how often penalties are called (and consistently what the rule even is), but standard and consistent rule enforcement would lead to further complaints from the fans and ill reports from the media. Perhaps bias accusations would be mixed in with thanks to a stronger-market team getting what amounts to a beneficial power play opportunity against a contending but lesser-regarded club. Crap, the bias could be claimed if the lesser-club got “favored” with a power play! “They’re trying to help that team get noticed!”

Is it a crime of the sport, that it can’t be consistently enforced? Perhaps, it is the fastest game of pro sports and involves consistent action and physical interaction between opponents. Keeping all eyes open on everything that even somewhat resembles a rule infraction is tough, let alone getting every single call right.

But penalties have to be called. Rules have to be enforced to one degree or another in a consistent fashion for the sake of the players and the sport in general.

Brad Marchand is an example of all that is wrong. Is, not was, but is. His oral incidents remain on the record, as does the on-ice and league inaction. Players can be cited on other inconsistencies that work against game play entirely. They are faults. They’re faults that shouldn’t just be complained about, accepted, and then dismissed.

Yet, it’s happening. It’s happened, and it makes the league look like an undependable entity in enforcing what it claims are the rules, the standards in legal and illegal play that are subjectively enforced and leaves players and fans alike wondering just what are the rules to “the coolest game on ice”?