Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Tim Peel is just a symptom of the NHL’s problem with enforcing fake parity

Tim Peel is out after his hot-mic incident.
Tim Peel is out after his hot-mic incident.
Image: Getty Images

As expected, the NHL couldn’t wait to toss Tim Peel out on his ass after he got caught on a hot mic basically admitting to make-em-even calls. It’s not really much of a punishment. Peel was due to retire next month anyway, will still get paid, and due to his years and years of clown shoes refereeing, probably wasn’t due much playoff work anyway. The only thing he’ll miss out on is players from both teams shaking his hand after his last game, a tradition. And considering how Peel has officiated most of his games through a dense fog, it’s unlikely too many of the players will miss him.

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What will be interesting is if Peel wants to go quietly. He almost certainly will, because that’s the hockey way. But if he decided to pull the cover off what the league actually instructs the refs, then things could get tasty indeed.

Because this is a league that has always tried to engineer parity in any way it could, and the “game managing” style of refereeing was only a small part of that. Even if it’s actually detrimental to the game, and helps keep its most exciting players under wraps.

The biggest clue to what the NHL might be telling its refs, and has for years, actually has nothing to do with the refs. It’s the standings. Ever since the NHL came out of Bettman Lockout II: The Lockening (that’s the one where they missed the whole 2004-2005 season), the league has had a manufactured standings system that is made to inflate teams’ records and give the perception of competitiveness.

The overtime rules and shootout mean that at first glance, only nine teams right now are “under” .500. If this were a normal season and teams were selling all their tickets, the PR department in say, Nashville, could tell their fans they’re only four points out of a playoff spot. That doesn’t sound like a lot. But in reality, it’s a huge gap with the amount of games where both teams are getting a point. It’s nearly impossible to claw back a deficit in the standings. A team like the Hawks, who have the same number of regulation wins as the decidedly Patches-and-Poor-Violet Red Wings, can have a playoff spot thanks to OT and shootout wins, which have little or nothing to do with being a good team. It’s been proven that 75 percent of the teams that are in the playoff spots on Thanksgiving Day in a normal season stay there, given the difficulty of making up ground. Especially late in a season where the games tighten and one-goal or overtime games become even more commonplace.

A standings system that made sense would either reinstitute ties, because there’s nothing wrong with them and the rest of the world seems to agree, or reward teams that win games in regulation with three points instead of two. But the NHL doesn’t want teams getting out to 10- or 12-point leads for division titles and playoff spots, because that looks massive and other teams might look out of it. Even though making up ground would be easier in either system. The NHL wants the illusion that everything is bunched up and blurred.

And it’s the same on the ice. The NHL wants games to go to its carnival contest overtime and shootout. It wants those highlights, especially moving to ESPN next year when there will be more SportsCenter time (which might not even be a thing anymore but this is the league that has specialized in trying to aim for things that were relevant 5-10 years ago). Even though they’re completely empty and manufactured, the NHL wants the action of OT on screens.

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And it’s why refs have always swallowed their whistles in OT or even 3rd periods of playoff games. It’s utter horseshit, and completely smothers the best players in the league who have to wear various third and fourth line jamokes like a cloak without ever getting a call.

The league should want Auston Matthews or Connor McDavid or Nathan MacKinnon deciding games the way the stars do in the NBA, but has decided that letting Ian Cole or Riley Nash tackle them every shift is better for business. In the NBA, the stars decide. In the NHL, they’re told their skills are a detriment and need to go unrewarded. As I said last night, the “let the players decide” excuse is a pile of shit. The NBA has figured out that players “decide” when there should be a foul or not and the ensuing results. If you earn a call, you earn a call. That’s deciding.

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Despite the league’s own ethos, the league has managed to get faster and more skilled every year. But they could remove the restrictor plates. The only thing Peel uncovered is that they don’t have much interest, adhering to some code that only the incontinent can even identify.

We can't be too careful. Two guys in an airport...talking? It's a little fishy.