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The Line in the Sand: How an inconsistent application of rules hurts players

On rivalries, suspensions, and no one knowing what is a penalty game to game.

Minnesota Wild v Winnipeg Jets - Game Two

The NHL playoffs are always interesting to watch. The NHL seems to like it when there are rivalries as those lead to two teams hating each other, but they also do not want players making suspendable plays every game. This is the fine line that we are seeing the Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild toe every game now.

Last night’s game featured another questionable play with Josh Morrissey cross-checking Eric Staal in the neck. Morrissey did not stare at Staal and deliberately cross-check him in the neck, but the play itself should probably garner a conversation with the Department of Player Safety. Player’s are responsible for their stick and their body at all times and there are times that DoPS makes this clear.

How does the rivalry factor affect this? The NHL clearly wants players to toe the line, but they do not have refs consistently set where that line is. It is clear that there will always be some missed calls, but players need to know where the line is from the beginning of game one and for it to not move the entire series. This rarely happens and announcers are sure to point out that it changes game to game.

It is also hard to tell whether a play is suspendable or not based on the inconsistency in DoPS this season. While the Morrissey play deserves a look at and at least a fine, we have no clue if they are even going to give it a second look. Remember, accidental or not players are responsible for their actions on the ice and by that standard Morrissey deserves a call.

That said, one thing that can change the way a series if refereed is coaches are able to advocate in the media for calls to go their way. Last night Bruce Boudreau said that the non-call in Morrissey lost the Wild the game. That might plant the seed in the referees head that they need to be watching for plays like that and call them more frequently, even if they are not there. It becomes a slippery slop.

Josh Morrissey might be getting a call today or tomorrow from the Department of Player Safety. He might not. The rules are too inconsistently applied for anyone to be able to guess what will happen before the NHL actually says something. This makes the NHL’s blatant attempts at creating rivalries inherently risky for players as they could get hurt while the NHL establishes the line in the sand. The NHL needs to develop some consistency that jives with its rule book so the players themselves can finally know exactly what they can and cannot do.