Obstruction crackdowns are getting out of hand
Sunday, December 3, 2006 | 08:53 PM ET
Like most of you, I’m a fan of the “new NHL,” a term that John Tortorella hates. I like the renewed emphasis on skill, the fact that the league’s great players are allowed to showcase their enormous talent.
It’s the strategy that brought the NBA back from disaster in the 1980s. The league was a joke back then, not even able to get its Championship on live TV during prime time. Then came Johnson, Bird & Jordan, along with a commissioner in David Stern who recognized that the fans weren’t paying money to watch the pick-setting power forwards.
Now, I don’t think the NHL ever will reach an NBA-level following in the United States – just like the NBA will never approach NHL interest in Canada – but following basketball’s blueprint is a good idea.
That said, we’ve got a problem.
The obstruction crackdown is going too far.
It’s a difficult problem, because I’m a zero-tolerance obstruction guy. I worry that if the standards are relaxed, we’ll fall back to where skaters should wear lifejackets because there’s so much waterskiing. But I defer to the players and the coaches.
Brett Hull – who loves the way the game is being played – made a comment in The Headliner last week that Tortorella echoed Saturday morning: The referees have to recognize that just because your stick is on a player doesn’t mean you are committing a foul. They – and many others – aren’t asking to ignore the hooks; they just feel that there are cases when checkers use their sticks to legitimately ride attackers out of the play.
That’s not a penalty, but there is a feeling around the league that the referees are saying, “I see a stick on someone, and you’re going to the box.”
Lightning captain Tim Taylor, one of the sport’s more insightful players, added another concern. He’s bothered by slashing calls when an opponent’s stick breaks. Taylor says that’s another call that shouldn’t be automatic since those composite twigs snap when you breathe at them (my words, not his).
It’s interesting to hear this from Tortorella, who preached offensive hockey well before the crackdown. He says he loves the uncluttered neutral zone, but worries about the battles down low.
“This isn’t a gentleman’s game, but it’s becoming one,” he says.
Another thing that both Tortorella and Hull agree on is diving. Tortorella tells his players not to do it, and went so far as to say that those guilty of it should be “thrown out of the game.”
Hull is equally offended, and when I asked him what he would do if he was commissioner for a day, he brought up the diving issue and said, “I would crack down on it so much that people would think I was crazy.”
I can’t say I was surprised to hear the Jim Popp will stay as Alouettes’ head coach for next season. Popp badly wanted to do this, and the fact that some real good candidates – like Jacques Chapdelaine – were not interviewed showed this was a done deal, no matter what was said in Montreal.
What is stunning is that Popp repeatedly said that several candidates would be interviewed, and if the organization viewed none to be a better choice than him, he would keep the job. So how many other interviewees were there?
Some potential candidates may have been put off by the fact that the new coach would have been required to keep all of the current assistants, but that’s no excuse not to interview anyone. I mean, shouldn’t you at least talk to the bilingual Jacques Chapdelaine, who designed the imaginative B.C. Lions offense that just won a Grey Cup and made Geroy Simon the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player?
Popp is pretty much a figurehead on the sidelines, letting his assistants do almost all of the heavy lifting. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since that method is preferred by both Pinball Clemons and Tom Higgins – and they aren’t bad coaches.
But as Herb Zurkowsky quoted one anonymous exec in The Montreal Gazette, “They’ll be much easier to play against with Popp as coach than they were with Matthews as coach.”
Someone isn’t yet feeling the joy of Christmas.
Is it just me, or does Tony Romo look like a CFL quarterback? All of those rollouts leading to long passes, it’s almost un-American.
Finally, some credit to my old university buddy Scott Feschuk. The former National Post columnist and Paul Martin speechwriter predicted in September that Stephane Dion would win the Liberal leadership. I don’t know anyone else who did that.
I’ve known Scott for 17 years and this is the first time he’s come across as intelligent.
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About the Author
Elliotte Friedman is the host of the CFL ON CBC. Prior to being named host in 2006, Friedman worked on the CFL on CBC broadcasts for the three seasons as a sideline reporter. A Toronto native, Friedman is well known for his additional work on Hockey Night in Canada, as well as his presence on the Torino 2006 Winter Games telecasts as a hockey reporter. Prior to joining the CBC, Friedman worked at The Score network and was widely regarded as one of the best reporters in the country. Friedman used his reporting skills to break stories and file feature reports for high profile events including six Stanley Cup Finals, four Grey Cup Championships, two World Series and one Olympic Games. He is also a regular on the nationally syndicated Prime Time Sports radio telecast, hosted by Bob McCown.
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