Tuesday, June 4, 2013

When does reputation matter?

To start, lets take a look here at Matt Cooke's hit on Adan McQuaid in Game 1 of the Eastern Finals.

Now, in a bottle, Cooke got exactly what he deserved. He received a game misconduct (send off) and took no further suspension from the NHL. This was widely accepted by most knowledgeable on all sides of the issue.

But now let's start taking it out of the bottle with some of Matt Cooke's history:

My question to this audience is, what is a referee to do? Do they act proactively and "eagle eye" a player like Cooke until he does something, then send him off, or even get a bit more heavy handed?

Or, do you take each match as a "clean slate" and let it build up until something happens?

Where does the league come in ... and what if there is no league per se to administer punishments. A good example may be a youth league when there are so many participants that only the most egregious are dealt with.

For me, a referee has to do their homework and first understand the key match ups, stars, and villains.

Cooke is clearly a villain based on his behavior. This also go beyond a typical "goon" employed in hockey that is there to drop the gloves in tactical situations to make a point, he seemingly tries, and has succeeded to injure other players.

With this in mind, a referee can't prejudge what is going to happen, it has to happen before a referee can act. That said, a referee can certainly make a player like Cooke feel uncomfortable by putting them, and TELLING THEM, there are under extra scrutiny, in an artful way.

From there, if such a player strays from "the line", they should receive the absolute maximum allowed under the LOTG.

Some may say this is biasing a result based on a  players history, and that is true. Think about a couple of things however.

First, is a similar tact taken with players who simulate? They are generally the same players, and they flop, match, after match, after match. Referees see the pattern, and are less inclined bite the more this happens, especially if they have been suckered for a goal or two. A referee waits for the event, and then makes a determination ... with an eye toward history.

Second, is match management. What would happen if a player was allowed time and time again to come back and take shots to injure another?


Players would take matters into their own hands, and indeed may if Cooke tries something like this again in this series.

A referee will do well to protect the game from ANY who try to damage it.

On a final note, the league and team have responsibility here too, and I believe in equal parts. There has to come a point that these guys take a look at the cumulative effect of Cooke's hits, and make the courageous decision that he is there is injure, not play The Game.

Referees do not have that ability, and have to rely on incidents they witness to take action ... even severe action to protect the game.

I expect more from the league, and the team who employs such a troubled player.


  1. To a certain extent I feel that the NHL officals do a good job in knowing where to draw the line with players as over time they become very familiar with their play. After all there are only 30 teams so officials will get their fair share of games with each club. Known offenders are certainly given a shorter leash for the higher judgement calls like the frequent altercations that occur after play is stopped. I feel this is done for good reason. As a referee you do not want the game to get out of hand if it can be prevented. By assesing penalites for what some may call "not worthy" of two minutes is a great tool to draw your line for ALL players as to what is going to be acceptable from that moment on. Where the process failed on this in the NHL was done at the league level. On-Ice officials issued punishment to the highest extent they could, rightfully so. The league in failing to suspend the player removed all consistency in their policies. Additioanl sanctions had been handed out during the season and post-season for far less severe offenses. Does this send a message to players that the deeper into post-season we go, the tougher it is to gain suspension? Think of the burden this puts on match officials as players enter the game thinking about just how much more they can "get away with" without fear of missing additional matches.

    1. Excellent comments Steve.

      I have a ton of respect for the on ice guys, and generally agree the league can make things worse by removing the consistency that players were getting on ice.

      Where that breaks down is when something more than an "on ice" penalty is warranted, or as in the case of Cooke, he is there for a reason other than to play hockey. Referees don't have much ability to deal with long ranging punishments.

      Strongly agree with you that league actions put extra pressure on a referee. As an example, in MLS Alain Sutter came over from Switzerland to play for Dallas. He wore a head covering that was not allowed per the LOTG (Zenga did the same for NE), and referees were told to "let it go."

      While not totally in line with the current topic, referees are employees of the league (in the NHL case) and have to do what they ask for the reasons they ask. This may serve to "stretch the line" more than should be, and can lead to differences with in and post season play.

      While I get why the league does this ... to sell its product ... it can lead to tensions that referees have to mediate.

      Thanks for reading,