The 2016 NHL playoffs have been nothing if not controversial. We’ve had blown calls, suspensions, non-suspensions and bad blood. There have been unfortunate soundbites and inappropriate gestures. And everyone from the players to the fans to the media have been involved.
If all of this sounds familiar, it should. We go through this same list every year. The NHL playoffs are a breeding ground for controversy, thanks to high emotions, an ever intensifying spotlight and razor-thin margins separating victory from defeat. On any given night, you can count on something happening somewhere that will have fans at each other’s throats. And there’s plenty more to come. After all, we’re only halfway through this year’s playoffs.
So this seems like a good time to regroup and remind ourselves that we’ve been here before and we’ll be here again. Here are the dozen controversies you’re likely to meet in any given post-season, including this one, and a refresher on how best to handle them.
The Crucial Missed Call
What happens: The play itself isn't flagrantly dirty – we'll get to those ones down below. But it's clearly a penalty, one you've seen called virtually every other time it happens. But this time, for whatever reason, there's no call. And inevitably, a game-changing play follows right behind.
Examples from history: Wayne Gretzky's high stick; the Blackhawks score with too many men on the ice; Daniel Alfredsson on Darcy Tucker; Travis Green's slash on Alexei Kovalev, which we were all fine with because it led to a best actor nomination.
Examples from this year: The missed tripping calls right before the tying goal in the final game of the opening round series between the Islanders and Panthers; depending on your perspective, maybe also Brian Boyle's late hit on Thomas Hickey that led to an overtime winner.
How to handle it: We all complain about referees putting their whistles away in the playoffs and insist that we want them to call the game by the rulebook – right up until one of them actually does, at which point we howl about officials thinking anyone paid to see them decide the game.
The Dirty Play (without a suspension)
What happens: Maybe it's a hit, maybe it's stick work, or maybe it's something else entirely. But somebody steps over the line, and fans and media everywhere demand a suspension that never comes.
Examples from history: Shea Weber on Henrik Zetterberg; Pavel Bure on Shane Churla; Ulf Samuelsson on Cam Neely; P.K. Subban on Mark Stone; no, seriously, go back and watch that Bure/Churla hit again, it was insane.
Examples from this year: Kris Letang on Viktor Stalberg; Jason Chimera on Jakub Voracek; Evgeni Malkin on Daniel Winnik; literally anything that was done to any player on your favourite team, if we're being honest.
How to handle it: We all spend a few days complaining about the Department of Player Safety never suspending anyone during the playoffs. Seriously, don't they realize that if they'd just give the guy something, even if it were only a few games, we'd all be happy?