I wrote this and sent it to every high profile media member I could get an email address for. Dreger, Cullen, Lebrun, Hodge, Reda, Scanlan, MacGregor, Maclean, Kypreos, K.Fraser, Llyod, York, Schreiber... all of them got a copy. I even sent a copy to the NHL Officials Association!
I don't expect anything to come of it, but at some point it's got to be discussed. It may be a while yet, but Imo it's a highly legitimate explanation for the Sens experience with the officials (Jason Smith once got a triple minor FFS).
I tried to make it as politically correct as I could, but the reality is that most will dismiss it (wilfull denial in a many instances, Imo). I'm interested to get your take, SB Nation.
"This is getting ridiculous... This is getting so blatantly obvious that it's embarassing for the stripes, and you're going to get an Ottawa Senator getting a 10 minute misconduct at some point, or I will! It's unbelievable how things have been let go, and then the Senators get tagged for another penalty with 2:45 remaining in this game."
-Denis Potvin, Jan. 31, 2012, Ottawa vs Boston on Sportsnet
I've been watching the Ottawa Senators for two decades now and I've seen my share of complaints and conspiracy theories. I ascribe to the idea of ignoring them. It's a fast game and the quality of officiating is superb. That, however, does not change the fact that I just watched the Sens go another entire game without a powerplay, this time against the most penalized team in the NHL. The Senators seem to experience this type of occurrence at an inordinate rate and I can't help wondering "why?".
I vehemently argue against the idea of a conspiracy; however, what I don't argue is human nature. I believe it is a fact that all referees strive to be as impartial as possible. I also believe that hockey is an emotional game and that no referee is immune to being swayed by the ever-changing emotional temperature of the game. Furthermore, I believe that as emotions rise, they tend to skew perception and underlying bias becomes more evident.
*Here's where you'll need to bear with me*
Why is this important? The reality of the NHL is that many of the referees grew up as fans of the only two Canadian teams that belonged to The Original 6. It is impossible to completely remove the passion and commitment that a true fan has for their team. I for one followed the Sens when they were just beginning to have success, but I was a Ducks fan. Selanne and Kariya were my two favorite players and I loved that team. I cheered on the Sens in '07 and I'm still disappointed they didn't win, but I can't look back on it without that Ducks fan in me remembering how I felt about the Mighty Ducks of yore...
That point factors into this discussion because when emotions rise and the games become more meaningful, it's not inconceivable for the natural bias of officials to show. And it's not as simple as the amount of powerplays or specialty teams' play---Watch the offside call on Spezza with 3:50 remaining in their game against Boston... How could the decision to blow the whistle have been made so quickly? It was blown before he even entered the zone! Its becoming difficult to play devil's advocate---The timing of officiating decisions is just as important as the amount of calls in favour of a team and I simply cannot help but feel like the Senators are at a constant disadvantage with regards to officiating---It's tough to dismiss the background and history of multiple NHL referees as a potential explanation. I do not believe it is a conspiracy. What I believe is that it is an inherently flawed system to have subject humans required to be perfectly impartial, ignoring their own history and inate (or inherited) biases. In my opinion, this implies the need for greater exposure and honest dialogue to maintain the integrity of the game.
Now in a season where the Sens were supposed to be irrelevant, they are sitting in a playoff spot and occupying the spot that may run the streak to 7 years of non-playoff hockey for a certain team... Ottawa has gone approximately 10 straight games with some highly questionable officiating (mostly from the same group of referees) and are on the verge of falling out of that playoff spot. Is it really that inconceivable for officials who grew up as fans of the Original 6 franchises to be influenced by their emotions in a negative way where it concerns impartiality and the little guy down the 401? They may be tasked with being impartial (and they generally do an admirable job) but they are human and are thus prone to both human error and normal human responses.
Some of you will brush this off, some of you will refute it, some of you will consider and debate it, but what I seek is simply to begin the discussion. Is there a bias against the team that never should have been (ref: Roy McGregor, Globe and Mail)?
There's plenty of nonsense in these threads, but this is just a sample of how the Ottawa fan base feels about NHL officiating:
That last one in particular has some interesting pics at the bottom of the page on a blown-off goal in a recent game against Phoenix. That play happens on a nightly basis and more often than not, it's a good goal. Again: fast game, ever-changing environment, decisions made in split seconds, etc. All understood... The reality is simply that only those who watch the Senators night-in, night-out seem to succumb (at some point or another) to questioning the motives of the officials. I would speculate that Denis Potvin would not have indulged such nonsense prior to becoming a Senators broadcaster. Now, he mentions it almost every broadcast.
I have sent this comment directly to http://www.nhlofficials.com/contact.asp in the hopes that it garners further consideration. There are many Sens fans that would love the opportunity to tell a few officials how they really feel, but I'm hoping this is a more tempered approach.
We are the kid brother of the Eastern Conference Canadian teams and we've suffered our initiation for years now. It would be nice if we could gain a little acceptance, and possibly... a level playing field..?