Every year we see a lot of chatter about how the referees do their jobs (or don't) in the post-season. And again, I've seen many assertions that the Detroit Red Wings are being unfairly and excessively penalized -- usually balanced out by the haters inquiring about the size of the Wings fans' tinfoil hats. This year I've seen something new and disturbing, however. People are suggesting that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has actually instructed the referees to hand this quarterfinal series to the San Jose Sharks. Apparently the reasoning behind this alleged "edict" is Commissioner Bettman is actively engaged in quashing any hockey legacies in this kinder, gentler, post-strike NHL culture. Given the fact that the Red Wings have more Stanley Cups in the past 15 years than any other team (and given the fact that Detroit is an original-six team with 11 Stanley Cups to its credit) it would seem logical that the Red Wings would be Commissioner Bettman's prime target -- assuming the accusations against him are true, which is highly questionable at this point.
Since I don't have any facts on which to argue the Bettman conspiracy theory either way, I'd rather address the officiating thus far in the San Jose - Detroit series and invite commentary from both sides as to whether others think the referrees are showing a pro-Shark (or anti-Wings) bias:
From what I've seen so far, the questionable penalty calls have been pretty evenly distributed between the Sharks and the Red Wings. The biggest gripe I have here is consistency, and I have been airing this gripe in the regular season as well. Some of these hooking calls are just ridiculous. It seems like any stick contact with the puck handler results in a hooking call one moment, but the next thing you know someone pulls a blatant hooking penalty (usually complete with the puck handler being knocked down or spun out of position) and no whistle. Ditto that for interference. A slight bump lands someone in the penalty box, but when a player does a flat-out takedown and is obviously NOT going after the puck the refs look the other way? BOTTOM LINE: There's something rotten going on here, but it doesn't seem to be benefiting either team more than the other.
In the interest of fairness and honesty (and NOT to mollify the "Tinfoil Hat" haters) I have to say that the Red Wings have, for the most part, earned their time in the penalty box. This is where instant replay has come in handy. High-definition TV is great for watching sports, and I have to admit on many occasions I'd be booing or hollering "Bulls***!" with the rest of the crowd, but when the announcers say "Let's see that one again" I end up having to grit my teeth and say "Yeah, that's a penalty." I also have to admit that I have caught at least three infractions per game committed by Red Wings players that were not called by the refs. BOTTOM LINE: While the number of penalties taken by the Red Wings has gone up since the playoffs started, I cannot in good conscience say that the referees have an anti-Wings bias here.
Now that we have that out of the way, I do have one major gripe: The San Jose Sharks are getting away with murder out there. For every infraction committed by a Red Wings player that doesn't get called I see at least five infractions committed by Sharks players that don't get called. For crying out loud, does Joe Thornton have to pull a dirty check on Johan Franzen and then go up into the stands and slap his mother before he gets called for roughing? I've also seen several hooking calls against Wings players where the Sharks' "victim" was obviously holding the stick -- well, it was obvious to me and anyone watching the instant replay anyway. Finally, the embellishment by Joe Thornton was one of those "It's about freakin' time!" calls that should bring attention to the numerous dives taken by the Sharks that were NOT called for embellishing. The Sharks are doing everything they can to sell penalties to the refs, and the sad part is the refs are buying it.
So, let's go back to the question at the top: Do you think the refs are going to do everything in their power to hand Game 7 to the Sharks? If past history holds, I believe the refs will call legitimate penalties against the Wings but will tend to look the other way when the Sharks step out of line. Unless the calling is VERY one-sided I'm not concerned because the Red Wings have been doing a great job on the penalty kill and they also realize that there's no point in griping over the calls -- at the end of the day, you have to overcome and find ways to win. They have done just that in the last three games, so if they keep doing what they've been doing they can still win Game 7 even if the refs try to hand the game to the Sharks on a silver platter.
OK folks -- let's hear what you have to say!