NHL missed the boat in not taking Bergeron, Chara to All-Star weeekend

NHL missed the boat in not taking Bergeron, Chara to All-Star weeekend

Through five game suspensions and everything else, Brad Marchand is still going to represent the Boston Bruins at this weekend’s NHL All-Star Game festivities in Tampa Bay. Clearly he’s earned it with his play on the ice with 21 goals and a massive 50 points in 38 games, and not even an ill-conceived elbow to Marcus Johansson’s head could take that away from him. 

But the sad truth is Marchand should have had more company in terms of Bruins players at the NHL All-Star game weekend. 

MORE - B's continue to roll even without Marchand and McAvoy

When Victor Hedman went down with in injury it created an opening on the Atlantic Division All-Star team, and the early speculation was that 20-year-old Charlie McAvoy would have been a wholly appropriate replacement. Clearly that all went out the window when McAvoy underwent his heart procedure earlier this week, but the Bruins rookie D-man was one of several players suitable for All-Star honors. 

It only makes sense there would be a handful of candidates on a Bruins team that’s second-best in the Atlantic Division and has been the NHL’s best team over the last two months. Instead the NHL announced that second-year Tampa Bay Lightning forward Brayden Point was replacing his Lightning D-man teammate, and would keep it a decidedly Lightning-heavy roster with Tampa Bay hosting this season’s All-Star proceedings. 

Clearly the 21-year-old Point is having himself a strong season with 20 goals and 44 points in 49 games and there should be plenty of All-Star honors in his future. But isn’t NHL All-Star weekend about inviting the game’s star players to showcase their abilities, and to celebrate the game’s household names and best players?

Shouldn’t the first invite, especially if it was going to be a forward replacing a D-man, have gone out to Patrice Bergeron, who is beginning to build up momentum for Hart Trophy consideration at the midpoint of the season? Bergeron is poised to break the record for Selke Trophies in an NHL career, and is on pace for 36 goals, 76 points and a plus-43 while centering the best forward line in the entire league.  Bergeron is a star in the numbers that he pumps out offensively, he’s a star for the example he sets in playing a hard-working, 200-foot game with a gentlemanly manner on the ice and he’s absolutely an All-Star in every sense of the word. 

Put it this way, if Bergeron isn’t an All-Star with the season he’s having then it’s an NHL problem and not a Bergeron problem. There’s little doubt most hockey fans would rather have a household name like Bergeron than a second-tier Lightning up-and-comer like Point, and that’s no disrespect to a talented young kid playing in the shadow of Steve Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. 

Or if the NHL wanted to go the defenseman route then why not invite 40-year-old Zdeno Chara for one last kick at the All-Star can. 

Chara’s offensive numbers aren’t anything spectacular while on a pace for seven goals and 23 points this season, but he’s still averaging a team-high 23:26 of ice time while logging Herculean ice time on Boston’s highly-ranked penalty kill. The Bruins captain is still a defensive marvel, and remains one of the wonders of the NHL world with his ability to play big minutes and remain so effective at an advanced hockey age. 

But wouldn’t it have been a draw at All-Star weekend to have Chara there for one more time defending the NHL’s hardest shot during the skills competition? The 6-foot-9 D-man winding up and blasting away was always one of the iconic moments of NHL All-Star weekend in the six times that he was invited in previous years. Once again Chara is an iconic, future Hall of Famer and the very definition of a star player that could have elevated the proceedings in Tampa this weekend. 

The word on the street was that both Chara and Bergeron would have been interested in participating if they had been asked to be All-Star replacements after not being chosen to go in the first place. Unfortunately the NHL decided to go with the theory that more Lightning players – four of the 11 roster spots are Lightning players -- will somehow make for a better NHL All-Star weekend product in Tampa Bay. This humble hockey writer is going to go ahead and beg to differ on that one. 


Haggerty: A proposal to address Stanley Cup playoffs beset by bad officiating

AP Photo

Haggerty: A proposal to address Stanley Cup playoffs beset by bad officiating

Nobody could blame Bruins President Cam Neely if he was more than a little salty after the level of officiating in the Stanley Cup playoffs this season. The Hall of Fame player and B’s executive watched some truly bizarre officiating during Boston’s two rounds of the playoffs prior to them getting eliminated in Game 5 of the second round against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“It does need to get addressed because the game has gotten faster,” said Neely, of the consistently questionable calls in the playoffs. “There were a lot of great, exciting matchups in the playoffs, and a lot of the talk – not just in our series – was about the officiating.”

Some of it was inexplicable like Patrice Bergeron getting tossed from the face-off circle more than two dozen times in the two playoff rounds against the Maple Leafs and Lightning. Some of it was flat-out incompetent like blowing a delay of game call in Game 3 against the Leafs when a Riley Nash clear attempt clearly hit the glass before hopping over the boards and earning the B’s third line center an undeserved penalty.

Some of it was downright negligent to Boston’s downfall including non-calls in Game 2 and Game 4 against the Lightning in the second round. The referees refused to call a penalty on a clear Anton Stralman slash to Brad Marchand’s hands on a breakaway in the third period of a one-goal game in what could have easily been a penalty shot.

Then in Game 4 they again swallowed the whistles when Nikita Kucherov essentially tackled Charlie McAvoy behind the Boston net in the third period of another one-goal game, and that sequence immediately preceded a game-tying goal from Steve Stamkos in the high slot area. Boston lost that pivotal game in overtime after never really recovering from the horrendous non-call, and it still rankled Bruins officials long after the series had concluded.


“The thing that disappoints me the most, and not to take anything away from Tampa, is that I felt we should have been going back [to Tampa] for Game 5 tied at 2-2. That’s a whole different mindset than going down there 3-1 [in the series],” said Neely. “You can say all you want that the focus is just on one game, but as a player you do look at the big picture and say, ‘Man, we’ve got to win three in a row against this team.’ It’s a lot different mindset.

“How they don’t make that call when we’re up 3-2 with seven minutes to go? We should be going on the power play, and whether we score or not it’s going to chew up another two minutes of the game and then we’d have a different mindset going down to Tampa. It was the non-calls that really frustrated me the most. I’m not complaining about the calls we had against us. There were three that really bothered me: The Marchand slash non-call in Game 2, Kevan Miller got a boarding call earlier in that game and then [David Pastrnak] gets hit from behind and there’s no call late in the game, and then of course the non-call on [Charlie] McAvoy. For me those were tough to take.”

So what can be done about it all?

Neely proposed extending a video review/challenge options for plays like the faulty delay of game call from the Toronto series or the phantom high-sticking call vs. David Pastrnak in the second round that replays made clear Victor Hedman hit himself in the head with his own stick. The technology is clearly there to get those kinds of calls right, and all of the stops should be pulled out in the playoffs when a call here or there can make all the difference to a hockey club.

“It’s something that the league has to look at. I know they do that after every game, but I think they need to take a hard look at what’s happening with the refereeing. Because the game has gotten so much faster…are the referees able to keep up with the pace of the game?” asked Neely. “It’s fast out there. It’s something they really need to take a look at. With all of the great playoff series, one of the most common themes from reporters across the league was either the refereeing or it was Marchand’s licking. It took away from the great game that we have.

“Replay is [a way to keep up with the speed]. I’ll give you an example: It would take two seconds for somebody to call downstairs and say it was [Victor Hedman] that got hit with his own stick, and it’s a non-call [on David Pastrnak]. Something like that would be easy. The puck off the glass [for delay of game] in the Toronto series would be an easy call. If you get too deep into the weeds you’re going to find yourself with delays as the calls are being debated, but I think there are some really easy ones where you could call down and say ‘that wasn’t a penalty.’ There’s a lot of technology that can help you, but you really don’t want to get bogged down in the weeds slowing the game down [with replays] too much.”

But how about this for a radical idea: Allowing teams to challenge anything and everything up to twice in a game?

If the Bruins think they caught the butt end of a delay of game or high-sticking call they could challenge it to the officials, and let video review make the call just as it does for goalie interference and off-side plays right now. If the team gets the challenge wrong, then it costs them a two-minute minor penalty that should deter any of the frivolous review requests that could happen otherwise.


More interestingly, it would allow teams to challenge egregious non-calls in certain circumstances like those that either lead to goals like Tampa’s game-tying score in Game 4, or deprive teams of a scoring chance like the obvious slash to Marchand in Game 2. There would be logistics to figure out, of course.

How much longer after a supposedly faulty non-call would a team be able to issue a challenge? How much would the added coach’s challenge options continue to bog down an NHL in-game product that’s supposed to be fast and action-packed rather than beset by delays?

These are all logistical issues that could be easily solved by the NHL, the officials and the NHLPA if it became a reality. But there’s very clearly a problem within the NHL when it comes to the on-ice officials on the ice consistently botching calls during the playoffs, and it seems to be getting worse rather than better over time. There’s a very narrow limit as to how much improvement could be reasonably expected out of the current on-ice officials after a shaky spring, and adding another on-ice referee really wouldn’t seem to be the answer.

Instead it may be time to acknowledge that the speed and frenetic action of the NHL now demands more than two refs and two linesmen are able to provide during a 60-minute hockey game. The NHL has the technology to get all of the controversial calls and non-calls correct if the 31 teams simply want to embrace a wider scope of challenges and video reviews. The guess here is that the Bruins organization would now be one of them after getting victimized by truly subpar officiating in the playoffs when the games matter most.


Morning Skate: Minnesota has a Massachusetts feel

NBC Sports Boston illustration

Morning Skate: Minnesota has a Massachusetts feel

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while things play out between the Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning in a Game 7 for all the marbles.
-- Massachusetts native Charlie Coyle is scheduled to undergo surgery on both wrists. I’ve got to imagine that’s going to make for a few weeks where everything is pretty much impossible to do post –surgery for the Minnesota Wild forward.  

-- Another local hockey product is going to be associated with the Minnesota Wild, as Springfield, Mass., native Paul Fenton has been named the new general manager.
-- The Golden Knights tale is one of some very shrewd moves prior to their opening season, and a lot of things that have gone their way since then.

 -- Something tells me Bruins fans aren’t going to get tired of offensive highlights from New York Islanders rookie Mat Barzal. They are a glutton for punishment, after all.
-- The Toronto Maple Leafs front office is now completely under the control of Kyle Dubas, as both Lou Lamoriello and Mark Hunter have exited the organization.
 -- Here’s a look at the short-term salary cap picture for the Detroit Red Wings as they continue to build back up toward being a playoff power.
*For something completely different: So I’m buying in on Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia talking Star Wars on this podcast. Who knew big CC was a Star Wars guy?