Triggered: Insider says the quiet part out loud about NHL referees and Edmonton Oilers power play

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NHL insider Pierre LeBrun triggered fans and pundits when he said the quiet part out loud about league referees and the Edmonton Oilers power play.

The NHL announced its four referees on Friday. At once LeBrun noted in a social media post that went viral on X-Twitter: “Lots of pressure on these 4 refs when you consider Oilers’ power play. Major theme in this Cup final.”

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The reaction to LeBrun’s statement of fact was swift and often critical.

Responded long-time NHL writer Ken Campbell: “With all due respect, mon ami, this should not be a factor. The fact that it is speaks volumes about the notion of ‘game management’ in the NHL.”

Former broadcaster and current hockey scout Dan Tencer said: “He’s right, we know he is, but I wish he wasn’t. One team’s success (or lack of) on special teams should be of zero concern and certainly not put any pressure onto the league or its officials.”

The Staff & Graph Podcast said: “New idea: call the penalties as they happen and if the Oilers score, those are the consequences of breaking the rules!”

And the Tough Call Podcast, which examines all major hits in the NHL: “You shouldn’t consider anything to do with anyone’s special teams when deciding whether to call a penalty. Was there an infraction: yes or no? That’s the only thing that should matter. ‘Letting them play’ typically means letting one team stop the other from playing.”

And Edmonton Oilers fan Waddsy: “So much pressure to make sure they’re not noticeably managing the game…. Florida will get away with murder this series. Be ready for it Oiler fans.”

Hockey fan Evan Wain noted: “Pierre, the verbal SHOULD be ‘how will the Panthers remain disciplined to not be hurt by the Oilers power play?’ Not ‘the refs will be picking and choosing calls at discretion because the Oilers dominate the man advantage’”

And Oilers fan Brett Jeffrey: “How is it pressure? Call the game correctly. You see a penalty call it. Are they supposed to limit Edmonton’s power plays because they are good? That’s BS.”

And Oilers fan Shannon Baerwald: “This should not be an issue. Call the rulebook.”

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My take

1. I’m glad that LeBrun said the quiet part out loud, as it brought attention to what could be a major issue in the Finals. He, essentially, told the truth about this matter, thus amping up the pressure on the refs, increasing the scrutiny on this issue.

2. Edmonton has the eighth best power play in NHL playoff history, clipping along at 37.3 success rate. The top rate was the 2023 Oilers that was at 46.2 per cent. Florida’s power play at at 23.3 per cent, the sixth best power play this season 2024 playoff season.

3. Edmonton’s penalty kill is at 93.9 per cent, tops in the NHL this year, and fifth best in NHL history for teams playing seven or more games. Florida’s penalty kill is at 88.2 per cent, second best this year. 73rd best in NHL history. The NHL started to measure special teams efficiency in the late 1970s.

4. In the Stanley Cup Finals, there’s no telling if the dominance of Edmonton’s special teams will hold. Florida could get hot, Edmonton could get cold. But if the current trends were to continue, Edmonton would do best in a series where the referees have a low tolerance for fouling and plenty of infractions get called.

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5. There’s a notion that fewer penalties are called in the playoffs than in the regular season, but that’s not accurate. TSN’s Travis Yost dug into this last year and found a long-term trend where more penalties were called in the playoffs. This is encouraging, as there is far more hitting in the playoffs, so one would expect an increase in infractions as well.

6. When a team is extremely aggressive but also has an outstanding penalty kill, it may seek an advantage with constant fouling, knowing that NHL referees will not make a call on many fouls, and that when the team is penalized, it can kill off the power play. This philosophy was taken to an extreme by the villainous Philadelphia Flyers of the 1970s.  Perhaps that will be Florida’s plan for the Stanley Cup Finals against Edmonton, but given Edmonton’s power play excellence, it’s a risky plan.

7. Teams that win the Stanley Cup find a way to win no matter what is thrown at them: poor penalty calls, hot goaltending, a fierce and aggressive opponent. That will be the case this year if the Oilers win. They’ll have to find a way to fight through all manner of adversity, just as they’ve done so far this year.

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That doesn’t mean I’m OK if the referees put away their whistles or call the game unfairly. I hope they set a reasonable standard early in each game and stick with it, that what’s seen as a cross-checking penalty for one team, for example, is the same for both teams, and that’s what seen as a penalty is the same as the game goes along. But given that refereeing is going to be inconsistent, my hope remains that the Oilers fight through whatever comes their way in stoic fashion, as modelled by their calm and cool bench coach Kris Knoblauch.

The calm doesn’t mean the Oilers will be meekly accepting a bad call or a series of missed calls. It means they grasp the essential truth that they have little or no control over this part of the game, so their energy is best spent fiercely focusing and fanatically fighting through whatever comes their way.

P.S. The best 30 minutes of radio you’ll hear all week, Staples and Bob Stauffer on Oilers Now talk McDavid in the Finals, Draisaitl’s praise of Katz and Edmonton’s unique ability to break the fearsome Florida press

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At the Cult of Hockey

McCURDY: How the Oilers were built

STAPLES: Knoblauch with major line-up shake-up

STAPLES: “Miserable Canucks think they’re better than the rest of us”: Florida sports talk roasts McDavid and Canadian hockey chauvinists

STAPLES: “Draisaitl can get really whiny”: More smack talk out of Florida

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