Like parents of siblings with a spirited rivalry, the NHL is often challenged when it comes to meeting the needs of its Canadian and American children.
Each nation’s audience is sensitive to favoritism, sometimes looking for reasons to pitch fits and demand equal treatment. More often than not it’s little northern bro’ feeling slighted by the league’s actions – the shifting of franchises from Quebec and Winnipeg; the apparent obstruction of Jim Balsillie’s attempt to buy and move the Predators to Hamilton; the composition of the schedule; even the hiring of a commissioner.
The angst is understandable. For better or worse, hockey helps define Canada; its people are bound to be over-protective.
But it cuts both ways, as we’ve witnessed at The Hockey News. We get a healthy helping of letters from American readers complaining about Canadian bias, not just in our pages, but from the league office, referees and broadcasters, too.
A recent story by Raleigh News and Observer hockey writer and THN contributor Luke DeCock reported a disproportionate number of suspensions, handed down by league vice-president Colin Campbell (of Tillsonburg, Ont.), were being assessed for infractions against players on Canadian-based teams.
The implication is plain: Campbell is sympathetic to his homeland, perhaps a subconscious function of more intense media scrutiny in the six Canuck markets.
Of course, like any non-scientific study of data, the findings are inconclusive. While the numbers may suggest a slanted ice surface, more research would need to be conducted, examining and comparing the fouls (and similar non-fouls) case-by-case.
(For what it’s worth, there doesn’t appear to be any Canadian-U.S. pattern for in-game discipline. This season, three of the top nine-penalized teams, and five of the top 18, are Canadian. The sixth Canadian club, Toronto, ranks 22nd).
At The Hockey News, the alleged suspension bias is a non-issue because of Campbell’s reputation for integrity. While we’ve had our disagreements with him over the years, and questioned some of his decisions, we’ve never doubted his intentions.
And really, that’s all we can ask of the men and women (but mostly men) who run the NHL; when making calls that impact us, they do so from a place of integrity.
For example, if Pittsburgh and Montreal were to meet in the playoffs, and a game that would traditionally fall on a Saturday night were moved to Sunday, we’d hope it were done for the right reasons, not to continue chasing a mirage U.S. television audience at the expense of loyal, life-long fans.
Whoops, there’s that national wounded pride leaking out.
Jason Kay is the editor of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears every weekend.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.