Columbus Blue Jackets: Why Rick Nash Doesn't Draw More Penalties

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Columbus Blue Jackets:  Why Rick Nash Doesn't Draw More Penalties
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

After Columbus Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash was once again mauled, held, and received several opponent’s high-sticks towards the end of a game against the Los Angeles Kings, his head coach, Scott Arniel, could no longer sit idly by.

Here are some of Arniel’s post-game comments:

“I’m getting so frustrated. I know I’m a young guy, and a young coach in this league. But to watch Rick Nash, what he has to take night in, night out … I watch other star players and the treatment they get, the calls that they get.”

“Nash gets tackled going to the net. He gets a stick across the face. No call. I don’t get it. We try to be … I’ve worked with this team about not yelling at referees, not making them part of the focus. But maybe we have to do a little more crying and complaining. The stuff Rick takes for the superstar that he is … it really (ticks) me off.”

“A situation like that, there should have been a call.  There wasn’t a call. And it makes everybody a little bit frustrated.”

Arniel was then asked if the non-calls were based more on the perceived lack of respect for the Blue Jackets than a disregard for Nash.

“It could be that. There could be a little bit of that.  We don’t have a lot of top-end, star players. Sometimes when you have more of those guys – veteran guys – you can manage the referees a little bit better. We’re a young team and I don’t think we get a whole lot of respect at times.”

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Well, I am going to go against the grain of that belief and offer why it’s occurring. The reason is simple— Nash doesn’t engage himself enough to draw those penalties.

In listening to the lamenting of fans across the NHL — outside of the Original Six fans — just about every team’s fan base in the NHL believes their team doesn’t receive the lion’s share of penalty calls. Some fans would go so far as to believe there’s a conspiracy against their team by the NHL’s coffers in Toronto.

But it’s funny how this is not an issue when the team is winning. It’s also interesting how the calls, particularly the replay booth calls, even out over the course of time.

Before I elaborate too much on how teams in general aren’t given their just due on receiving penalty calls or replays to go their way, let me assess how Nash, particularly, doesn’t receive his just due.

Nash is one of the great players in the NHL and in the world.  However, part of not receiving calls is due to the fact that since the Blue Jackets have entered the NHL (2000-01 season) they have also been one of its most putrid organizations, having made the playoffs only once in their existence during the 2008-09 season. So this is a team that is not a signature team in the NHL, prompting some around the league to say, “It’s only Columbus.” Thus, Nash is a victim by association.

But here’s the deeper issue:  Nash has not gone into the "dirty areas" and has built a body of work that would demonstrate he is being wronged by the NHL’s officials.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Here are Nash’s Penalty Minutes (PIMs) since he’s entered the league in the 2002-03 season:

Season:     Games Played (GP):                     PIMs:              % of PIMs/Games Played:

2002-03            74                                           78                           105.4%

2003-04            80                                           87                           108.7%

2005-06            54                                           51                           94.4%

2006-07            75                                           73                           97.3%

2007-08            80                                           95                           118.7%

2008-09            78                                           52                           66.7%

2009-10            76                                           58                           76.3%

2010-11            41                                           14                           34.1%

What’s interesting is that Nash’s PIMs/Games Played has plummeted during the past two and a half seasons, which supports a pattern of not engaging in more physical play, or not being engaged in the tougher scoring areas, as Nash is not himself being called for as many penalties as in the past. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think Nash was building a case for competing for the Lady Byng trophy, awarded to the NHL’s most effective and least penalized player. For a player labeled as a prototypical power forward in the NHL, the lack of physical play is also not conducive to drawing penalties.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

What I also find interesting is that this apparent lack of respect for calling penalties on Rick Nash is something that was never uttered by his former head coach, Ken Hitchcock. Hitchcock was never one to buy into the lack of respect belief, nor did he believe that penalty calls or missed penalty calls didn’t factor into the outcome of a game.

But, for a team who’s mired in a 6-13-3 funk, desperate times call for desperate measures, or at least the struggles exacerbate other concerns in search of any relief to the current pattern of less than desirable play.

So what’s the solution to this issue? Here’s what I would do if I were Nash and the Blue Jacket organization: I would build a body of work to demonstrate how Nash is being wronged.

Nash needs to dedicate himself to going into the tough areas, in front of the net and exhibit a far more physical style of play. From there, Blue Jacket officials need to provide the footage to the NHL officials, particularly Colin Campbell, the NHL Vice President of Hockey Operations and its principal disciplinarian,  and demonstrate how officials are continually omitting calling obvious penalties against Nash. Once Campbell views the footage, a man of Campbell’s integrity and position has no other choice but to show his league’s officials how Nash is not drawing the penalties a player of his caliber deserves. 

But again, this is a two-way street: Become a more physical player and engage in the areas in which penalties are drawn.

The ultimate solution to this situation is to win games, as this omission will not draw the same level of scrutiny once the Blue Jackets find a way to get untracked.

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