Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Refs in the Penalty Box

It's time for the NHL to take a serious look at the officiating.

Forget about tweaking the rules or playing with the goalie pads to make them 1/184th of an inch smaller or deciding what undeserving location gets an outdoor game. After the Cup is handed out this week there should be only one topic of discussion for the rest of the summer, and that is the state of the penalty call in today's NHL.

League officials, referees, and linesmen should be locked in a room and forced to watch every second of this year's playoffs until they've seen all of the blown calls, the nonexistent calls, the bizarre calls - and figured out a way to fix it.

Because there's no reason for it. It's not an easy job, officiating an NHL game - even on a normal day it's probably one of the least desirable and most difficult jobs to do, and no one is saying that 100% of the calls are expected to be right 100% of the time. In a high pressure situation like the playoffs the microscope is even bigger, with instant replays and 20,000 paying referees disputing every call, and there is a subjective nature to the system that can't be overlooked.

But there should be the expectation that the referees and linesmen will make the right call most of the time. It's not that much to expect, really.

Sure, there are always controversial calls in every playoff series; there are always those plays that should have been whistled down that weren't, the moments that become legend for one fanbase or another. Somehow, though, it seems like this year the bad calls or blatantly missed calls are not only more prevalent but more pivotal in the final outcome of a game or even a series. That shouldn't happen. In order for hockey to maintain its integrity, it can't happen.

Three seasons ago the league underwent a massive facelift, implementing a salary cap and new rules that would change the way the game was played. And for the most part, after a few growing pains in the early months, things seemed to settle in. Referees knew what to call. Players knew what would be called.

That lasted for two seasons.

So what happened this year? Did every referee have a lobotomy over the offseason? Was there an epidemic of selective amnesia among the officials? There was some tweaking of the rules last summer but nothing so drastic as to make the officiating parties completely forget how to do their job. It's just been bad - through the regular season and the playoffs, bad. Horrible. And unacceptable.

Ask any hockey fan whose team was among the top 16 this year, if you talk to them about the penalties that were called or not called, you'll hear a familiar refrain: we got screwed. Nothing could unite fans of every team quite like that one sentence, and nothing could be more true - because we did all get screwed.

Talk to Caps fans about that second Flyers goal in Game 7. Talk to Devils fans about the mysterious icing call while killing off a penalty. Talk to Red Wings fans about Holmstrom's rear end. We all got screwed.

It's easy to sit back and say that if every team is getting equally screwed then there is no advantage for any other team and thus, no problem. Both teams have equally legitimate complaints and therefore no one gets hurt.

But the game is getting hurt. This series between the Red Wings and Penguins should be epic - two of the best teams in the league going at it for hockey's ultimate prize? Epic. And at times, it has been. Other times, though, it's been sullied and overshadowed by the inexcusable officiating.

There are the rare good calls (Hudler's high-sticking double minor in triple overtime last night was unfortunate but had to be called); but then there are the bad calls (did Datsyuk really trip Staal or can the kid just not skate?), the latter far outnumbering the former and making a mockery of what could be a great series.

Not only does that take away from the quality of the game, particularly at this, the highest level, but it also creates an atmosphere of distrust, of disillusionment, and of unsportsmanlike conduct. Diving, embellishment, cheap shots, head shots, etc. It's all part of the "New" NHL, folks - come on in and watch.

So for whatever is left of this season, be it one game or two, we will watch - and see what happens. What calls are made, what aren't, and what bearing they have on the ultimate outcome of the series.

Because regardless of who wins, in the end no one wants to see a Stanley Cup winner with an asterisk next to their name.


Anonymous said...

Oh, come on you'd love to see "Pittsburgh Penguins* (*cup won because of failure of refs to call penalties in game 7)"

Admit it. Admit it or I off Lepisto :-)

Chris & Sarah said...

All I want is consistency in the way things are called, both period to period and game to game. Especially when it comes to goaltender interference calls. It's not hard, hell they give just about every possible situation that could lead to a goaltender being interfered with, and what the outcome should be. But they need to define what incidental contact is, and also rule that when an attacking player pushes a defending player into the goaltender is in fact obstructing the goaltender. And they need to expand the scope of what can be reviewed. A goal scored as a result of an infraction should be reviewed and disallowed.

Either that or players should be allowed to start checking officals.

(I'm looking at you Bill McCreary!!)

Anonymous said...

Hear hear!

Fire the refs!