NHL Playoff Referees: What a Debacle Yet Again
I have to admit—I’m still bitter.
I had originally intended to write an article about one NHL referee in particular who has stood out this year as the worst of the bunch, Dan O’Halloran.
Honestly, I am still bothered by two egregious non-calls in Game Six between Vancouver and Chicago. The two were Andrew Ladd’s hit on Ryan Kesler (which resulted in Kesler suffering the loss of three teeth and a broken nose) and Ben Eager’s late hit on Alexander Edler that could very well have been assessed four minutes.
While everyone in the dressing room likes to say the right thing—"the referees were not the difference"—I can’t help but think eight minutes of power play time in the first period would have made a difference.
So how to make lemons into lemonade? Rather than continue to be bitter, I decided to look at the most prominent calls this year and suggest ways to have the NHL improve the situation.
Every year the NHL goes through the same embarrassment in the race for the Stanley Cup. Referees in the NHL have one of the toughest jobs in sports, to be sure. Each year, there are calls that have fans scratching their heads, and leave the head of officiating looking for creative ways to justify the on-ice foibles of his charges.
One of the most infamous is the Stanley Cup winning goal by Brett Hull in 1999, when Hull’s skate clearly was in the crease. Throughout the entire season goals were routinely called off for “exactly” the same rule.
However when pressed for an explanation the NHL supervisor of officials cleverly came up with a definition for “deemed possession of the puck”. Unfortunately the only people placated by this explanation live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and I—along with every Buffalo Sabres fan—would gladly like to see and asterisk engraved on the Stanley Cup beside the Dallas Stars' name.
This year, the quick whistle by Brad Watson against Detroit and the phantom interference call by Dan O’Halloran (on the best hit of the playoffs so far) are just two examples. In both cases the NHL had to explain the rulings.
Now whether right or wrong, the problem is that when the NHL has to publicly explain the rules to justify the on-ice official’s rulings, there is a credibility issue. As a lifelong hockey fan, I can honestly say I have literally seen hundreds of hits like Kronwall’s (see almost every Scott Stevens highlight) without ever having seen such a ludicrous circus on the call. I can also assure you that there are dozens of times during a game when the referee cannot see the puck but does not blow their whistle.
So how can the NHL improve? It’s simple.
First, make all goal calls eligible for review—not just goals but goals that are called off. If Detroit had lost the series to the Ducks, it would have been a travesty. In fact, it can be argued that the blown call extended a series that was destined to be much shorter. Momentum is everything at this time of year.
Barring this, the league needs to allow all the officials (including linesmen) to conference after a no goal call to make sure they got it right. They do it in baseball on disputed home runs—one could argue it’s even more critical to hockey.
Second, quit justifying mistakes by officials by coming up with convoluted interpretations of the rules to suit the situation. If a player can be hit several seconds after they deliver a pass or dump the puck into the opponents zone, then a player who has the puck in his skates and decides not to play it should be fair game, period.
This is not a game of “hot potato”—it’s hockey. Havlat was the only player that could have controlled the puck. To say that Brad Stuart was “deemed” to have possession of the puck because he was the last player to touch it is ridiculous.
Thirdly change the way officials are chosen for each round. Currently, Stephen Walkom and his band of blithering idiots decide which officials move on to the next round. Here I have, two proposals.
1. Survivor style: Let the players, coaches and GMs of the beaten teams pick the officials for the next round. Nobody knows better than them which officials are on top of their game. The great thing about this is that officials who really blow calls are finally held accountable.
2. Jury style: Allow each team in the next round the opportunity to nominate candidates and mediate until they agree. Negotiations could be aired on FOX Sports with Nancy Grace as host airing all the dirty laundry! Just kidding….
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