Open-Mic: NHL Referees the Toughest of Their Kind

Lisa BoychukSenior Analyst IMay 27, 2008

Of all shapes and kinds come the stripes; if not the referees of hockey, basketball, and football, then the umpires of baseball.


These are the men who hold so much power that they essentially decide who wins and loses, who cheers and cries, who gloats and who hides in shame.


Without them in any sport, games would be chaotic and yet boring.  If players were allowed to do what they wanted, it would make the game dangerous for both the athletes and the fans.


Regardless of the game, any of the officiators can make a blown call (or an ignored one) literally blow the game.


In baseball, the most controversial decisions are related to whether a ball is foul or fair.  Even more irking for a fan is base tagging, especially when it's at home plate.  Nevertheless, the officiating of Major League Baseball ranks as the best there is.  More often than not, the umpires make the correct choice.


Football sees more errors than baseball; therefore it is the next least difficult.  The toughest task is watching the players as much as the football itself.  This means a split second to decide if the player stepped out of bounds, interfered the catch, illegally blocked the ball, and so on.


Then there is hockey, especially the National Hockey League (NHL).  It is the place you will find the fastest pace, the roughest game, and the most unpredictable results.


Though the referees get blamed for anything the fans do not appreciate, it is their own faults they have earned this reputation of being the bad guys.


The inconsistency of a refs' penalty call, even in the "new" NHL, shows that not much has changed.  Trips, holds, roughs, interferences, and so on are sometimes rightfully called for a penalty.  However, just as often you will find that clean infractions are penalized and dirty ones missed or let go.


Currently, the most hated calls are for "delay of game" penalties.  The team is penalized for two minutes or less if they shoot the puck over the glass in their own zone.  While this may be useful, there is no consideration of purpose.  Even accidental deflections are called.  Of course, refs make the first call and it is a penalty that cannot be reviewed for reconsideration.


Then we have the playoffs for the Stanley Cup.  Here lies the traditional "blame the ref" notion, yet, it is again the referees' fault.  Though one must be considerate  - playoffs mean tougher, longer, and more crucial games.  How can we expect them to be perfect under such immense pressure?


It was the 1999 Stanley Cup that started the trend of hating the officiators.  It was a game between the Dallas Stars and Buffalo Sabres.  During that 1998-99 season (and that season only) was there the rule that if you or your teammate had a skate in the crease before the puck, any goal would be illegal.


However, in a triple overtime game, Brett Hull deflected the puck off his skate while in the crease and it counted; the Stars won the Stanley Cup.  There was a clear view of what happened, but the refs okay-ed it.  The image of the officiating in the NHL would never be the same.


We all make mistakes, and officiators are only human.  Any referee or umpire, though, of any sport can clearly fit a common cliché - can't live with them, can't live without them.