MONDAY READER: Fixing NHL Officiating

MONDAY READER: Fixing NHL Officiating


MONDAY READER: Fixing NHL Officiating


Welcome to The Monday reader, a once-a-week or once-ever-other-week column looking at the NHL, Penguins and other scattered thoughts.

There has been a heated debate on social media, blogs, media outlets, podcasts, and so many other places this playoff about the replay, officiating and human error in the NHL.

Rightfully so, we’ve seen a myriad of missed calls, bad penalties and questionable decisions from the officials.

While you should never go to Twitter for nuanced debate, you also probably don’t have an hour and a half in your day to listen to three hockey writers yell at each other for 45 of those 90 minutes about how video review could be a slippery slope.

Maybe you have an extra 5-10 minutes today, so let’s dive in. Let’s fix the state of NHL officiating.

(Disclaimer: I’m willing to bet none of these ideas are wholly original. I’ve probably heard them in passing over the last two months and they’ve manifested in my brain. If that’s the case, sorry to who it may have been stolen from, but let me make my case.)

SUGGESTION 1: Put an off-ice official in the press box

This one seems easy enough, and it likely could’ve prevented this:

It’s as clear as day, but let’s take a closer look at this.

In watching the broadcast videos, there’s no angle that shows us where the other official is. So, we have to assume he’s somewhere at the red line, watching the play. Should he have seen it? I’m going to go with “probably” but we can’t say for certain.

The official in the zone, however, has Jordan Binnington, a mess of bodies and a net to deal with in his line of sight. Not to mention, when Meier makes this hand pass, he’s falling down in front of a St. Louis player, taking him even further out of the ref’s line of sight.

We’ll get into video review a bit later, but for now, an off-ice official, with both a bird’s eye view, video at his disposal and a direct line of contact to the on-ice crew would likely keep these things from being missed.

Which takes us to the next part…

SUGGESTION 2: Expand video review to all scoring plays

The NFL doesn’t get a whole lot right. I think we can say that with certainty. I don’t know what a catch is, or what pass interference is. Sure, I’m a casual fan, but don’t those words seem cut and dry? Buddy, they won’t even let me interfere with a pass.

What they do get right is every scoring play is subject to review.

Rarely does it take long, except for challenges, which, different debate, different day, and it’s a worthwhile endeavor, I understand in football they aren’t hurting for offense the way the NHL is, but we’ve seen some missed calls lead to goals this playoff, so why not?

Here’s where one and two are related. Each officiating crew remains the same, two refs and two linesmen on the ice and then we add in the off-ice official. The off-ice official is the de-facto “crew chief.”  They run the show by radioing down to the on-ice refs, running the video replay and so forth.

But, Pat…won’t this extend the time it takes for a game to be played?

Great question, reader and I thank you for it. Each scoring replay has a one-minute time clock. Did something egregious happen? Well, it shouldn’t take you more than a minute and two-to-three camera angles to find it. A toe offside doesn’t affect the larger play so, even if you miss that over the course of one minute, it must not have been that big of a deal.

SUGGESTION 3: Each ref has a say in calls

This one would be a little tougher to work out, but on a base level, in every other professional sport, everyone in a referee shirt has a say in calls.

Hockey is the only sport where only two officials can have a say on everything. Linesmen only have a say in too many men on the ice, puck over the glass (which is a stupid idiot person rule) and occasionally a major.

Doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? If a linesman sees an infraction on the ice and can’t do anything about it, what’s the purpose?

SUGGESTION 4: Burn it all down

Yeah, let’s go there.

We’re most likely not headed for another work stoppage or lockout because it seems both sides are pretty happy with where we are right now. Everyone looked at skipping the Olympics as a precursor to a lockout, but when they’re in China and the NHL is trying their best to get a foothold in that market, they’re going.

But for a second, let’s say we are headed for a work stoppage and a lockout.

The lockout of 2004 was great for the sport itself. Obstruction was finally enforced, the game was opened up for the people who could actually play rather than just be big and we saw an emphasis put on offense and scoring rather than defense and team play.

Let’s do it again.

Toss the existing rulebook out the window and forget it exists. Redefine the sport. Start over.

Put an emphasis on obstruction again; hooking, holding, tripping, etc…are all called with frequency. Zero tolerance for head contact, intentional or not, and an AHL-style “ban” on fighting.

The reason that so much of hockey, and sports in general for that matter, rarely change is that “well, that’s how it’s always been.” Okay, but why?

There’s greatness in what is happening in the NHL right now with likes of McDavid, Matthews, Gaudreau, Eichel and so many others on the way that if worked out correctly and tailored correctly, this sport will once again nudge its way into the conversation nationally.

The NHL, for once, just needs to get out of its own way.

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