NHL Under The Gun As Critism Mounts: Part One

The officiating in professional sports is always polarizing and often draws the ire of coaches, players, management and fans alike. In doing research for this subject matter it lead me to more questions than answers. The first part of my report we will address the issues that are currently plaguing the league officiating and the second part we will explore the options the NHL could enact for long term solutions that will improve the game.

In the last couple years the officiating in the NHL has been put under the microscope. Because of this it has been far more harshly judged, this year that has been exemplified. The amount of occurrences of situations in which the officiating has been called into question or have had a direct affect on the outcome of the game are numerous and seem to be happening daily. This is resulting in having a negative impact on the league as a whole. However Commissioner Gary Bettman has paraded in front of the cameras on several occasions to proclaim adamantly that the NHL has the best officiating in professional sports. This is the furthest from the truth. There is many contributing factors that are at the heart of this deep rooted issue that is seriously impacting the overall quality of product that the league is presenting. This falls at the feet of the league. The NHL is always the last of the major North American leagues to catch up with the times. There is very much of an old boys club mentally that seemingly lingers when it comes to evolving to the times. This mentality needs to be removed altogether and a more open mindset needs to be adopted for the sake of the game.

Statistically this year the NHL has seen a significant uptick in power play percentages. The league average is 22.37% for this season so far. Last year in comparison it sat at 20.61% average. The last time the NHL seen comparable numbers to this season you have to go all the way back to the 1982/83 season when it was 22.94% efficiency. That was a different era of hockey altogether. Yet these current numbers we see could be even more skewed. However the contention isn’t with the improvement of stats for powerplays and penalty kills. It is the calls being made or not being made that is the issue. Some of this is thanks to the fact that the league has had a high turnover of officiating personnel in recent years. Many of the senior officials have retired. Gone are the likes of highly regarded and long tenured referees such as Paul Devorski, Dave Jackson, Greg Kimmerly, Brad Meier, Mike Leggo, Dean Morton, Brad Watson, Tim Peel and Dan O’Halloran to name a few. Also departed are long serving linesmen such as Derek Amell, Scott Driscoll, Steve Miller, Brian Murphy and Greg Devorski along with many others. With the high volume of departures of so many veteran officials in a short time frame left a huge void. This not a smooth transition in any field of work let alone the top professional hockey league in the world. Given the abnormally high volume of a turnover ratio made this extra turbulent of a situation. Had this changing of the guard been more gradual allowing it a progressive transition instead of an abrupt upheaval there would not be in the situation we are currently.

Another significant issue is the lack of accountability. For example, in the NBA they do post game reports on the officiating of the game that is available for anyone to review online as well as being posted on social media. Nothing of the sorts exists in the NHL. The league needs to mirror this or adopt something similar to show some transparency and accountability as too remain status quo is unacceptable.. The lack of willingness to evolve with the times and this delusion they are living in that there isn’t any issues with the officiating is laughable. As it stands right now things are very much cloak and dagger when it comes to information in regards to discipline or any correction measures in regards to the officials. No information is released publicly to provide any clarity or explanation of action taken. The NHL keeps all of this in house. Also there is the issue of Game Management. This needs to be eliminated all together. This style of officiating allows the referee to draw some of the attention to them and away from the game itself. Call the game as the rule book dictates and call it consistently. The rule book doesn’t provide any stipulations of what point you do or don’t call an infraction. It clearly states what an infraction is and that if it happens the official is to call it. Nothing irks me more then a play that happened in the first period of a game draws a penalty however the exact play unfolds again late in the third period and suddenly the ref decides its no longer an infraction. Same with the fact that the playoffs are called differently then the regular season. Other examples are when refs come up with make up calls. One team has been penalized more then it’s opponent so the refs take it upon themselves to try to balance out the calls or to compensate for a missed one. It is part of the human element but still this needs to be removed from the game.

At the end of the day this is an issue that desperately needs to be address immediately. The NHL can not sustain the belief that there is nothing wrong when there clearly is a critical flaw that is diminishing the quality of the game. Continue down that road and it will start to affect the revenue generated and then the league will have no choice to make changes.


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