3. The Nature of Officiating in the NHL
Tuesday’s Islanders-Capitals games was one of the most-inconsistently officiated games I can recall in a while, and I’m probably way off on that, because poorly officiated NHL games are more commonplace than well officiated ones.
Look, the nature of refereeing such a fast sport with so many moving parts is that there’s going to be some stuff that gets missed. Stuff is gonna go wrong sometimes, that’s the reality of having on-ice officials refereeing hockey. But something’s gotta give at some point.
On Tuesday, the referees missed Evgeni Kuznetsov literally snap his stick in two by cross-checking Mat Barzal across the back. They then called a minor penalty on Barzal for cross-checking Kuznetsov only moments later. Yes, the retaliation by Barzal was stupid, and it’s something that’s always going to be called by NHL officials.
How about when Richard Panik and Scott Mayfield went at it in front of the benches after the second period had concluded? Why is it that Panik can rip the helmet off of Mayfield’s head, but Mayfield throws a punch and that’s it, he’s off to the box for two minutes.
Panik gets nothing. In fact he gets more than nothing. His team gets a power-play with the Islanders best penalty-killer off the ice, and they score on it! Wow!
I might sound like a salty Islander fan, and that’s because I am. But seriously, NHL officiating stinks. From its execution down to its philosophy, NHL officiating is some of the worst in the big-four North American pro sports.
I mean, we’re not talking about run-of-the-mill referee incompetence either, because that isn’t what this is often times. That isn’t the root of the problem most nights. The problem comes from, in my opinion, the NHL’s, and more broadly, hockey’s philosophical stance on officiating.
Referees should not alter the course of a game, and they should do everything in their power to call a game evenly, even if it means making a call on total non-penalties at any other point in a game.
But by attempting to do that, all the NHL’s referees are doing is actually inserting themselves into the action even more than if they just called the game by the book. Instead, they opt to “let the players play”, and then they call a penalty on team A. But, oh wait, now we’ve called a penalty on team A, now team B needs to get a penalty too, so it’s fair.
Does anyone else notice how ridiculous of a way this is to officiate a professional sport? People bet real money on this stupid league, and that’s how it wants to govern its play.
Officiating the games this way doesn’t insure the outcome isn’t decided by referees, in fact, I’d argue it does quite the opposite. By being wholly unpredictable and inconsistent with your ruleset, and by adjusting the parameters by the second for what constitutes a penalty, you don’t make the game fairer, or freer of referee’s influence.
Look at American football. If the Jets take 5 penalties and lose 60+ yards of field positioning because of it, the NFL’s (also notoriously poor) referees and officiating philosophy do not dictate that the Patriots must then be penalized similarly, regardless of any actual on-field infractions. That becomes part of the narrative: The Patriots were more disciplined than the Jets, and it played a factor in the game’s outcome.
That isn’t how it works in the NHL. In this league, referees routinely move the goal posts on what a penalty is and isn’t, just to facilitate that “fairness” that we’ve talked about. It’s stupid. Call the game by the rulebook, and if that means there are teams penalized more frequently because they can’t play the game by the rules, so be it.
Or, don’t call any penalties at all. Let teams get away with anything and throw the rules aside completely. But whatever it is, make it consistent. Don’t change the rules, or the way they’re enforced, by the minute to facilitate fair play.