Islanders: Firing Tim Peel Does Not Fix Hockey’s Officiating Problem

Anders Lee #27 of the New York Islanders argues with referee Dean Morton #36 during the second period against the Philadelphia Flyers at NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum on March 09, 2019 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Anders Lee #27 of the New York Islanders argues with referee Dean Morton #36 during the second period against the Philadelphia Flyers at NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum on March 09, 2019 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

If you read my three takeaways piece on the most recent New York Islanders and Washington Capitals game, you may recall a slide in which I talked about the state of NHL officiating and the downfalls of the “make-good call”.

Well, Tuesday, NHL referee Tim Peel admitted to something we already knew unofficially that NHL refs do. He wanted to give a make-good call by penalizing the Nashville Predators.

Unbeknownst to Peel, his microphone was not muted when he made this admission. So, when he uttered the words aloud it was heard by everyone watching the Fox Sports Tennessee broadcast of the Predators game against the Detroit Red Wings, not just his fellow officials.

“It wasn’t much, but I wanted to get a [expletive] penalty against Nashville early in the…” and then the mic cuts off, presumably because Peel or someone else noticed it was recording the conversation.

The Problem with NHL Officiating – How it Affects the Islanders & Everyone Else

The NHL has since announced that Peel will no longer be officiating their games. The ruling is really just sending Peel into early retirement since he was set to hang up his skates in the coming months anyway. But that doesn’t solve the problem really, now does it? Firing Peel does not alter the broken philosophy that permeates hockey officiating.

The NHL clearly isn’t interested in altering the way their games are officiated either. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly released a statement last night that the NHL would be “taking a look at” at the “hot-mic moment.” Wednesday morning, Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell released a follow-up announcing Peel’s essential firing.

“Nothing is more important than ensuring the integrity of our game,” said Campbell via a league statement. “Tim Peel’s conduct is in direct contradiction to the adherence to that cornerstone principle…”

What bothers me about this, (more than Campbell’s Orwellian title, that is) is that firing a lone referee does nothing to ensure integrity. It just scapegoats one man for a problem that is systemic. Everyone who watches hockey at any level knows make-good calls exist. We’re aware of the fact that referees intentionally move goalposts on what is and isn’t a penalty, and when it is or isn’t, in order to induce parity in individual games.

That isn’t just something that happens at the NHL level either. This philosophy of not influencing the game by completely and utterly influencing the game has permeated every level of ice hockey officiating. It’s a problem with the sport, not with the NHL.

Islanders center Mathew Barzal is hooked, chopped, held, slashed, tripped, and cross-checked without a penalty called every game. Why? Because it evens the playing field, supposedly. This happens to NHL stars league-wide.

Evgeny Kuznetsov broke his stick in half when he cross-checked Barzal in that Islanders game with the Caps. Then, Barzal takes a penalty for retaliation moments later. This isn’t defending the retaliation either, it’s simply pointing out the hypocrisy of not calling both penalties evenly.

The Islanders at Capitals game is just one example of a problem with officiating in hockey. As I said in that three takeaways piece from last week, make-good calls don’t make the game fairer because teams who fail to play within the rules aren’t punished for doing so. In fact, the team that plays within the rules is punished because of NHL officials’ desire to even out the two teams’ power-play minutes. It’s a ludicrous way to officiate a pro sport.

The NHL took the wrong approach on this one. They fired a tenured referee because he accidentally let slip that their convoluted philosophy on officiating exists when we all already knew it existed. No one wants to hear the bogus “integrity of the game” stuff, we want the games officiated right, as they should be because there is no integrity in the way they currently are.

The make-good call is a problem that will persist. It’s one of the great problems of the modern NHL, and the league’s flippant attitude towards this situation, trying to turn it into a problem of there being a live microphone present, should assure you of that.

The Islanders, other NHL teams, and anyone who watches this sport can see why this is a stupid way to officiate your game. Unfortunately, the NHL enjoys inducing parity for parity’s sake, and so I doubt anything changes on this front, even if it should.