I’m willing to bet many hockey fans have at least one time wanted to give the refs a piece of their mind. This feeling however, has gotten much more common within the past few years, and for good reason.
The NHL referees are just as disliked or, even more so, than Gary Bettman himself. So in this column I will try and shed some light onto why that has occurred, and no I won’t be writing this as a disgruntled Penguins fan. But I will be using game 3 of the Penguins and Capitals series as it is a great example.
Probably the biggest reason why the Refs are despised by the fans is their constant inconsistency in the playoffs.
This in other words means how at one point they can be calling everything, and not even three minutes later start letting the players play only to go back to calling everything another 5 minutes later. So there is always a question of what can and can’t be done.
The largest example for this inconsistency, unfortunately decided the game in overtime.
Earlier in the game Evgeni Malkin was called for closing his hand on the puck, which is a penalty, and Matt Cullen was blatantly hooked on a breakaway with no call. In overtime, Capitals forward Marcus Johansson caught a pass out of midair, closed his hand on the puck and threw it around Trevor Daley and then Daley checked Johansson down on the breakaway and got called for a holding penalty. This is a prime example of how the refs called something earlier in the game, but let it go at a crucial point in the game which should not happen. The refs also called Daley for a holding penalty which was clearly not a holding or even a penalty at all, and gave the Capitals their power play which they scored on to win the game.
The other reason the referees are so hated, is because most calls are left up to their discretion.
Even though the rule book clearly states the rules for penalties and such, most of it is still up to them on the end result.
One such call which is a very grey rule nowadays is the goalie interference call.
The official rule is that if a player interferes with the goalie’s ability to stop the puck that the goal will be disallowed. But the results of these calls are all over the place.
I have seen Carey Price get dragged out of the net and the goal still be allowed, and I have also seen Price get brushed by Jakob Silfverberg and the goal get called off. There was also a questionable goalie interference call in last night’s game.
Malkin threw a puck to the net, and it appeared to hit a defender and Chris Kunitz and trickle past Braden Holtby. The goal was originally ruled a good goal on the ice and after review, and then turned over after the Capitals challenged it. There was some contact with Holtby, but Kunitz was being pressed on by a Capitals defender and Holtby was not going to stop it from trickling in regardless of the contact, thus proving how this rule is such a controversial rule.
One other call that got lots of mixed reviews was the incident that led to Sidney Crosby’s concussion and Matt Niskanen’s 5 minute major and ejection from the game.
Some people think this call was a good call and others think he shouldn’t have gotten called.
So let’s take an in-depth look at how the play happened and break it down.
Crosby was driving to the net, and on his way to the net his was slashed in the arm and the head by Alexander Ovechkin. Along with that, Ovechkin took out Crosby’s left leg with a slew foot.
As Crosby was falling over and leaving the front of the net, Niskanen ended up cross checking Crosby in the head and thus injuring him.
The overall reception for what Niskanen did is mixed as well.
I believe it was intentional and not a “hockey play” and not due to the speed of the game. Yes hockey is a fast paced game, but not insanely fast.
The players skate in the 20-30 mph range at top speed, but Crosby and Niskanen were far from top speed.
Crosby was moving less than 10 mph and Niskanen actually raised his stick right to Crosby’s head level and even delivered a little extra push when contact was made. Niskanen has done antics like this all series which also leads to my conclusion that a 5 minute major was a good call.
All in all, the NHL referees approval level is decreasing quickly and I do not expect it to get better anytime soon with the factors of inconsistency and the fact that they can use their discretion for most calls.