What The NHL Gets Right About Officiating

Hockey article at Knup Sports

Officiating is always a topic of discussion in any sport, and is as relevant as ever after NFL refs handed a game-winning first down to the Chiefs in Super Bowl 57. Could something like that happen in the NHL?

Super Bowl 57 this past Sunday was the 3rd most-watched television event in US history, behind Super Bowl 49 and the Moon landing. 113 million people tuned in and watched an objectively riveting football game, one that went back and forth until the bitter (and I mean bitter) end. In front of a hundred million people, the referees stole the show.

While the NHL refs might be downright awful at times, could they ever do something as egregious and putrid as that?

Not Perfect

Hockey is an interesting sport to officiate. The game is a back-and-forth action that can go on theoretically for 20 minutes. A lot of the officiating is subjective. In scrums where gloves are flying at faces, or when a net-front battle turns into an unjustifiable cross-check, refs have to make the choices they see fit for the game in its present situation.

And hockey is a game where far more is tolerated. There would be riots in Canada if the NHL implemented a penalty akin to “Taunting” in the NFL. Chirping is part of the sport, and officials are not excluded. Refs are commonly caught on hot-mics yelling expletives at players, and this is totally fine. If you’re a hockey fan, odds are you find it silly that any sport will allow a ref to dish out a penalty because they were offended, like in the NBA and NFL.

There are obviously terrible calls in the NHL all the time. They become a topic of discussion for coaches, players, and fans alike. Ask any fan of any team, and they’ll no doubt have at least 4 or 5 calls or non-calls that they got over. The infamous “Ref You Suck!” chant is, to my eye, way more popular in the NHL than in any other major American sport.

Just Better

Let’s jump back to the Super Bowl for a moment. The game was tied 35-35 with less than two minutes remaining. Kansas City had a 3rd down that, if they failed to convert on, they would have to kick a field goal and then give the ball back to Philidelphia with ample time for the Eagles to attempt to tie the game.

The play was an incomplete pass; however, the officials deemed that a Philadelphia player had held the Kansas City wide receiver who was gunning for the ball. 10-yard penalty, first down, the game essentially over. The problem was that the call was ticky-tac at best.

The Philadelphia player did technically hold the Chiefs player, but to the eyes of most, it was not enough to warrant a flag at such a pivotal point in the season.

This is the fundamental philosophy that the NHL gets right; Let the players decide the outcome of the game. Late in game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, you’d practically have to kill someone to attract a penalty.

This is exactly how it should be, and we, as hockey fans, should rejoice in the fact that our league has embraced this concept. It is expected unanimously that the NHL refs will swallow the whistle when it matters most.

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