The NHL has an officiating problem.
This is a blanket statement that rings true in most sports, but every fan’s suspicion after years of questioning penalties or making baseless accusations about officials’ leanings came to light on Tuesday night when the Nashville Predators hosted the Detroit Red Wings.
With 4:54 gone in the second period, Predators forward Viktor Arvidsson was called for a trip of Red Wings defenseman Jon Merrill. Upon a second look, Merrill embellished his fall — one could even call it a flop — while in the offensive zone while referee Tim Peel called the infraction from center ice, nearly 100 feet away with closer officials letting it go.
Just minutes later, Peel could be heard on a hot mic set up by the Predators’ home television broadcast team saying “it wasn’t much but I wanted to get a f—ing penalty against Nashville early.”
It’s one thing to suspect the official has it out for your team at any given moment. It’s something entirely different and integrity-shattering to hear what most hockey viewers have long believed: NHL referees tailor the policing of the rules to ensure penalties are called evenly rather than fairly.
How many times have you heard an announcer say something along the lines of “well, the refs seem to be letting things go tonight” or “they’re putting their whistles in their pockets”?
How many times have you seen a soft penalty called on a team that recently came off of a power play and gone “that’s a wake-up call”?
Naturally, Peel’s comments hurled the league into full-on damage control as its dirty laundry was finally aired.
“Nothing is more important than ensuring the integrity of our game,” NHL senior executive vice-president of hockey operations, Colin Campbell, said. “Tim Peel’s conduct is in direct contradiction to the adherence to that cornerstone principle that we demand of our officials and that our fans, players, coaches and all those associated with our game expect and deserve. There is no justification for his comments, no matter the context or his intention, and the National Hockey League will take any and all steps necessary to protect the integrity of our game.”
Peel was banned from officiating NHL games on Wednesday — officially labeled the scapegoat for a practice the league has been doing for years.
Just this year alone, the total number of power plays rewarded to 19 of 31 teams are within 20 opportunities of each other. Go to the boxscore of almost any game this season and you’ll see that penalties between teams are within one or two of each other.
They even let egregious penalties — like Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson’s boarding of Boston Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo when he left his feet to drive his head into the glass earlier this month — go without a call, leaving an inept department of player safety to inflict underwhelming punishments.
Is it too much to ask for justly officiated games, even if the penalties are lopsided? It shouldn’t be.