We hear it every season, and we hear it even louder in every post-season.
The NHL has an officiating problem. It renders games all but unwatchable. It’s truly the only sport where we as fans simply accept that penalties are just going to happen when they happen, and it will have zero correlation with what’s actually happening on the ice.
Fans were treated to a rank display on April 30, when the Boston Bruins visited the Tampa Bay Lightning for game 2. It’s a real shame because most of the actual hockey was spectacular. Both teams have legitimate gripes about the calls, even if on balance it did shift somewhat in favor of the home team. But it’s impossible to overstate how horrid the officiating was until we analyze all 6 goals in the 4-2 game and find that none of them should have counted.
1. Yanni Gourde – 11:47/1st 1-0 TBL
This one was easy enough. It was scored on a powerplay brought on by a slashing call that was a complete phantom. Torey Krug hit Brayden Point in the stick, and admittedly got close to his groin, but nothing near the hands or arms. Point did not deceive the official by shaking his glove or snapping his arm back. (Oh and before the goal was scored, the referees did not notice the net off its moorings for what felt like 70 seconds. Great work there.)
2. Charlie McAvoy – 18:30/1st 1-1
This one you have to backtrack on just a bit. McAvoy scored shortly after a faceoff deep in the Lightning zone following an icing call. On that icing call, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos was visibly interfered with as he attempted to get around the Bruins defenders to negate the icing call. While we can’t say for sure if he would have won that race, the fact that the Bruins players were holding him up rather than racing him would indicate that they did not anticipate that they would win that race. Plus that’s interference either way.
3. Tyler Johnson – 10:14/2nd 2-1 TBL
I know this won’t be exactly what you’d expect in this type of column, but it still has merit. A few seconds before this goal was scored, Tyler Johnson was tripped by Charlie McAvoy as he entered the zone pursuing a loose puck. This is still tripping or possibly interference even if McAvoy was making a good faith effort to reach a loose puck. Just the same as interference is called when a player pursues a loose puck into the corner and bumps an opponent out of his skating line rather than engaging and battling for position. It’s weak and it was a missed call on Boston, but nevertheless it should have been whistled dead and Tampa should have had a powerplay.
4. Ondrej Palat – 14:08/3rd 3-1 TBL
Right before Palat scored what would eventually be the game winning goal, the linesman waved off an icing call as Brayden Point almost got ahead of the Bruins defender. This one maybe could stand because the players racing for the icing call were just about equidistant from the puck, but the Bruins player was closer to the end boards. And my understanding of the rule is that a tie is not icing. However, Bruins fans certainly have a legitimate gripe here.
5. Torey Krug – 15:58/3rd 3-2 TBL
Immediately off the face-off that leads to this goal, Brad Marchand grabs Ryan McDonagh’s stick and pulls it back which prevents both McDonagh’s ability to stick check the shot, and potentially place his body in a position that could block the shot. Even if McDonagh wouldn’t have been able to block the shot through either of these methods, holding the stick is still a penalty, and this was an extremely obvious case of it.
6. Brayden Point (EN) – 19:34/3rd 4-2 TBL
Just a few moments before the breakout that lead to this goal, Anton Stralman got away with a pretty ugly cross-check in the Lightning defensive zone. Shortly after that, the puck was cleared and Brayden Point iced the game.
So there you have it, a 6-goal playoff hockey game. High skill level, breakneck speed, and every single goal was the result of the remarkable incompetence of the NHL officials. What should have just been an exciting game to watch became an excruciating experience in just trying to parse what would or would not be a penalty. The players operate on such a high level to bring the fans the best product possible, and the officials completely shit all over it. Coaches are confused, players are confused, fans are confused and frankly at each other’s throats over it.
Could you imagine if there was a 28-17 game in the NFL playoffs where one could make a decent argument that every single touchdown was the result of referee incompetence? No you certainly couldn’t. NFL officials have their fair share of screwups, but I doubt I would ever get an opportunity to write something like this about that league. The NHL needs to fix itself, because this is completely absurd.