Any fan of hockey knows the NHL’s officiating is suspect most of the time and outright egregious at the most inopportune times. Everyone knows the rulebook is enforced in two separate manners during the regular season and playoffs. Everyone knows make-up calls happen in every game. It’s baked into the entertainment experience of the NHL. It’s so embedded into the culture of the sport that, in some cases, we merely shrug at calls in apathy and say, “that’s NHL officiating.”
This isn’t new. It’s been a quiet underlying issue for decades.
Last night, now former NHL referee Tim Peel said the quiet part out loud.
Maybe if you're a mic'd up ref, you shouldn't express how you wanted to call a penalty against a team earlier in the game, changing how you ref the rest of the game.— Matt Best (@bestofmatt) March 24, 2021
"It wasn't much but I wanted to get a fuckin' penalty against Nashville early in the..."#Preds #LGRW pic.twitter.com/6fZImkdqLr
The NHL, predictably, responded in a lukewarm fashion.
Reached for comment regarding the hot-mic moment involving an official in Nashville, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly tells The Athletic, “We are taking a look at it.”— Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) March 24, 2021
This morning, the NHL came out with an official statement.
Referee Tim Peel no longer will be working NHL games now or in the future. https://t.co/mrnDc61W5P pic.twitter.com/tKsg2SwGh8— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) March 24, 2021
The NHL appears more concerned about what was said rather than what it confirms. Firing Peel is doing something, yes, but it’s along the lines of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Additionally, the fact Colin Campbell proclaims this is for “the integrity of the game” when he himself has jeopardized that very facet during his tenure with the league (and is still employed by said league!) is hypocritical and cronyistic.
Whether it’s enforcing headshot rules, inconsistent officiating, make-up calls, swallowing whistles entirely, or employing individuals who are incapable of adjudicating suspensions appropriately, the NHL consistently misses the mark. It’s comical, embarrassing, and downright lugubrious that a professional sports league repeatedly fails at handling the officiating situation time and time again.
Nowhere in the NHL’s statement addresses the real issue here; the make-up call pandemic that plagues the NHL. Nowhere does it state it will actively conduct a thorough review of the league's officiating arm to try and curb this mentality. The league did the absolute bare minimum and now wants to be applauded like they did something noteworthy.
Tim Peel has been an NHL official since October 21, 1999. He has 1,343 NHL games and 90 NHL playoff games under his belt. He was one of the most tenured officials in the league. If he has this thought process, then it’s not unbelievable that other officials have it as well.
A retired ref once talked to a group of NHL broadcasters and told a 90s story. Said he was calling a “perfect game” (no penalties all game) and then Mario got pulled down on a breakaway in third period. No call. “I couldn’t lose a perfect game.”— Josh Yohe (@JoshYohe_PGH) March 24, 2021
The arrogance of these guys. ♂️
This is a systemic and cultural issue that the NHL has repeatedly refused to address. Until there is a cleaning out of the “old boys club” in the league offices, change will never come. We will continue to bemoan and scream at the officiating issues until we’re blue in the face, but the NHL needs to be held accountable for the problem it continues to permeate.
"Game management" in the NHL has always been the fun way of saying refs do what they want because we know the old boy culture is rooted so deep in hockey and nothing changes, so the audio isn't shocking so much as a fun thing to see how Ron MacLean will try and cover for it.— Wyatt Arndt (@TheStanchion) March 24, 2021
Accountability does not fall on Tim Peel’s shoulders; he’s a product of the NHL’s mentality and a scapegoat. Accountability needs to fall on the league's entire officiating body and the NHL Officials Association (and let’s not start with this union that has done little to nothing to change anything).
The unfortunate part is the NHL sets the standard for all of North American hockey. If that standard is fundamentally flawed (which “game management” most certainly is), then a trickle-down effect infests the officiating model for every league in North America. Whether it be professional, semi-professional, junior, and even recreational, until the NHL leads by example, something the league has consistently failed to do in its existence, then nothing will change.
My ultimate fear is something along the lines of the NBA officiating scandal with Timothy Donaghy occurring and absolutely destroying what little credibility the Officials Association and NHL have left. If the league doesn’t take this hot mic “slip-up” seriously, then something along those lines will happen, and it’s going to be ugly.
What the NHL needs to do is call the game by the rule book. No ifs, ands, or buts. A hook in the first period is a hook in sudden death overtime—don’t hook, and you won’t get penalized. It really is that simple. Empower the officials and stand by them in this stance. Root out the mentality of “game management.” The officials will “manage” the game by calling penalties appropriately. Players and coaches will complain, but they’ll adjust as they adjust to every change the league mandates. The NHL and the officials cannot afford to have their credibility damaged any more than it already is. That is how this should be handled, but I doubt the league will handle it this way.