What is the purpose of a referee?

Last night's game was good hockey for the most part -- just a thoroughly entertaining game even though it was heartbreaking with the outcome...

However I had two big bane's during the game. One of them was something I have already harped on (That being EPSN :-p ). The other I have wanted to bitch about for a long time now and have wanted Keith to take a try writing a piece on it as well because he is far more knowledgeable in hockey than I am.

That problem is the refs.

Throughout the game, and throughout the series, there has been a plethora of thuggery from Philadelphia. Bill Clement (in a previous game) went so far as to hide it,. during a telecast, by saying Martin St. Louis "ran into" Keith Primeau's elbow on a check. The problem is Primeau was the one running into a stationary St. Louis, and it's been his form of checking the entire series -- elbow first.

That's a penalty refs, call it.

Of course, others are quick to point out Tampa Bay retaliation. Martin St. Louis isn't going to be smashing these guys in a physical retort -- so a whack with the stick is all that can be accomplished.... That's slashing.

That's a penalty refs, call it.

Last nights game was able to be played despite wrestling antics from both teams - with no calls. Breakaways were broken up with hooking, holding the stick, boarding and roughing infractions.

No calls. For either team.

And of course this problem I have doesn't just stem from the officials last night but the officials all playoffs long in all games. A lackadaisical approach from Kerry Frazer and company has been a hindrance to the playoffs. Oh, and when refs do get involved (see Calgary vs. Vancouver) they try to take the spotlight and drive a point to the players not to question referees. It's stoking their own ego but not enforcing the rules -- it's enforcing what they feel like, when they feel like it.

It's bullshit and it must be stopped if the NHL is ever going to be considered more than a 2nd tier league in the United States.

You can watch the NFL and see consistently the hardest-to-spot infractions getting called and yardage being assessed against the infraction. That's what penalties are supposed to do - set you back and teach you not to do this crap. The NHL -- both the players and the executives -- leave it to the players to enforce these rules more than they let the referees call games consistently. Of 82 games played in the regular season for the Tampa Bay Lightning, there is no way I can say that refs called each game fairly and consistently from the start of the regular season until the end. That's not even getting into the Playoffs where the rules were thrown out the door. Obstruction? Boarding? Hooking? Who needs them?!

It's bullshit, plain and simple.

I had a friend tell me that the 'Bolts given more power play opportunities because of how well they were performing on the power play on Thursday night. "It would look like the league was in Tampa Bay's favor because they were allowing the Bolts chance after chance and they kept putting the puck in back of the Flyers net.." That's true -- and instead of teaching Philadelphia (and Tampa Bay - infractions went both ways) a lesson how dirty play will screw you in the end, they decided to butt out and let the game go on and on. That makes the entire administration system look like a joke - what use are the rules if you won't enforce them?

If you think that's how hockey should be played -- by all means, lobby to have referees abolished so that players alone enforce the rules on the ice.

If you're like me and think the rules are there for a reason - you'll be nodding your head at most of what I write here. I've written in the past about the NHL hypocrisy of how they enforce the rules, and I continue to believe this is part of the reason why the NHL hasn't caught on in the States. You can't clearly tell what a penalty is when the refs are so passive and selective what to call, or when they call games like outside forces are guiding their judgment. It's a difficult job, and I don't mean to just slander them with this post, but when you turn a blind eye in order to allow the spectacle of continuous play, you are pissing on the rule book that gave you a job in the first place.

When there is an infraction in the NFL - it's called all season long, game in and game out, without varying. Yes, there are questionable calls, but you can depend on the refs to call something if there is an infraction happening continuously on the field.

You might be able to say the same about the NBA -- I don't watch and I realize that's an even tougher sport to govern over than the high action NFL and the constantly moving NHL -- and certainly there are bad calls in Baseball but they don't always blindly overlook obvious infractions....

You can't say the same thing about the NHL - and that is part of the problem.