NHL referees are the on-ice zebras we hockey fans love to hate. Except Wes McCauley, how can anyone hate a guy who gives us magnificent calls like this?
Okay, Toronto Maple Leafs fans hate him.
Then again, Toronto fans hate pretty much anyone. Not winning a Stanley Cup since 1967 will make you bitter like that.
The point is you’re not a real hockey fan unless you occasionally (or maybe more than occasionally) get irrationally mad at the on-ice officials.
Maybe they missed a major call? Maybe they gave your opponent a power play they didn’t deserve, thus ending with a puck in the back of your team’s net?
The NHL could have its solution to the referee problem that they currently have.
European hockey leagues are starting to have on-ice officials give post-game interviews. Most likely the NHL won’t follow suit any time soon.
Buffalo Sabres fans are still mad about Brett Hull’s skate being in the crease back in 1999. As a New Jersey Devils fan, perhaps I’m still mad about a delay of game call against Corey Schneider over about ten years ago (his skate barely left the trapezoid, so why bother calling that).
Imagine if there was a way to hold these refs accountable for their transgressions. European hockey leagues have found a way. What’s their solution? Make referees answer to the media.
It’s an idea that has floated around professional sports circles but never gained any real traction until now.
Jack Curry, broadcaster for the YES Network and New York Yankees baseball games, recently said if he were commissioner of baseball he would do the same for major league umpires.
In the aftermath of the Brett Hull incident, the NHL had to answer for the legitimacy of the cup clincher. Imagine if the referees behind the famous no-call had to answer questions immediately after with the cameras rolling.
As soon as the news of European referee interviews came out, there was no shortage on the hockey webs of “Should the NHL start doing this?”
As hockey fans, it’s something we’d love to see. It would provide accountability while also offering a “behind the scenes” look at what goes into calling a hockey game. There is one major challenge potentially standing in the way.
Just like how NHL players have their own unions, the one we always hear about when we get our lockout every ten years, so do the officials.
Any implementation of any type of “referee interviews” would have to be approved by them as well. Since this has the potential to put their members in an unfavorable situation and light, it’s hard to imagine the referee’s association being thrilled with such an idea.
Hypothetically speaking if the league agreed to something in the referee’s favor, such as higher pay in exchange for this, then maybe the union’s members would be more open to it.
Are we overestimating how much the hockey-watching public wants to hear from the referees? For every one “Brett Hull skate in the crease” type game there are a hundred uneventful games in terms of penalties.
Everyone wants to hear from the likes of Sidney Crosby, Jack Hughes, or Connor McDavid after a game. Would anyone want to hear from the referees if there were no substantiated complaints about that night’s penalties?
Maybe this could be a thing the league allows on a part-time basis. If the game ends without incident as far as officiating is concerned, the referees don’t need to do a post-game conference.
If there is a questionable or unfavorable call in the league’s eyes, then the league can say “Okay tonight the referees have to address the media”.
Other leagues have since taken action to reduce the power of in-game officials. MLB has famously tested the so-called “robot ump” in minor league games as a more efficient way of calling balls and strikes.
There is no way that is comparable to what a hockey referee does but perhaps similar technology can be used for offside calls in the future. Then again, that would negate the need for the linesmen, something the NHL officials union would be against.
If this referee interview thing works well in the European leagues we’re sure the NHL will take notice.
Until then, it’s back to the old way of holding referees accountable. By “old way”, we mean yelling things you normally wouldn’t from the cheap seats while the rest of the arena boos. Is it effective? Not really, but it makes us feel better so that’s all that matters.