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NHL should reveal how its referees are punished for blown calls

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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Since Brendan Shanahan started his gig as head of the Department of Player Safety, there have been 62 suspensions and close to 40 fines for NHL players that violated the rulebook.

We know their names. We know their misdeeds. We know what the repercussions are, and they know that they’re on notice. It’s a public shaming, and that extra bit of scrutiny might be enough to keep them from misbehaving again.

Why doesn’t the same standard apply to other NHL employees?

In the last week, we’ve seen two blown calls that potentially altered the outcome of a game. There was David Backes’ phantom hit to the head of Kent Huskins, resulting in a match penalty and a 5-minute major during which the Detroit Red Wings scored in the third period. Then there was Andrew Desjardins of the San Jose Sharks getting ejected for another phantom head-shot on Jamal Mayers of the Chicago Blackhawks.

In both cases, the match penalties were quickly rescinded – hasty postgame corrections for egregious mistakes during the game. Said NHL supervisor of officials Mick McGeough after the Sharks game on Tuesday night:

“The way the linesman saw it on the ice, he was convinced it was a major penalty," McGeough told a pool reporter. "Unfortunately, he was wrong. It’s been overruled, taken care of by the League and Brendan Shanahan and the safety committee, and there are no more issues right now. ... Jonny Murray made the call. Unfortunately, he wasn’t overruled by the referee. It is what it is.”

So what happens to Jonny Murray? And what happens to the officials that whistled Backes for a head-shot that never happened?

From Puck Daddy reader Andy Santoro:

I think it's time for the NHL Officials Association and the NHL to stop pretending. We all know that officials get sanctions in some way. Stop the star chamber thing and make it public. When players make bad enough mistakes, they get fined or suspended and we hear about it. When coaches make bad enough mistakes, they get fined or suspended and we hear about it. When officials make bad enough mistakes, they get fined or suspended and we hear how the game is officiated by humans and they make mistakes.

Agreed.

The only time we get a sense of an official’s punishment for failing to meet the basic standards of their job – not dramatically affecting the game with a blown call, for example – is when they’re left out of the postseason rotation. And then it’s just a guessing game as to why.

The officials are coddled by the NHL. They don’t have to speak to their actions after games. They’re not made available for interviews in-season, by and large. When the hammer comes down on them for screwing up, we’re not privy to it.

No one expects a daily email from the NHL detailing what was said or done to an official for his blunder the previous night. But something – anything – from the League that gives fans a sense that botched calls don’t just result on a slap on the wrist would go a long in building trust between the parties; in that we’re willing to forgive a botched call on an epic scale if we know there are repercussions.

What’s the harm? Is it fear that a referee whose fines or demotions are made public will have a target on him as being incompetent? Fear not, NHL: All you'll be doing is officially sanctioning what we already know about Tim Peel.

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