There's an optimistic and a pessimistic view of officiating in the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs. At best, we haven't seen a series of "intent to blow" controversies and botched video review calls; the Daniel Sedin travesty of "kicking" in the Vancouver Canucks/Los Angeles Kings series is perhaps our only real miscarriage of justice.
At worst, we've seen egregiously bad calls in every game and a couple of nights that rivaled NHL officiating at its most overwhelmed and embarrassing: Game 2 of the New Jersey Devils vs. Philadelphia Flyers series was atrocious, eclipsed by the pathetic penalty parade of Game 2 between the Detroit Red Wings and the San Jose Sharks.
If you believe the NHL referees are enforcing the rules differently in the playoffs than they did in the regular season, then you disagree with Commissioner Gary Bettman's assessment of the postseason. As he told Pierre LeBrun of ESPN last night in Chicago:
"They haven't been given a different set of instructions. The game is played a little differently, and the officials have to react to that. And there are adjustments that go on in the course of a series that you don't see over the course of the regular season, two teams will play and play different teams the next night.
"The games now are probably a little more intense. ... But no, they're told to call it just the way they did [in the regular season]. I also think the scrutiny tends to be even a little greater and the passion involved in every call is probably greater because every call is important ..."
"Scrutiny" is an interesting concept for playoff officiating. Bettman's using it to say calls are magnified and more intensely examined by fans, teams and media. Terry Gregson, senior vice president and director of officiating for the NHL, talked about a different kind of scrutiny on Bettman's radio show last week that might explain why so many playoff penalties are of a controversial, and oftentimes baffling, variety.
Before we get to that: What letter grade would you assign to the referees, assuming you've seen more hockey than just your own team's series?
Expand on your answers in the comments, please.
Terry Gregson appeared on The NHL Hour with Gary Bettman on XM Home Ice last week (via the Freep) and said the following about postseason officiating:
"The hockey changes. The pace picks up. But I have told our guys to maintain the standard. Let's say the standard is when there is something someone does to gain a competitive advantage, you don't judge the degree of consequence -- you judge just if there is a consequence."
Let's stop right there. The last line Gregson says is utterly at odds with the NHL's supplemental discipline edicts and rulings. Marian Hossa(notes) shoves Dan Hamhuis(notes) into the boards. Injured? Yes, but not severely. Stretcher? No. Suspension? Nope.
In his decision, Colin Campbell actually said "the fact that the consequences of the play do not appear to be as severe" was a factor in not suspending Hossa. So there was a consequence, but Campbell judged the degree of it.
"Players and coaches, when they get into the playoffs, are usually preaching discipline. You know what? I think there is more discipline in the playoffs, and therefore our guys have to react to those penalties that are there, and there are some huge impact penalties.
"Trust me: There is nothing ever said or written to say, 'Gentlemen, back off.' The message from me to them is, 'Gentlemen, stay the course.' It's important that we maintain the integrity because the game is everything; so keep calling the penalties and keep being courageous."
"Our guys have to react to those penalties that are there" ... in other words, teams are on better behavior, so the referees have to call penalties that may not make the cut in the regular season, to justify their existence.
The lack of blatant lapses in judgment by players in the playoffs leads to penalties of the "are you kidding me?" variety. And that's how fans and players and coaches get incensed in the playoffs.
Bettman also asked Gregson about teams getting called for repeated penalties (cough, Red Wings, cough) and makeup calls:
"Sometimes, the team that's taking the penalty let's their discipline slip, and you have to have the courage to keep the game on track ...
"In terms of the makeup concept, I don't think we'll change anybody's mind on that."
Nor should they because it would be convincing someone that their eyes are lying.
Overall, the officiating in this postseason hasn't been all that bad. But the worst moments have been terrible. Hopefully, Game 3 of the Detroit series brings the penalty calling back down to earth.