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The Stew: Playoff Magic, The Buck Stops Where, Supervisors, & More

May 17, 2024, 2:26 PM ET [0 Comments]
Paul Stewart
Blogger •Former NHL Referee • RSSArchiveCONTACT
The Beauty of Playoff Hockey

I enjoyed the hell out of both NHL playoff games last night.

First of all was quite the third-period turnaround in last night's Rangers vs. Carolina game! Earlier in the game, the Hurricanes' Jordan Martinook made one of the best goal-saving plays -- with a fraction of an inch to spare before the puck could completely cross the goal line -- that I've ever seen. By the ref, kudos to the referee for his perfect positioning on the play. He made the right call BECAUSE he was in perfect position to see it.

Meanwhile, the Vancouver vs. Edmonton game was a seesaw affair. The Canucks managed to contain the previously red-hot Edmonton power play and came on top, 3-2, after trailing 1-0 and 2-1.

Regarding the first-period delay of game penalty on the Canucks' Quinn Hughes, it was another case where too much judgment has been taken out of the hands of on-ice officials, in my opinion. The puck being shot over the glass (as opposed to off the glass and over, or deflected off a stick) used to be a judgment call rather than automatic penalty.

A History Lesson

A quick history lesson on rule evolution: Flyers goaltender Ron Hextall, an excellent puckhandling goalie, used to shoot the puck over the glass deliberately to relieve pressure or if he didn't like his outlet pass options.So it became an automatic delay of game penalty for a goalie to put a non-deflected puck over the glass. For a number of years thereafter, position players could still do it without being penalized unless it was deemed deliberate.

The 1995-96 Florida Panthers were notorious for using blatant delay tactics -- pucks over the glass in the D zone and frequent icings -- to keep opponents from getting into a rhythm. It worked , as an underdog Panthers team beat favored Boston, Philadelphia (the top team in the East during the regular season), and Pittsburgh (the NHL's highest-scoring team with Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, Petr Nedved, etc.) to reach the Cup Final.

There was always the discretion to call a delay of game. But, unless it was blatant or too excessive, in general, it's a pretty chintzy penalty. Many officials disliked calling it, and often gave a good deal of leeway. The Panthers, like a baseball pitcher who throws a first pitch on the black, then a second an inch outside and a third an inch-and-half, bent and stretched the limits of delay tactics to where it became controversial.

Over time, the NHL turned the delay of game into an automatic penalty; no leeway, even if clearly accidental. This was the IIHF model before the NHL adopted it. I never liked it. How many times a season do teams end up down TWO men because a penalty killer who was trying to chip the puck off the glass, accidentally put it over? It's not uncommon.

Where Does the Buck Stop?

The other day, speaking to Eklund, I raised some points about the "fix it in replay" mentality that has become pervasive around hockey -- not just in the NHL, but the NHL is the model that others follow. I also commented for the umpteenth time on what I consider to be poor positional coaching of officials and the messiness of the Rule Book itself where goaltender interference is concerned.

I stand by all of it. I also have some additional thoughts.

1) If we're going to have the "Situation Room" in Toronto so deeply involved in making possibly game-deciding decisions, I think there needs to be more transparency about the review process, the composition of the remote crew, WHO makes the final decision, and what the rational was per the Rule Book.

2) From what I know about the Situation Room, which isn't as complete as I'd like it to be, there's no small amount of patronage involved in who gets this gig. Friends and relatives, folks who never officiated on the ice at any level of the game or ever played professionally should NOT be part of the process. That seems like it should be common sense, but operationally isn't always the case.

3) I strongly believe that the officiating supervisor for each game should be publicly identified. Supervisors should ALWAYS have a background as a professional on-ice official. That, too, isn't always the case.

For example, two former NHL players -- good guys but never professional referees or linesmen themselves -- have been officiating supervisors for the last decade. I'm not disparaging anyone's hockey knowledge. But unless you've officiated, it's mighty tough to adequately supervise and direct that aspect of the game. \hat's like hiring a chef to supervise agriculture. The professions are inter-reliant, yes, but they're still quite different.

4) The NHL's written explanations of reviewed calls are inadequate. Saying "it was determined that there was interference" or "the puck was not played with a high stick" does not explain HOW that conclusion was reached or WHY the final ruling differed from a nearly identical looking play.

5) I feel bad for longtime NHL referee Dave Jackson being tasked with trying to publicly explain to viewers why some of the more mystifying decisions are made. Other leagues allow their officiating commentators to be critical of review booth or on-field decisions (including aspects of vantage point and positioning). In hockey, the leeway ends with parroting the league's sparse explanation.

These cutaway commentaries could be a whole lot more informative (and entertaining) if elements of anecdotal and empirical evidence were part of the commentary. Talk about how YOU were taught to position yourself on similar plays. Talk about what does on in during an on-ice conference by officials. Talk about any give-and-take in the dialogues that go one with replay officials.

You wanna bet?

The NHL is fighting a losing battle in trying to keep these processes opaque. As soon as the door was opened to sports betting, especially in a day and age where damn never EVERYTHING can be wagered upon.

Which team will score the first goal? Which team will score the next goal? Apart from the final score, which team will win the next period? Sponsors want more transparency because their customers (who have money riding on each call and/or goal) demand it.

By the way, in a similar manner, the hockey tradition of teams being circumspect ("upper-body" or "lower-body") or mum ("undisclosed") about injuries will not last forever. NHL teams don't want transparency because their hockey ops departments don't want it. But NHL teams very much want the revenues, and injury info is a hurdle in growing such revenues. That's why the NFL injury information and projected absence periods tends to be much less opaque: It's driven by demand for betting purposes.

If the NHL thinks it can both have and eat from the sportsbook revenue cake -- and aim for larger slices in the future -- they're fooling themselves. Bettor-geared info will have to become more detailed and readily available for the revenue stream to grow to meet its potential. That's just reality.

Condolences to the McDonald family

I was saddened to hear about the passing of legendary Hockey Hall of Fame broadcaster Jiggs McDonald's wife of 62 years, Marilyn, over Mother's Day weekend.

Born in 1940, she met Jiggs in 1959. They got married three years later. My condolences go out to Jiggs, daughters Kelly and Susan, son-in-law Jim, grandchildren Jack and Eva, and to Marilyn's siblings, nephews and nieces. She was a special lady and Jiggs adored her.

People who know Jiggs will attest to this: It's never long into any conversation that he will talk about his family, and he is a world-class storyteller. Being in the hockey broadcasting business, his career took him across North America, with stints living in LA and Atlanta before going to Long Island. Marilyn was always by his side. She worked in real estate.


A 2018 inductee into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, Paul Stewart holds the distinction of
being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL game.
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