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Stewart: Situation Room Officials Should Be Identified

May 14, 2024, 2:10 PM ET [35 Comments]
Prior to last night's two playoff games, I spoke with HockeyBuzz's resident officiating expert, U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer Paul Stewart, about the Sam Bennett goalie interference non-call in Game 4 against Boston.

"I've spoken over and over again about the topics of goaltender interference, officials being improperly positioned, and this mentality that we'll just fix everything on replay via the so-called Situation Room. Specific to the play with Bennett the other night, I wrote about it in (Monday's) blog," Stewart said.

"What I can add to what I wrote is this. Back in the days of cavemen and ice bridges, referees and linesmen had our names on the back of our sweaters. We were also expected to be available to speak to the media after a controversial call. It was usually via a pool reporter. I never had an issue with it. The current system, where no officials have their names on the jerseys and are forbidden from speaking to the media -- and, in turn -- neither coaches nor players can publicly criticize an official's work lest a fine get levied, was created in a misguided attempt to quell controversies. I don't think there's any doubt that it hasn't worked. But it's hard to just reverse course, willy nilly.

"But I have another concern here. Whenever we say about replay reviews, 'The call was made by the Situation Room in Toronto' or simply 'Toronto', what the hell does THAT mean? The call wasn't made by the entire city of Toronto. Who were the people, or what person did the buck stop with? I worked in the NHL as a referee for 16 years, and then as a supervisor. I still have a lot of friends and contacts. Yet, if you asked me who constitutes the replay crew in Toronto and who get the final verdict, I don't know. What are everyone's credentials? Beats me.

"When you look at close judgement calls, like whether Bennett shoved Charlie Coyle enough to inhibit [Jeremy] Swayman from having a fair opportunity for a save, WHO ruled that? On the ice, we had a referee who only arrived at the net -- on a broken play -- in time to confirm the puck had, in fact, crossed the line. That's the positioning issue. Was he involved in the judgment call about goalie interference? Did he observe the contact? How did 'Toronto' come up with its final decision on a mighty important play to the final outcome? It's too opague, and didn't need to be."

Stewy's proposal: "At a minimum, I think the replay crew members should be part of the game sheet, along with the officiating supervisor assigned to that game. That's not the entire solution. I think there's a lot of things about both the on-ice coaching and off-ice review transparency that need to be reconsidered, in my view. But I think it's a first step. I hate the term 'Situation Room'. As the late George Carlin said, 'EVERYthing is a situation'. I want to know specifically who is judging the situation."

Stewart was not a loss for words about the lack of supplementary discipline regarding the Bennett incident with Brad Marchand.

"Why wasn't Bennett's punch to Marchan considered for supplemental discipline?" Stewart asked rhetorically.

"Rightfully so, they reviewed Marchand's slew foots a few years ago. I must say that the guy has largely changed his style the last couple years. He plays a lot differently. But was this a 'payback' or some type of Old West dusty street justice? That mentality still exists, not all that different from the [Tie] Domi sucker punch on [Ulf] Samuelsson. Back when I was refffing, [Brendan] Shanahan speared a player one night, and I tossed him. His response as he walked out the door was "Jesus, Stew, it's only [Darcy] Tucker. Why would you protect that SOB?' Because it was a spear, that's why. Same thing here with the punch."

Lastly, Stewy also wanted us to pass along his condolences to the family and many friends of legendary NHL and WHA referee Bill Friday, who passed away over the weekend.
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