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Officiating Quagmire: Buck Stops at the Top

June 8, 2019, 7:46 AM ET [19 Comments]
Paul Stewart
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In hockey as with everything in life, there is a cause and an effect. As that relates to last night's non-call of Tyler's Bozak's trip (or slew foot) of Noel Acciari midway through the third period, David Perron's subsequent game-winning goal in St. Louis' 2-1 win turned the play into the latest red-hot officiating controversy during what has been a controversy-filled spring.

If St. Louis did not score, no one would be talking about this today. I doubt that I'd be writing about it, either. But the Blues did score, and now we've sunk even deeper into the quagmire.

First of all, let's state the obvious: it was a missed call not just by near-side referee Kelly Sutherland but also by trailing referee Steve Kozari. Because it was a potential major penalty, the linesmen share in the responsibility as well. The third team on the ice did not rise to the occasion as a unit.

The infraction was such that, even in a tied game in the third period of a Stanley Cup Final game, a penalty should have been called.

No question about it. Officials exist to judge plays. This play was misjudged. Now we must be worried about on ice officiating. Some brilliant minds, I can't say "Hockey Minds," are calling for an eye in the sky to make the calls instead of four human beings on the ice. I guess I could apply for one of those jobs.

Arm-chair refereeing is a mighty easy thing to do from the cheap seats, the couch or behind a computer keyboard. Actually being on the ice and making the call is something entirely different, because more often than not it is that you are damned if you do and damned if you don't.

When the NHL made a big show out of apologizing for certain calls or non-calls during this years playoffs ---sending some the officials home for the rest of the playoffs --- they created their own cause-and-effect of officials being reluctant to take an action that could "decide the game" vs. "letting the players play." Most fans paying the BIG $ for playoffs want to see speed, flow and great players playing all out as they strive for The Stanley Cup.

We should remember how fast the game moves in real time (especially at ice level) and keep in mind that no one has a crystal ball to know when a non-call may actually prove more detrimental than making a call. Not calling something that should have been called is as equally incorrect as making a poor judgement call or guessing on play. RULE # 1: Positioning sells your call. BE IN POSITION and eliminate possibilities for errors.

Ultimately, when situations like last night pops up over and over again, the real elephant in the room is not the "competency" of the officials -- Sutherland is one of the top guys in the NHL, for example -- the onus falls on the the officiating policies and procedures which may be old, tired and not up to the level of play in this, the 21st century.

Officials can make mistakes, they are that human. At what point do we stop repeatedly removing officials for errors they make and take a hard look at the same old, same old standards for recruiting, coaching those that are recruited and supporting those recruited humans who decide to put on striped shirts and try to forge a career.

It has long been my opinion that a review of the Rule Book with the foresight to understand not only what to add or change but also why we should NOT do anything at all, in other words, what the unintended consequences might be must come soon. Not arming the officials with an up to date rule and case book for procedures is like sending soldiers into battle armed with sling shots instead of M-16's.

There is a truism that extends far beyond hockey: The buck has to stop at the top in any effective organization. That is part and parcel of leadership. In Officiating, everyone involved in that department must feel compelled to take the bit and lead. Being perpetually reactive rather than proactive, never taking a hard look at what needs work is not going to allow the system the opportunity to be "fixed.". The NHL must feel compelled to make changes from top to bottom -- recruiting, retention, coaching and supervision.

The PRIMARY work must be reviewing and fixing the Rule Book!

From there, an overall look at all the other aspects in the department would be the start to "fix" the problems we see happening on the ice. It all comes down to words borrowed from the Notre Dame Fight Song, "Shake Down the Thunder from the Sky." Can't hurt and likely will help.

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A Class of 2018 inductee to 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 games.

Visit Paul's official website, YaWannaGo.com
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