Sports

NHL’s referee problem goes way beyond Tim Peel debacle

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Let me know when the NHL fires vice president and director of officiating Stephen Walkom instead of referee Tim Peel, and I’ll believe the league is onto something.

Peel, of course, was fired posthaste after a hot-mic clip caught the referee saying he “wanted to get” an “early” penalty against the Predators after he made a marginal tripping call 4:46 into the second period of their game against the Red Wings on Tuesday.

There’d been only one prior penalty assessed against Detroit, so the desire to even things up at that juncture seems odd, but then again, that’s Peel, who had long before announced his intention to retire at the end of the season.

The NHL, which acted shocked, shocked we’ll say, that such a thing would exist in its universe, though the league, both before and throughout Walkom’s tenure at the top of the officiating food chain, has countenanced its officials managing games for decades.

Before introduction of the hard cap in 2005-06, the league permitted, if not encouraged, low-payroll teams to engage in blatant obstruction and interference in order to even the scales against clubs with higher payrolls and, thus, more talented squads.

How on earth do you think the Panthers were able to defeat both the Legion of Doom Flyers and the Mario Lemieux-Jaromir Jagr Penguins en route to the 1996 Cup finals, in which they were swept by the Avalanche?

It is all about keeping it close in the NHL. That is the purpose of the losers’ point. That is the purpose of even-up, arbitrary calls — and, just as importantly, non-calls — that dot the landscape on a nightly basis.

Tim Peel
Tim Peel
AP

Then, of course, come the playoffs, where officials willfully ignore the rule book and permit mayhem after almost every whistle under the guise of “allowing the boys to play.” Of course, this skews the tournament results in favor of brawn every time. One way for 82 games (or, in the alternative, 56) and another way for the games that count the most.

Talent is showcased through the regular season. Sandpaper takes the stage in the playoffs. The tournament is managed, too.

Now, is it likely that Walkom operates independently from the wishes of Sixth Avenue? Not in the least. But that does not excuse the widespread incompetence and inefficiency on display across the continent on a regular basis, and that does not excuse the lack of public accountability from his department.

If there is to be change in the way games are officiated, there must be a change at the top of the department. Wake me when that happens.


By the way, this notion that the NHL reacted so quickly to Peel saying the quiet part out loud in order to assuage its corporate gambling partners might make some sense if the league’s injury policy was not so opaque and it prodded coaches to name starting goaltenders more than a half-hour in advance of game-time.

Imagine if the league reacted to email leaks from its executives regarding concussions and “little fake artists” the way it did to a hot-mic leak.

There was this time about two years after Peel was disciplined by the league for having a photo posted online of him having a drink with a reporter that the referee happened into a hotel lobby bar in Glendale, Ariz., at which I was imbibing following a Rangers-Coyotes match.

The ref pulled up a seat, signaled the bartender to provide me with another round and said: “You’re not going to write about this, are you?” A few more rounds flowed.


In recognition of Mika Zibanejad, the NHL’s all-time top five No. 93s: 1. Doug Gilmour; 2. Zibanejad; 3. Petr Nedved; 4. Jakub Voracek; 5. Keith Yandle. Honorable Mention: Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Mention: Nikolay Zherdev (in Philadelphia).


If the Jackets cannot get pending free agent Nick Foligno to sign an extension before the April 12 trade deadline, then, A) Doesn’t Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen owe it to the franchise’s future to move the team captain rather than keep him for a playoff drive; and, B) Doesn’t Foligno fit perfectly into the mold of a Lou Lamoriello-Barry Trotz player?

Foligno is also the exact type of player the Rangers should be seeking to add this offseason, even if at age 33 he might not be the right guy. Zach Hyman, the pending free agent out of Toronto who will be 29 when next season begins, has a similar profile.

But someone might want to explain to me how the Blueshirts are going to make room for a grit-type winger on the side where Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider and Alexis Lafreniere reside.

Of course, Hyman is a righty and can play the right side. Which is the province of Pavel Buchnevich, Kaapo Kakko and, perhaps, Vitali Kravtsov.


No organization in pro sports would benefit from John Tortorella’s boot-camp mentality as much as the Sabres. And Tortorella, of course, does not have a contract that goes beyond this season in Columbus.

But though half the Sabres — and that probably includes management — might not survive Tortorella, the larger question is: At this stage of his life, would Tortorella survive the Sabres?


Kyle Palmieri to the B’s makes all kinds of sense, but not if the exchange simply brings back another prospect or draft choice or two.

The Devils need to move beyond that phase of their endless construction project — one playoff appearance and one playoff game victory since 2012 under three different regimes fronted by Lamoriello then Ray Shero and now Tom Fitzgerald — and add an established top-sixer or two to take some of the weight off Jack Hughes.


Finally, with the 2022 Olympic Games just over 10 months away, it is appropriate to dig out that napkin on which Leo McGarry wrote: “FOX FOR AMERICA.”

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