2022 Stanley Cup playoffs – How officials handle the intensity and scrutiny that postseason hockey brings

IT'S ROUND 1. You can find the Stanley Cup playoffs, and Boston BruinsYou are in the midst of Carolina HurricanesIn Game 2 in Raleigh, North Carolina. Tensions flare up early as Boston wingser David PastrnakCarolina goalie comes to an agreement Antti RaantaThis knocked him out of play with a bloody mouth. Nearly every whistle is filled with scrums. Four Bruins players are currently in the penalty box at one point. Boston lost a player, too, as defenseman Hampus LindholmAfter taking a significant hit from the opponent, I exited the game during the second period. Andrei Svechnikov.

It seems like everything could go out of control at any time.

This is playoff hockey. The stakes are high and emotions run high. This is playoff hockey. The teams are more familiar and there is more physicality. The NHL has reported that there has been a 45% increase in hitting in playoff games over regular-season games.

This postseason already saw a few controversial cross-checks and brawls. There was also an ejection, a suspension for boarding of one game and several goalie interference reviews.

Game officials are responsible for keeping the lid on this mess and preventing it from becoming a tinderbox. In hockey arenas across North America, the default chant has been, “Ref! You suck!”

Flashback six more weeks The NHL's general managers met in Florida in March and Gary Bettman addressed them: “It is time to talk about officiating.”

The week was difficult for the men in blue, with two missed calls late in the evening. Coyotes-Maple LeafsAnd Oilers-CapitalsBoth games directly precede the deciding goals. A feisty news conference was also held Colorado AvalancheCaptain Gabriel LandeskogIn which he stated: “In 11years, I've never spoken about referees at a press conference.” Sometimes, players need to speak up and be honest.

According to several people at the March session, Bettman stood at the front of the ballroom at the Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa and acknowledged that the league's officiating isn't perfect.

Bettman argued with 32 general managers that “all of you know” how hard officials work, how difficult it is to officiate a game and how harshly they are criticized. Are you concerned about particular calls or situations? My phone is always available.

Next, a warning: If you criticize officials publicly, then you will be fined.

The league's officiating is still a sensitive subject. As the playoffs progress and the intensity increases, the scrutiny of the matter will only increase. Bettman's directive was however not a reactionary. According to League officials, the commissioner has repeated this speech numerous times during his 29-year tenure. He'll repeat it four more times this spring.

Bettman holds a mandatory call to coaches and general mangers before each round of the playoffs. In it, he warns them again: It is not productive for anyone to air grievances regarding officiating publicly.

Privately? Privately, the state of officiating can be a more complex matter.

THE BIGGEST COMPLAINTAbout officiating in playoff time is the fact that refs seem to forget their whistles and don’t call penalties that should have been called. The league claims that this is not the case. Stephen Walkom, NHL director of officiating, and Bettman instruct officials that they call the standard — in the first five minutes and in overtime.

Dave Jackson, a former NHL referee and current ESPN rules analyst, said, “I think that the problem is, fans aren’t used to watching everyone finish their checks.” “Everyone backchecks, more hitting and more physicality, but in a smaller amount of time and space.”

Once the playoffs begin, the nature of games changes.

“I don't think that the referees call games differently in the playoffs. I think that players play the game differently.” St. Louis BluesDoug Armstrong, general manager. “A soft call is more offensive than letting go of a marginal one. You want to be paid your penalties. Maybe that's just old school. We want to make sure that everything is in order.Ryan] O'ReillyandVladimir] TarasenkoAndRobert] ThomasAndJordan] KyrouWe can do what they did for us all season. This is what we want, and that's also what the fans want.

These numbers don't support the idea that referees are oblivious to postseason issues. In the playoffs, there were more power-play opportunities than the regular season in eight of the last 10 seasons. Teams averaged 4.18 power plays per match in the 28 first games of this postseason, which is a smaller sample than the 2.89 league average.

Some critics believe that stars players should be more protected during the playoffs. Connor McDavidThe 2021 Edmonton first-round loss is often mentioned. McDavid didn't draw any penalty in 211 minutes despite casual viewers counting up to two dozen possible infractions.

McDavid averaged 1.41 penalties per 60 minute during the regular season from 2016-17. In the same time period, McDavid's average penalty per 60 minute has fallen to 0.72 during the postseason.

These numbers don't necessarily match up for all stars players. The penalty-drawn rate of Brad MarchandAnd Auston MatthewsThey have fallen in the playoffs throughout their entire careers. Meanwhile, Tarasenko, Alex OvechkinAnd Steven StamkosAll of them have seen their penalty rates rise in the postseason.

Teams understand they cannot control the outcome of a game and must keep playing their own style.

“It's our job to get our team to play hard and get to the net first, to fight harder there, and to earn those things,” Toronto Maple LeafsKyle Dubas, general manager, said. “And they should have been harder in the playoffs.”

Naturally, every official is subject to criticisms about their performance. ESPN asked 15 coaches and players for their opinions on officials. They were given anonymity to give honest opinions.

A few players were critical. One veteran winger stated that consistency could sometimes be a joke.

ESPN reported that a head coach said that although he's generally okay with the state, he believes makeup calls are common.

“You'll always see it,” said the coach. “The refs call things early. You just have to wait, because you know that they will call the next borderline offense against the opposing team. It seems to work this way all the time.

But, most of the commentary was closer to this quote by an NHL veteran defenseman. Officials often lose their empathy in the heat of postgame news conferences.

The defenseman said that “I have no problems with officiating.” “No matter how emotional or agitated I get on the ice — you probably see it — they're just trying to do what I am. They will make mistakes just like me.

“The job of the linesmen is to protect us. This is a hard job. They do an excellent job of taking care. I would be better served expressing gratitude. The refs are the refs. Sometimes, good refs make bad calls. But sometimes they are better than bad ones. This is a job that you cannot win. You have probably heard me when someone calls me a penalty and I start throwing so many f-bombs at their faces. Then it cools down and I usually apologize, because I truly respect them.

NHL – LAST YEARReferee Tim Peel was at the March game between The Nashville PredatorsAnd Detroit Red WingsWhen he was caught on a hot micAfter issuing a Nashville forward ticketing penalty, a tripping violation was imposed. Viktor Arvidsson. Peel said that it wasn't enough. “But, I wanted to get an early f—ing penalty for Nashville.”

These comments set the hockey world on fire, sparking criticism from people who believe in makeup calls. Peel, who was just one month away of retiring, didn't work another NHL match. Colin Campbell, League vice-president, condemned Peel’s comments, saying that there was no justification regardless of context or intent.

It was a PR disaster that led to the belief that officials managed the game.

Walkom stated that this seems to be the default for a lot people. Walkom stated, “But it couldn’t have been further from the truth. Although you can manage the situations, you don't manage the game.

Officials do indeed manage the game, but not in the way that many fans may realize.

Jackson, an ex-referee, stated, “I hate the fact that'manage to the game' now has negative connotations.” You manage emotions and personalities when you manage something. You don't have a plan for what you want this game or any other goals. You take what you get and make the most of the tools at your disposal.

You will be seated between the benches during an NHL game. One of the most striking things about the game is the constant chatter between officials, players and coaches. Linesmen are talking to the benches about changes in line. Referees are available to answer questions or explain situations.

Walkom stated that all of this was vital to the game's continuous flow.

Then there is the communication on the ice that occurs largely after the whistle. Officials take players out of scrums and then skate with them, serving as part parent, part counsellor, and part traffic officer.

Walkom does not believe that taking referees off-ice and using technology or an “eye on the sky” perspective to officiate matches, as has been suggested in league discussions, would work. It is impossible and not desirable to eliminate the human element. Sight lines are another important reason. It is much easier to make a judgement call at ice-level.

Walkom stated, “There are always many ideas about how to use technology — it is always discussed among GMs as well as the competition committee.” It comes down to how perfect you want the game to be. Did the game have to be perfect?

The more north-south, continuous hockey that offers more scoring chances, goals, and skills, the better for a fan. It is both for the players and fans that the game is played. “We need to be cautious about how much interference we make.”

Jackson said that referees are equipped with a variety of tools to manage the game. Referees will often issue unsportsmanlike conduct sanctions to calm down situations after whistles. Referees can also call for 10-minute misconducts, if necessary.

However, there is no edict to keep the league's rules in line or relative.

Walkom stated that “most officials don't leave the arena thinking that if both teams get two penalties, it was a well-called match.” “You leave the game and ask yourself, ‘Did the game get called fairly?' It might seem unfair to fans or to teams if you call six penalties one-way and one on another team. However, if six penalties were called one way and one on the other team, it might not seem fair to fans or teams.

The psyche of an official is often overlooked in all the discussion about officiating.

Jackson explained that “it's extremely hard mentally because everyone tells us we're ruining it.” Walkom sends daily emails to keep us sane that state, “If you call the Standard, we'll help you.”

BEING OFFICIALIt's a grind. Most people are on the road twenty days per month.

Jackson stated that the players have 41 home games. Jackson said that five home games might be available if you are a resident of an NHL city. You also have to do your laundry, book your hotels and rent cars.

The league constantly monitors officials. Every game has a logr who records every call and any missed calls. The officials are evaluated at midseason on their ability to judge, skate, and how well they feel about the game.

There has been a significant increase in the use of technology recently. a shortage of officialsA pandemic ravaged all levels and levels of hockey across North America. As the supply chain began to shrink, so did the need for a more skilled workforce. The NHL needed new officials to keep up with the pace of change in the game.

Walkom started recruiting ex-players from junior and college hockey over the last few years. He stated that the greatest untapped market is women's hockey players. Ten women were the first to officiate in the AHL, which is the NHL's developmental league. All those women completed the NHL's exposure program or the mentorship program of the NHL Officiating Asociation.

This season saw 11 NHL officials make their debuts. This is a significant increase in numbers compared to previous years. It also means that the overall pool has been less experienced than it was before. According to data from Scouting the Refs, the average number for officials to make their debuts in a season over the past decade was four.

Why are there so many rookies? In 2020-21, the NHL did not hire any new officials. Five NHL officials retired after last season. Peel was among them. Two of the other two had career-ending injuries. The NHL needed to make some calls. The league creates a succession plan for officials who reach a certain age, or have a declining performance level.

There are 70 NHL officials who work full-time, with almost all of them aiming to make it to the playoffs. While a lot of it is personal pride, there's also a substantial financial incentive.

Officials receive significant bonus money each playoff round. But, with every round, the number working for officials is cut in half. An official who works in the Stanley Cup Final will receive a minimum 25% of his annual salary, and as high as 40% depending on his level of experience.

It's competitive. As with the teams playing in the playoffs: if an official fails to perform, he won't be moving on. Some officials who were in the second round last year will not be able to participate this year due to poor performance. There is no guarantee.

Lou Lamoriello, Islanders General Manager, stated that “you're getting best officials in playoffs.” They're not going be the deciding element. You don't want anyone managing the game. All they need to do is call what they see and not what you thought they saw. Two things. You can't control the game. Call what you are 100 percent certain of.”

Officials would be more sympathetic to fans if they could communicate with them. Imagine that officials could share their view from the line of sight and give insight into how the game was played. If the officials spoke up from time-to-time, it might surprise people how normal they are. They simply do their jobs for the love and enjoyment of the game.

It's unlikely that this will happen soon.

Walkom stated, “Officials are aware of their role.” It is to ensure that the game conforms to the league's standards, which promote fairness, safety, and integrity, so that the game can be played at its best. This is why the fans go to the rink. They come to the rink not to be interviewed by the ref afterward.

“Officials did not get into the game to become media stars. They do it because they want to serve the game. Perhaps that's the best thing for the game.

The answer to many questions regarding officiating is not always straightforward.

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