Maple Leafs Criticism of Officials Could Have Long-Term Implications

The Toronto Maple Leafs went on the record, openly complaining about a penalty. The call is just one part of the story. The team captain and the head coach publicly criticized the officiating may become a more significant issue. Right or wrong, the team didn’t do itself any favours with the officials.

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It didn’t take long for the Maple Leafs to have a beef with the NHL officials (THW Archives)

We’ll discuss the infraction later, but what veteran player Jason Spezza said in a post-game interview was more important than the call. He sheds some light on the bigger picture, “You just talk with them (refs) and work with them. I think we matured a lot with them in the last year. We’ve gained a lot more respect from the refs.” Spezza’s been working with NHL officials for two decades, and last season the team had another long-time leader, Joe Thornton. No doubt, the two veterans who have worn letters had something to do with that elevated respect.

Related: 3 Takeaways From Maple Leafs’ 3-2 Loss to Senators

Spezza added, “sometimes you yell if it gets heat. They are pros too. As long as you can have cooler heads prevail and talk it over after. You’re not going to agree with all the calls. But it’s important as a team, we have matured a lot in that area we are going to continue maturing. We respect the refs. It’s a tough job to do, but sometimes you disagree with the calls.”

Maple Leafs Took a Late ‘Brutal’ Penalty

Apparently, John Tavares didn’t get the same speaking points that Spezza had. The captain, who rarely says anything remotely off-script, criticized a penalty. “Brutal. I mean, I lifted the guy’s stick.”

Sheldon Keefe, who usually doesn’t give much of an answer when asked about a specific penalty, said, “we’ve seen the memos on the crosschecks. The guys are well aware of that, and they’re adjusting to that. But I haven’t seen the memos on not being able to lift guys’ sticks. That’s new.”

Toronto was down by a goal with 42 seconds remaining in the game against the Ottawa Senators. The Maple Leafs pulled the goalie, but Ottawa had regained possession and threatened to move back into the Maple Leafs’ zone. Tavares made a defensive play on the Sens’ Connor Brown. The official immediately put his arm up, assessing a hooking penalty against Tavares, which all but ended Toronto’s chances of tying the game. Tavares immediately protested, and Keefe was livid. My lipreading skills tell me he said a few things I won’t repeat, but his main message was that the call was a joke. The replays would seem to back up that assessment.

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Adding to Keefe’s frustration, Pierre Engvall was called for hooking earlier in the period. While it wasn’t as clear cut, it appeared he made an excellent defensive play, lifting the stick of the Senators’ Brown to prevent a scoring chance on a rush. Toronto was on the powerplay at the time. Keefe said, “I don’t think that’s going to be the standard moving forward, but that’s early in the season for everybody.”

Maple Leafs Checking the Rule Book

For clarity, I did look through all 226 pages of the NHL Official Rules for 2021-22 book. There is no mention of a new penalty for lifting a stick. Rule 55.1 deals with hooking and defines it: using the stick in a manner that enables a player to restrain an opponent. When a player is checking another in such a way that there is only stick-to-stick contact, such action is not to be penalized as hooking.

Toronto Maple Leafs Jason Spezza
Toronto Maple Leafs Jason Spezza talked about the importance of respect between officials and players (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov)

In both instances, the Maple Leafs definitely have a case. But when these answers were given, the game had been over for a long time. The media and fans appreciate honest and non-cliche answers; it could result in a fine or, even worse, a loss of respect between the officials and the Maple Leafs.


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