You won’t find too many Edmonton Oilers fans who believe the officiating — at least when it comes to NHL superstar Connor McDavid — is anywhere close to consistent. If even half of the penalties were called that the dynamic and speedy center should have drawn, the opposition would be in the penalty box most of the game. Like it or not, the calls (or lack thereof) are a form of managing the game.
And, the question of officials managing a game is now the hot debate in the NHL since news broke that long-time league official Tim Peel was fired for admitting to a make-up call on a hot mic during a Nashville Predators vs. Detroit Red Wings game on Tuesday. Peel was heard on the FOX broadcast saying, “It wasn’t much, but I wanted to get a f-ckin’ penalty against Nashville early in the …” and then his mic cut out.
The NHL probably felt like they had no alternative but to relieve Peel of his duties. And, as embarrassing as being caught on a hot mic was, make no mistake, this is hardly the biggest issue the league will need to address.
Officials Managing the Game Is a Reality
I completely understand the argument that NHL officials should simply call what they see. If it’s a penalty, call it. If it’s not, don’t. But that’s not a realistic world to live in when it comes to the ebbs and flow of a professional hockey game with so much speed and skill involved.
Officials and players are human. They make mistakes, try to course correct, or get an edge. In some cases, a referee doesn’t like being made to look like a fool when a player dives. It’s logical to assume that player won’t get a future call, even if he’s earned one. It’s also natural if the penalties in a game are leaning four in favor of one team and none for the other, that officials will look more closely to give at least one power play to the other team. It’s not the way it should be, but it is.
In many cases, players are looking to get away with as much as they can and not get caught. NHL officials know it. Former Oilers’ defenseman Jason Strudwick admitted on TSN 1260 today: “I knew where a referee would be looking. With only two people who make the calls on 10 players moving all over the ice there will be missed calls. Things look different depending on the angle. To get all calls right then have all four officials call penalties.”
Sometimes it’s not even about hiding what you’re doing. As is the case for McDavid, he’s simply too fast and an argument can be made that most of the defensive plays against him are a penalty, in some way, shape or form. Someone is either holding him, hooking him, or slashing him in an effort to slow him down. When they don’t, he tends to get a point.
I’m the first to get upset when obvious infractions aren’t called. I also fully believe the Oilers earn more power plays on any given night than they are often given. But, the same can be said for a number of teams with skilled players. As such, there’s a line that has to be drawn and the NHL has essentially tried to eliminate it with the firing of Peel on Tuesday.
What Now for McDavid?
It will be very interesting to see how the game changes and how officials view plays against McDavid moving forward. He’s 45th in the league for penalties drawn/60 minutes and second in the NHL for penalties drawn this season with 21. That’s bound to change. If the remaining referees are on high alert that everything they call needs to be black or white, one of two things is bound to happen: either McDavid draws a lot more penalties or the officials simply say the plays against him aren’t illegal.
If it’s the former, how many penalties could McDavid theoretically draw in a game? If it’s the latter, how long before everyone is crying foul that penalties aren’t called?
No doubt, in any given Oilers game, the officials are keenly aware of how many times McDavid is hauled down, hung onto or impeded as he does what he does. It should come as a shock to no one if referees had quick discussions saying, ‘This has gotten out of hand’ or ‘Boys, we can’t call everything’. The only difference is, they didn’t have those discussions over a live mic for the world to hear.
Don’t fool yourself if you’re thinking the NHL’s big issue was that they now, all of a sudden, learned that NHL officials are trying to keep control of a game in the best way they know how. No, the NHL is just mad that a referee got caught saying it out loud. As a result, the games will change and the Oilers, specifically McDavid, could be positively or negatively affected by it.