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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Give Me a Break!

...From NHL officiating, that is. I've done my best to refrain from launching into a "refs suck" rant this season, but I can't remain (almost) silent any longer. Just remember: They brought it on themselves.

Because I'm a firm believer in full disclosure, I must first say that, taken as a whole, I've been pleased with the post-lockout officiating. Prior to the lockout, my "ref rants" revolved around a common theme of non-calls in the 3rd period or OT, no matter how egregious the foul, and my personal pet peeve: The goalie saves the initial shot from the point but gives up a juicy rebound...without fear, because the winger screening the goalie has been tackled by the d-man, is pinned to the ice and can't get to the puck. I will argue 'til the day I die that those non-calls were/are the greatest single factor in causing/extending multiple-OT games in the playoffs. So, given the choice between pre-lockout non-calls and post-lockout ticky-tack/marginal calls, I'll take the post-lockout officiating every time...until this season, that is.

Is it just me, or has the officiating (both on- and off-ice) actually gotten worse as the season has progressed? Back in October and November, what stood out was that the refs seemed to get in the players' way quite a bit. In December and January, I've seen too many flat-out bad calls, under calls (a called minor penalty when a double minor is warranted, for example) and non-calls to count, as well as BLOWN OFFSIDES calls.

I ask you: How hard is it to make the correct offsides call? If you're a linesman, you have three basic responsibilities during a game:

1. Drop the puck.
2. Break up fights.
3. Call icing and OFFSIDES.

It's not as though the linesmen have to perform 1 or 2 at the same time as 3, so there's no multitasking involved. In spite of that, I've seen two blown calls in the past couple of weeks - one blatant non-call that led directly to a PP opportunity for the offending team (WSH vs CBJ, 9 JAN), and one phantom offsides call which denied Rick Nash a breakaway opportunity last night at Calgary. As Columbus lost in a shootout, the argument could be made that the call was potentially a game-changer.

The linesmen aren't the only guilty parties - not by a long shot. I still haven't gotten past the way Hasenfratz and Morton hijacked the Rangers-Blackhawks game last Friday. When mild-mannered Tom Renney is standing in the door, on the verge of stepping onto the ice, raining spittle and obscenities on the refs...something ain't right.

Worse yet, the War Room in Toronto has more than their share of blown calls this season. How is it possible that they can look at multiple camera angles, in super-slow motion, and still blow the call (when fans at home can clearly see that it's a good goal)? Off the top of my head, I can recall both Columbus and Dallas being jobbed by the War Room in the past month or so. Earlier this season, I opined to a buddy that I could envision a time in which off-ice officials would replace the on-ice referees. At this point, though, my confidence in the War Room is at an all-time low.

Because the game moves so fast, hockey officials have the most challenging job in sports (in my opinion). It's also a thankless job, as the best officiated games are ones in which you don't notice the refs/linesmen. By that, I mean that there aren't any bad, under or non-calls which draw attention to the officiating. So far this season, the officiating has been far too visible.

Wake up, NHL! Your officials aren't just missing the game; they're ruining it!

Take me back to On Goal Analysis

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