NHL officials are apparently terrible at calling head shots, what’s the solution?

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Last night, San Jose Sharks forward Andrew Desjardins delivered a beautiful and entirely legal hit on Chicago’s Jamal Mayers (VIDEO). The Blackhawks winger was clearly dazed by the hit, but popped up pretty quickly, no worse for the wear. Meanwhile, Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith went directly after Desjardins, got his ass kicked, and was assessed a total of 19 minutes in penalties for instigating a fight while wearing a visor. The Sharks prepped for their four minutes of power play time, which they badly needed halfway through a 3-3 tie with the league’s best team.

Except that’s not what happened. The officials conferred, and linesman Johnny Murray, convinced he had seen a blow to the head delivered, called Desjardins for a major penalty and ejected him from the game. Interesting that Murray could be certain he saw something that never happened, but nobody else on the officiating crew could overrule him, so the Sharks were short one forward and four minutes on the man advantage. Instead of San Jose getting the extended power play it deserved, the teams skated four aside for four minutes, during which time the Blackhawks scored the go-ahead and eventual game-winning goal. Tough break for the Sharks.

This comes on the heels of a similarly costly fuck up by the officials in the third period of a tilt between the Red Wings and Blues. St. Louis captain David Backes cleanly and effectively demolished mediocre Detroit defenseman Kent Huskins, and was promptly booted from the game for targeting the head. Once again, there wasn’t even minor contact with the victimized player’s head. Detroit scored the game winning goal on the power play. Tough break for the Blues.

Both Desjardins and Backes had their match penalties rescinded almost immediately after their respective games, but as each team’s coach was quick to point out, that didn’t really matter. The damage had been done, the games had been lost, and the short end of the stick had been firmly planted up their teams’ collective buttholes (thankfully at different times).

So now NHL fans are annoyed, as they are wont to be, with the quality of officiating. And when fans get annoyed, solutions are put forward! Here are three of the most popular ideas for mitigating this kind of damage in the future, and an analysis of each.

Public shaming

Greg Wyshynski of the Yahoo! Sports Puck Daddy blog wonders if the time has come for the NHL to stop coddling its officials. We know when and why players are fined and suspended for dangerous plays or egregious incidences of unsportsmanlike conduct. Why not make officials subject to the same public scrutiny?

For me, the logic doesn’t transfer. Players are put through the public wringer because we want them to hesitate the next time they see a player in a vulnerable position. We want them to bite their tongue rather than mildly insult Elisha Cuthbert’s vaginal quality honor as a lady. Do we really want officials doing the same?

No. Calls are, and must be, made in the blink of an eye. And officials have to feel safe and protected in making those decisions, even if they’re not always correct. Forcing officials to think about a whole new set of consequences if they fuck up a call in the third period of a big game means they’ll just be more hesitant to make calls in general. The game will suffer, because good teams that work hard will receive fewer power play chances. And player safety will suffer because officials will be more reluctant to eject guys just in case it turns out they didn’t deserve it.

The challenge flag

Many hockey fans feel that the NHL should adopt pro football’s policy of allowing a coach’s challenge. Let Ken Hitchcock throw his red flag after the Backes call, it’ll be overturned, and the game carries on as it should. If the penalty isn’t overturned, the challenging team loses its timeout. Simple stuff.

Here’s why I don’t like it. Let’s say Teemu Selanne gets a phantom call for tripping Pavel Datysuk in the first period of a game. Is Bruce Boudreau going to use his challenge flag on a lousy tripping penalty with 40+ minutes left to play? Of course not. The officials, meanwhile, know they made a shit call within about 10 seconds of making it. They owe the Ducks a call, and they know it. Maybe the Red Wings score, maybe they don’t.

Flash forward to the third period; the game is tied. Kyle Quincey wraps up with Bobby Ryan along the boards. They’re both hanging on to each other. The official’s arm goes up, and Quincey goes to the box. It’s a makeup call and everyone knows it, so what does Mike Babcock do? He throws the shit out of that challenge flag. It’s the final period of a tie game! The result? The crappy call is of course overturned, and Anaheim gets screwed out of the makeup call it’s owed.

Okay, so the league could implement a standard that only allows coaches to challenge a call when a major penalty has been assessed. Maybe you also can’t challenge in order to have a penalty levied that wasn’t called during play. But in that case, why not just keep it simple and go with option number three?

Video review

This is a gigantic no-brainer. You leave minor penalties alone. You leave missed calls alone. You implement video review for any and all non-fighting major penalty infractions called in a game, and you get the fucking call right DURING the game. Don’t wait until after to admit the officials fucked up. The admission of guilt does nothing but piss affected fans off even more. Do it in the moment, and make sure the rest of the contest is played the way it should be.

This isn’t just a matter of getting the call right so that teams can avoid losing a player who deserves to be in the game. It’s about keeping legal physicality in the game while keeping the players safe. After the Backes and Desjardins incidents, players are going to be more reluctant to dole out big, clean hits, and that sucks. Officials are going to be more reluctant to make safety calls, and that sucks. Officials should feel the freedom to make safety related calls at will, knowing that video review will save them from making mistakes that alter the outcome of the game. It’s a win-win for both the league’s newly implemented safety measures, and the quality of the on-ice product.

The only argument I’ve heard against video review is that it will slow the game down. Really? More than video review of each and every goal? There’s already a five-minute powwow of officials before a major penalty is assessed, anyway. The play can be reviewed during that time quite easily. And let’s say it does slow the game down the tiniest of tiny bits. Who really gives a shit? What’s more important, avoiding three extra minutes of downtime once every 10 games, or keeping players safe? A quick faceoff, or making sure the integrity of the game isn’t compromised?

It’s time for the NHL to get real on player safety. Do it right, or leave it alone. Video review is clearly part of a logical solution, and yet we’re not using it. Come on.

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One Response to NHL officials are apparently terrible at calling head shots, what’s the solution?

  1. phil says:

    The only issue with your breakdown of football reviews is that they don’t review penalties in football – ref’s penalty calls are never overturned. Sometimes they are waived off by the refs themselves, but the only things they review are things like possession, out of bounds, etc. Penalty calls on a helmet to helmet hit – similar to the hit this article is based on – are never reviewed.

    I think the problem is that referees have low self-esteem, and can’t be second guessed. Even in basketball, they don’t allow reviewing of a lot of plays. My favorite situation is at the end of close games, where the refs will go to the monitor to see who last touched a ball before it goes out of bounds. Even if there is an obvious foul on the play, they can’t change a ruling on that, they can only look at who touched the ball last, whether or not he got his sack tapped by another players balled up fist in the meantime.

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