Hockey Headlines

Saturday, 6 May 2017

To Err Is Human Officiating

Let me be the first to tell you that I am not an Oilers apologist. In fact, I pretty much dislike the franchise as a whole. That's not to say I hate the players or coaches or management, but for a kid who watched the Jets get continually stomped by the Oilers in the 1980s you absorb the hatred from your environment. That being said, there is something to be said for the last two games the Anaheim Ducks won against the Oilers as it appears that there are few officials who remember how the rulebook is written when it comes to goaltender interference. Everyone associated with the Orange Crush needs to take a deep breath and follow the logic on this one.

The Corey Perry goal in Game Four could have gone either way, but it did appear that Perry bumped Talbot as he crossed the crease in trying to set up a screen which, in turn, caused the Ducks to score. Granted, this play happened at 1:37 of the second period so there was a ton of time for the Oilers to make good on this goal, but it appears that the following video shows Perry interfering with Talbot.
As you heard both Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson say, there appeared to be a very good reason to believe there was goalie interference. The resulting call, however, saw the referee find nothing wrong with Perry's play, and the goal stood in the final outcome which saw Anaheim win the game. The NHL Situation Room issued the following statement, "After reviewing all available replays and consulting with NHL Hockey Operations staff, the Referee confirmed no goaltender interference infractions occurred."

Friday night saw another incident in which goaltender interference could be called as Ryan Kesler and Cam Talbot both occupied the crease during the final moments in Game Five. In this case, it appears that Darnell Nurse pushed Kesler into Talbot, but the sequence that follows the push shows that Kesler appears to interfere with Talbot as the Ducks drew even at 3-3.
Kelly Hrudey speaks of the possible interference by Kesler, Eliotte Friedman comments about how fast the review was on the goal, and at 1:45 the panel takes a long look at it with Ron MacLean stating at that moment that he didn't feel it was goaltender interference. Again, the NHL Situation Room issued a statement to explain the ruling on the ice which was good goal.
After reviewing all available replays and consulting with NHL Hockey Operations staff, the Referee determined that the actions of Edmonton's Darnell Nurse caused Anaheim's Ryan Kesler to contact Talbot before the puck crossed the goal line. The decision was made in accordance with Note 2 of Rule 78.7 (ii) which states, in part, "that the goal on the ice should have been allowed because (ii) the attacking Player was pushed, shoved or fouled by a defending Player causing the attacking Player to come into contact with the goalkeeper."
The result, as stated above, was that Rickard Rackell's goal was allowed to stand, tying the game at 3-3 and sending the game into overtime where the Anaheim Ducks won the game and took a 3-2 series lead. Obviously, Oilers players, staff, management, and fans are unhappy about the situation they're in, but there's a bigger problem that lies at the feet of the NHL Situation Room here.

In both explanations by the NHL Situation Room, the statement issued by the NHL says "the Referee determined". In other words, the man on the ice who made the call who is watching the umpteen reviews provided by the NHL Situation Room has determined that his original call was, indeed, the correct call as per his interpretation of the rules. This isn't an NHL problem. No, you're not getting screwed over by Gary Bettman or anyone else. These two goals were found to be good goals in the eyes of the officials on the ice at the time and after watching the reviews on the tablets at the timekeeper's box. If you want to be angry at anyone, the two officials who interpret the rulebook are the two individuals with whom you should take task.

English writer Alexander Pope wrote, "To err is human, to forgive divine" in An Essay on Criticism in 1711. Officiating doesn't escape the flaws of being human in that they sometimes err. The reason for the coach's challenge in the NHL is to assist the officials in reducing the number of errors they make in their work so that the integrity of the game remains high.

In the first instance, the coach's challenge saw the official determine that Perry's actions were not enough to warrant goalie interference. In the second instance, the NHL Situation Room would review the play regardless of the coach's challenge as it happened in the final minute of play in regulation time. However, the NHL Situation Room does not remove the decision from the referee at any point as the referee is in charge of the game. This also affects the integrity of the game as the referee's authority should not and cannot be undermined by those watching the game in New York City.

In saying all this, I will grant every single member of the Orange Crush their right to be angry with at least one of the two calls. Your team suffered what appears to be at least one blown interpretation of the rules, but don't misappropriate your anger by turning it into a conspiracy theory or a "screw job" or anything else by the NHL. Officials are human and, as such, are flawed in that they will err. Occasionally, those errors are grievous and egregious. Also keep in mind that no one likes to admit in front of 18,000 people and millions more watching on TV that they were wrong.

Mistakes will happen. Officials will be reviewed and graded as to their performances. Future series work and other opportunities will be dependent upon these grades and reviews. I'm not going to name either referee who are the center of this apparent controversy, but Oilers Nation needs to remember three key things: (1) the NHL Situation Room can only advise the referee reviewing the play of what they see, (2) the referee in question still holds the decision as to whether the call on the ice is correct, and (3) referees are human.

Sometimes, mistakes happen. At this time of the year, you want them to happen less with teams playing high-pressure hockey with even higher stakes. Mistakes will happen on the ice, goals will be scored, teams will fall, and one champion will be crowned. Through it all, officials will oversee every second of action on the ice. And just like the players on the ice, the officials make mistakes too.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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