Dear NHL Officials, A Lesson to be Learned from Soccer

When the Tim Peel news broke, my immediate reaction was one of shock and surprise. Not that game management and make-up calls happen, but that this was somehow a surprise to a lot of people. Game management by officials has been part of the sport for a long, long time and while there’s an argument that it shouldn’t be, there’s a stronger argument that it should.

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In a sport where every game is televised, officials are more under the microscope than ever before. Slow motion, multi-angle replays allow every call/missed call to be analyzed in minute detail. Often conveniently ignoring the fact that pucks travel at ridiculous miles per hour while giant guys in giant padding are crashing into each-other. Yes, officials miss calls, but hockey happens in real-time and being an official is a very difficult job.

Why not call every foul by the book?

Who loves a good stoppage? Nobody. Hockey is most entertaining (and remember it’s entertainment) when it flows. It’s a fast, end-to-end game and that’s how it should be. It’s also about finding a balance, fouls shouldn’t go unpunished, but small minor offences? Officials will often let those go earlier in the game as it allows the momentum to flow.

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If we draw a parallel with soccer, the most watched sport on the planet, many cried out for the introduction of Video Assistant Referees (VAR) and now many hate VAR as it often takes a long time to make a decision, especially offside decisions. In a game with very few stoppages, these reviews feel unnatural and awkward. Yes it makes the game fairer, but if we trust the officials to officiate the game within the spirit of the game, then I’m cool with that. If they let the little stuff slide to keep the game flowing earlier on, I’m cool with that too because I want to see fun, entertaining sport. I don’t want to see minute-by-minute analysis of the rulebook.

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Hockey is a fast game, already made slow with challenges and TV timeouts and the NHL is particularly bad at it. I watch as much SHL as I do NHL, and the Swedish game feels like it flows more, that might just be a perception thing but I don’t want my NHL games to take longer than they already do.

What’s The Alternative?

Keep it like it is. Yeah, Peel shouldn’t have said what he did, but as we’ve since with officials covering their mics, there’s something unspoken that should stay unspoken. The league has to save face and I understand that they need to be seen to take a hard stance, but I firmly believe that this will be swept under the carpet and the league will go back to trusting its officials to make the right call when it’s the right thing to do (mostly).

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