The NHL has an officiating crisis on its hands, and it has reached critical levels
It's spoiling the best part of the season
Jordan Eberle played game seven last night. Andrew Cogliano did not. Andrew Cogliano missed game seven for the Colorado Avalanche after the Seattle Kraken's Jordan Eberle leveled him with an egregious, unnecessary hit that broke Cogliano's neck.
Eberle received a two minute penalty. The Department of Player Safety (not sure it even deserves that name at this point) elected to announce that Eberle did not deserve a hearing for the hit despite lining Cogliano up from the faceoff dot.
It's a growing trend in these playoffs - even by the disgracefully low bar that playoff officiating is typically held to in the NHL, these playoffs seem worse.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau broke Teuvo Teravainen's hand on a slash that went uncalled - Pageau's season is over after elimination, and Teravainen will likely miss the rest of Carolina's Cup run. Steven Stamkos pinned Auston Matthews to the ice and threw four punches in a post-whistle scrum - both players were boxed for fighting even though little Matthews did could be considered "fighting" as Stamkos was a clear aggressor. Marcus Foligno complained about two spurious calls in a game four loss before being tossed minutes into game five for a knee-on-knee hit.
Referees will miss calls - it's part of the human element in sports, and also part of the reason the NHL keeps introducing replay scenario after replay scenario in misguided attempts to "get it right", even though officials spend agonizing minutes breaking down grainy footage to the pixel and still get calls wrong. Then, there's "game management" - officials don't want to be perceived as the reason a team lost a game or series, so calls are evened out and egregious penalties are often uncalled to "manage the game." Was there anything more predictable than the Lightning getting power play chances in the second period of game six after the Leafs had two in the first period?
It's hard to even offer a suggestion here - you can't urge the officials to call more penalties, because they are incredibly reluctant to do so in a way that favors one team over another, even if those calls are earned. At the time of this writing (ahead of game sevens in Colorado and Boston), the largest differential in penalties called between teams in a series is five (the New York Islanders were called for five more penalties than the Carolina Hurricanes) despite gaps in size, speed, and talent. The Edmonton Oilers, despite having two of the five best players on Planet Earth, drew just 25 penalties in their series against the Los Angeles Kings. Did the Kings play fairly clean? Or did the officials not want to give the Oilers an "unfair" advantage by calling the rulebook which would've put the Oilers' 56.3% power play this postseason on the ice?
Not calling penalties incentivizes players to take liberties with opponents (like Eberle did with Cogliano) and harms the ability of the league's stars to be the stars. The NBA is currently thriving because its talented players are allowed to be the best players on the court - a battle between Nikola Jokic and Kevin Durant isn't being sidelined because the Suns' 11th man decided to take a run at a star player. The NHL is different, though - because there's no consequences, a fourth liner can paste a star to the boards and end his series and face no repercussions. The league has implicitly signed off on saying players who play like Milan Lucic are better for the game in the playoffs than guys like Mikko Rantanen (to use two random names), and that's not okay.
To my eyes, that's a problem. To the NHL currently, it's not. The league office hasn't commented on officiating this postseason yet and likely won't until the playoffs are over, where it will probably simply say "Our officials have a difficult job and we think they met expectations" or some such lawyery-corporate speak. That's to be expected, but it doesn't mean it has to be accepted. Fans, journalists, bloggers, players - everyone needs to be pushing for the NHL to do better. What we've seen isn't good enough - players are getting seriously hurt with no ramifications in game, and the Department of Player Safety wheel of punishment seems to be stuck on "we didn't see anything." These playoffs have been entertaining as hell, but instead of talking about the players on the ice, too often the discourse has been about the people on the ice not wearing the sweaters.
The league's officiating has hit a crisis point. It must be addressed going forward.