Memo To The NHL – Make Your Officials More Accessible


One problem with the NHL is the perception that the on-ice officials have that they have a holier-than-thou attitude.  Fans have the perception that they skate around as if their you-know-what doesn’t stink.  They carry a perceived arrogance that rubs a lot of fans the wrong way.

Part of that is because of the power they hold, but a larger part of that is the system that they are part of.  You never, ever hear about the official’s point of view from the mouth of the official in question.  Phantom calls go unexplained, and it just raises the anger of those who feel wronged.

For all of its many problems and issues, Major League Baseball gets it right sometimes.  In the past few seasons, in certain situations umpires have gone public with apologies and/or explanations for, lets face it, blown calls.

1. Umire Jim Joyce made a very emotional and public admittance of a botched call at first base in the ninth inning that cost Detroit Tigers Pithcer Amando Gallarraga a perfect game  in 2010.

2.  Second base umpire Jeff Nelson publicly admits blowing a call by missing the tag on a play at second base, that resulted in the Detroit Tigers taking a 2-0 series lead in the ALCS.

3.   This past Monday night, home plate umpire Jerry Meals missed a call in the Boston Red Sox game where he called Sox runner Daniel Nava out at the plate despite the fact that replays clearly showed his foot get under the tag.


"“What I saw was Molina blocked the plate and Nava’s foot lifted. But in the replays, you could clearly see Nava’s foot got under for a split second and then lifted, so I was wrong on my decision,” Meals told a pool reporter from The Associated Press. “From the angle I had, I did not see his foot get under Molina’s shin guard.”"

Those are just the ones off the top of my head.  I am sure there are many more examples, because the two key words in that quote are not from the umpire, but the words “pool repoter”.  Essentially, one member of the press gets in to speak to the MLB umpires after a game to get explanations and quotes to spread to their media brethren.   The NHL has no such system in place, and as a result there is a big iron curtain around their referees and linesmen.

May 29, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; (CAPTION CORRECTION) Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) argues with referee Stephen Walkom (right) after a goal by Blackhawaks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (not pictured) was waved off during the third period in game seven of the second round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Detroit Red Wings at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Lets face it, officials are human just like everyone else, and they do make mistakes.  Some of them are minor, while others are glaring.  If the NHL were to make their officials come off as human, allowing them to admit when they are wrong, the players and fans might respect them a little more and be a little more understanding of the pressure they are under and the fact that they know they can make mistakes.

I am not suggesting allowing every decision and every call come under scrutiny.  However, calls that affect the outcome of a game, or have a great impact over the way it is played, should be explained and for the league to allow their officials to have a human, public face once in a while it would go a long way to improving the state of the game. It wouldn’t change the outcome of the call or the impact it might have on the game, but allowing a person to own up to it and explain what they saw, it would have a positive impact on the game as a whole.

I am sure even the officials would welcome the opportunity to explain what they saw on certain occasions or to publicly admit once in a while that, yes indeed, they did make an error.

Officials are indeed not robots, and it is time for the league to come to the realization that with the multiple angles, slow motion, blow-up replays, fans, teams and players often see every mistake, big or little.  Hockey is a game of mistakes.  Players, coaches and managers are held accountable for the ones they make, but the referees are never publicly held accountable for theirs.  If they are privately fined or otherwise disciplined internally, the public should be made aware of it so they are in the loop and not left shaking their heads in certain situations, with no knowledge of what steps have been taken to make sure the referees are kept in check.

Referees and linesmen are human.  The league needs to admit that and let them face the public once in a while so that the fans can see it for themselves, instead of having them shielded behind a veil of secrecy.

This is one situation where the NHL would be well-advised to actually follow in the footsteps of MLB.  All sides would be better off that way.  So, naturally it is something that the NHL probably won’t consider, because why would they do something that makes too much sense?