John Buccigross has hockey in his blood and chicken parm in his belly. A part of ESPN since 1996, Buccigross became hockey royalty in 1998 when he first stepped behind the desk of ESPN2’s NHL 2Night. For eight glorious years, he ruled the evening’s hockey highlights. John’s still going strong at ESPN, doing his best to carry the NHL torch on SportsCenter and in his online column. He’s also the network’s voice of the NCAA Frozen Four College Hockey Championship.
We caught up with John for a quick chat about NHL playoff officiating and possible rule changes.
Scouting the Refs: There’s been lots of grumbling about inconsistency in officiating. What’s your take on the playoff officiating during the 2014 postseason?
John Buccigross: I believe the officiating overall was fine. It’s a hard game to call and the officials don’t care who wins.
STR: Do you take note at all of which officials are working the games? Are there any officials that stand out to you, good or bad?
JB: I was surprised I didn’t see [referee Chris] Rooney more. There are a couple I think are questionable but I will refrain from saying who.
Rooney worked the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012 and 2013, but only made it as far as the second round of the 2014 postseason. He was paired with veteran Tim Peel for this year’s playoffs. The duo saw the Flyers get eliminated, covering Game 7 of their series against the Rangers. They also officiated the Bruins/Habs game that saw PK Subban dislodge the net in the final minute of play. Their final playoff appearance was Game 5 between the Wild and Blackhawks.
STR: We’ve seen that penalty calls decrease in the third period and OT. Do you think that’s to the detriment of the game? Should the standards be the same from Regular Season Game 1 to Cup Final Game 7, or is there something to the ‘let-em-play’ mentality, especially late in the playoffs?
JB: I think the games should be called the same at all times.
Referees Wes McCauley and Dan O’Halloran called just two third-period penalties in their final six playoff games officiated — none in the Stanley Cup Final.
STR: Ron MacLean was pretty harsh on the idea of French-Canadian referees working Habs games. Do you feel there’s a bias there, either intentional or unintentional?
JB: I could see where there is an unintentional bias there. It’s very passionate and at times intimidating. But, again, these referees don’t care who wins. They care about their paychecks and their careers.
STR: What’s your take on diving? We saw a handful of diving calls to go along with infractions, but only one – on Tomas Plekanec vs. NYR – that was a standalone dive. Should referees make that call more often, or should diving be penalized more harshly to deter it from happening?
JB: I don’t think diving should ever be called. Those should be after-the-fact fines and suspensions. Referees should not be put in that position.
The NHL’s Competition Committee has made a proposal to do just that. Players – and even coaches and teams – would face league fines and penalties for diving outside of any on-ice calls. Given the speed of the game, it’s tough to ask officials to start to critique each possibly-fouled player to determine if it was an embellishment of a legitimate penalty or an outright dive. Off-ice punishment allows from a more critical look via replay. The fines, though, will have to be more than the slap-on-the-wrist (or, more accurately, wallet) $5,000 maximum they hand out for other infractions.
STR: We’re big proponents of greater transparency in officiating and understanding the reasons behind certain calls. Referees don’t need to do a post-game, but some explanation on calls (either via spokesperson or to a pool reporter) might be helpful. What do you think the league or officials could do differently to improve perception of referees?
JB: I agree. It’s not a big deal. It’s just a hockey game and if referees give their reasoning, reasonable, then we can move on.
STR: The Competition Committee also recommended some minor tweaks to the game that may be in place for 2014-15. Are there any rule changes you’d like to see?
JB: I don’t like the automatic penalty on clearing the puck. I think it’s harsh. I also would allow hand passes. [Players should also be allowed] to hand goals if the glove hand is on the stick. And, of course, I would make the nets bigger by an inch or two.
John brings up a great point here. If a puck can deflect in off of any part of the player or his stick (as long as not intentionally kicked or batted), why not extend that to the hand if it remains on the stick? Rule 67.6 directs that a goal “cannot be scored by an attacking player who bats or directs the puck with his hand into the net. […] When the puck enters the net on a clear deflection off a glove, the goal shall be allowed.” A player attempting to deflect the puck who has it go off his glove would result in a legal goal. Would it be much different if the rule was rewritten to allow the player to direct it in as well, under the idea that the glove on the stick is more or less a ‘part’ of the stick? Perhaps it’d be cleaner and less subject to interpretation.
STR: Thoughts on expanding replay? Should goaltender interference be included? How far do you go with what’s reviewable?
JB: I like the idea of a coach’s challenge. As long as the faceoffs remain quick. You’ve got 15-20 seconds to make your decision. And I do think goalie interference should be included in review.
While the #bucciovertimechallenge is enjoying a summer on the links, the online store is still open. For some solid summer reading, pick up his book “Jonesy: Put Your Head Down and Skate – The Improbable Career of Keith Jones”. All purchases support various hockey-related charities.
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