NHL fans have been clamoring for the league to offer up its officials for post-game interviews, hoping that the accessibility will drive accountability and improve the calls on the ice.
Even players have requested the refs step up to the mics.
“We have to stand up and be accountable after every game,” one player told The Athletic. “Why shouldn’t they?”
Carolina Hurricanes center Seth Jarvis suggested it during the NHL’s Media Day.
“Interview the refs after games,” Jarvis told ESPN. “If you could implement that, I’d like to see it. That would be fun.”
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly stepped in to throw a bucket of ice water on the whole idea, as reported by The Athletic’s Michael Russo:
“I don’t think there’s any appetite to change our current policies with respect to our officials and their talking to the media,” said Daly. “Having said that, I don’t think we’re escaping any responsibility to address the media when controversial judgments or decisions are made. But I think that falls more to Colin Campbell and to Stephen Walkom and Gary Bettman and to me occasionally, when those situations happen.”
“I negotiated with the officials this summer. We just completed a new collective bargaining agreement that has to get board [approval]. But believe me, it has not come up as anything that they’re interested in.”
Daly also commented on the relative anonymity that officials have out there as something that he believes the league and the refs would like to maintain.
“A lot of things have changed over time. A lot of the officials used to have their names on their backs. They don’t anymore, and that hasn’t come up as a request by them either. And I think they enjoy their anonymity on the ice to the extent they can. So [refs talking to reporters has] never been a bargaining issue. And I think we feel pretty strongly that the league should have that voice, not the officials.”
It’s a tough call – pardon the pun. The officials are the ones handing out the penalties on the ice. Admittedly, though, their assessments are made in real-time based solely on their vantage point on the ice. The folks upstairs, the ones in the league offices, and even those at home have the benefit of slow-motion replays from multiple camera angles.
How many ‘ref post-games’ would amount to cliches? ‘I didn’t see it,’ or ‘From where I was, it looked like a penalty.’ Plenty of answers, most of them likely to be unsatisfying.
“This could be a disaster, said former NHL referee Tim Peel. “We have watched the replay 3 or 4 times and [the official] thought he saw the play a different way. This will not satisfy either fan base or the media.”
Instead of excuses, the league needs to pivot to explanations. Better yet, education.
To Daly’s point, that’s where the league and the NHL Officials Association should work to pick up the slack. Let Stephen Walkom, NHL Director of Officiating, and his team provide commentary – or, better yet, a video – to explain a particularly controversial call. Take a page out of the Department of Player Safety’s playbook and show everyone the rule and how it applies.
Look at the yeoman’s work done by retired NHL refs Dave Jackson and Don Koharski on the ESPN and TNT broadcasts, respectively, in explaining rules and situations to fans at home. The NHL should follow their lead.