Hold NHL officials accountable by making them available to the media

For the everyday working man or woman, the last thing anyone would want to do after making a mistake on the job is to face a horde of hungry media demanding an explanation.

Fortunately, answering a bombardment of questions is not in the job description for most common folk.

Those involved in pro sports, however, understand that addressing the media – under both positive and negative circumstances – is as much as part of the handsomely-paid profession as the on-field, or on-ice action.

NHL players and coaches are held accountable for mistakes in part by virtue of their obligations for media availability following a game.

Why aren’t referees and linesmen held to the same standard?

It’s a shame that on-ice officials aren’t made available to speak to the media following the game. If they were, perhaps some insight would be provided regarding many of the phantom calls and non-calls that were evident throughout the playoffs, especially in the final series.

The seven-game matchup lived up to its showcase billing, with Sidney Crosby, Nicklas Lidstrom and two of the regular-season’s Hart Trophy nominees Evgeni Malkin and Pavel Datsyuk engaging in a showdown for the ages. Thus it’s rather unfortunate that the series featuring the best players did not feature the best officials.

More frustrating for the teams, and the viewing public who pay hard-earned dollars for their tickets, is that the reasoning behind the minds of the men in zebra stripes remains shrouded in mystery. This is because the league unnecessarily grants the officials a blanket of security in not mandating them to speak to reporters.

Wouldn’t it have been interesting to hear why both referees Bill McCreary and Marc Joanette missed Marian Hossa’s hook on Pascal Dupuis in Game Two that led to Valtteri Filppula’s game winning goal for Detroit? It couldn’t have been hard to miss, given that the play was Hossa’s only impact on the series.

Why shouldn’t Paul Devorski or Dennis LaRue have to justify why Detroit’s Jonathan Ericsson was whistled for interference midway through the third period of Game Three, giving Pittsburgh a power-play on which Sergei Gonchar scored the game-winner? While granted that Ericcson’s miscue was a penalty under the obstruction rules, the inconsistency in blowing the whistle in that instance while several similar fouls went uncalled over the first 45 minutes of the game is inexcusable.

And only linesman Pierre Racicot knows what he was thinking when in Game Seven, he missed the fact that Penguins defenceman Brooks Orpik dumped the puck from his own side of the centre line. With Detroit blueliner Brad Stuart retrieving the puck in the Wings end, the play should have been called on the icing against the Penguins. Instead, Stuart turned the puck over, leading to the game’s monumental first goal by Maxime Talbot.

While the Pittsburgh Penguins certainly deserve their due credit for winning Game 7 and the Stanley Cup in spite of Racicot’s error, viewers of the game’s biggest spectacle at least deserve to learn what happened from the linesman’s perspective.

Stuart, who had a dreadful outing in being on the ice for both Pittsburgh goals, most certainly did not look forward to being in front of the cameras after the defeat. But, he faced the music.

Two years ago, it was Chris Phillips of the Ottawa Senators dejectedly talking to a large scrum after the Cup-clinching loss to Anaheim during which he accidentally put the puck in his own net. “Now I know how Steve Smith feels” was the sound bite.

If a player must be subject to the gut-wrenching moments of explaining his mistakes, then so must be the officials.

Not for the sake of further berating, but simply to be accountable.

In 1980, linesman Leon Stickle missed an offside call in Game Six of the final between the Islanders and Flyers, the game in which Bob Nystrom would score in overtime to clinch New York its first of four consecutive Stanley Cups.

On the Islanders second goal, Clark Gillies passed the puck behind him to Butch Goring, who received the puck on the other side of the blueline, putting the Islanders offside. Stickle incorrectly waved the play ‘safe’, leading to a goal by Duane Sutter.

“I guess I blew it,” Stickle said after seeing a replay days later. “The puck came back across the line. Maybe there was black tape on Goring’s stick and it confused me. Or maybe I was too close to the play. I just missed it.”

The explanation didn’t reverse the outcome of the play, or the game.

But it’s an example of the type of explanation that the coaches, the players, and the fans deserve.

Rob Del Mundo is the author of Blue And White Beat, and will be blogging at TMLfans.ca throughout the NHL off-season.