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Fraser: What's the standard for officiating in the playoffs?

Kerry Fraser
4/17/2014 6:11:37 PM
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Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry wants to answer your emails at cmonref@tsn.ca.

Hey Kerry,
 
What's the standard for officiating on hits and shoves after the whistle? Andrei Markov laid a late hit on Ondrej Palat after the whistle in last night's Habs-Lightning game, while Radko Gudas was giving extra pushes and shoves after play was stopped as well! How much is too much?
 
Carrie
 
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Hi Kerry,
 
I appreciate your candor in your columns. With the playoffs upon us I am going to put you on the spot. Does the league mandate that officials loosen the reins on the rules come playoffs? I have played, coached and been a fan of the game for many years and it would appear there is a different standard (I use Brad Marchand repeatedly punching one of the Sedins after a whistle with no call in the 2011 Stanley Cup final as Exhibit A). As a fan I hate the relaxed standard that is apparent in the playoffs.
 
Andy,
Toronto


Hi Carrie and Andy:

And so the games begin!

We all know that game intensity is quickly ramped up in the playoffs. At ice level, a referee must be able to feel the energy that players exude from the opening puck drop and allow the game to unfold. Each game has a unique 'heartbeat' and the officials need to constantly take the pulse into account and determine when it is appropriate to impose themselves.

I'm not talking about when to call a trip or other obvious infraction but more specifically how to regulate the temperature of a game. The refs need to tap into and differentiate between the positive energy (which they must allow to flourish) and any excessive negative energy (which they must take measures to control).  Quite often there is a fine line between the two once we enter the high stakes of playoff competition. One incident can spike the game temp, such as the deliberate snow shower that Ryan Garbutt buried Ducks goalie Frederik Anderson with, or the late body check from Andrei Markov on Ondrej Palat.

On the first play, the referee took immediate control by assessing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to Garbutt, thereby sending a clear message that any "cheap" liberties on the goalkeeper would not be tolerated. I asked Marty Biron, whom I sat beside in the TSN studio last night, if a snow shower throws a goalie off his game. Marty said it actually does the opposite and will motivate the goalie to remain focused and play harder. Adding insult to injury, Matt Beleskey scored the fourth Ducks goal with Garbutt in the box. That became a costly penalty once Dallas closed the gap and Anaheim hung on for the 4-3 win.

There was less need for the refs to exert control on the late Markov check. It was a clean shoulder check (other than after the whistle), it was in open ice as opposed to into the boards (in which case I am quite sure a penalty would have resulted) and even though it resulted in a scrum, the benefit of the doubt could be offered that Markov was in the act of finishing a check and the whistle was a little late. If after this "freebee" extended by the refs there was another episode of a testosterone rush someone should pay the price of a penalty call.

Andy, there is no specific direction or league mandate given to the officials to loosen the reins on the rules. They are instructed to utilize their "best judgment" to ensure that marginal penalties are avoided at all times. This suggestion can plant a seed in the mind of the officials that isn't always positive. As the game moves closer to the end the refs feel an internal pressure to make sure that if they do raise their arm it will be judged as a "solid" penalty call. They want desperately to keep the spotlight off themselves.

That thought process, when taken to excess, can negatively alter the standard that had been set throughout the game.  Candidly speaking, a referee might avoid calling a foul that occurs 100 plus feet from the net since it doesn't involve a direct scoring opportunity. At that point he gambles and hopes that continued game flow gets him out of a self-perceived controversy. You and I know this is not the right approach, nor is it in the best interest of the game. Those in charge of rating the officials' performance have a hand in this process as well. We have seen situations where a ref has stepped up and made a gutsy (and correct) call that impacts a game only to find himself dropped from further playoff assignments due to the nuclear fallout. 

Brad Marchand 'rag dolling' Daniel Sedin in the 2011 Cup Final is just one example we could cite with regard to ref avoidance issues. Players will take full advantage when they feel the referee has put his whistle away. On the flip side, I recall Jerome Iginla chasing me around the ice after I whistled Andrew Ference for blasting Martin St. Louis into the end boards with less than two minutes remaining in Game 7 of the 2004 Cup Final with the Lightning leading by a score of 2-1. It was an obvious penalty but the score, time and emotion altered Iginla's perception and acceptance of the call.

Then came the first lockout season and the "New NHL" spawned an attitude that penalties would be called regardless of the score and time. The standard has eroded somewhat from that strong initiative and needs to be restored before we move much farther through this playoff season. As I mentioned in a previous column, the referees need to demonstrate sound judgment and courage to make the perceived "tough" call.  When the refs do make them they must be supported by the Officiating Department managers. That is the seed that needs to grow.

Kerry Fraser

Kerry Fraser


Kerry Fraser is an analyst for the NHL on TSN and That's Hockey 2Nite on TSN2. As one of the league's most recognizable senior referees, he's worked 1,904 NHL regular season games and 261 playoff games during his 37-year career.


Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry wants to answer your emails at cmonref@tsn.ca!


You can also follow Kerry Fraser on Twitter at @kfraserthecall!

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