In the past couple of weeks, the Ottawa Senators have seen both sides of the spectrum when it comes to referees making the wrong decision on major penalties.
If nothing else, these two incidents paint a perfect picture of why the NHL should adopt a video review system when dealing with five-minute major penalties and game ejections.
On Wednesday night in Washington, Curtis Lazar lay helpless on the ice at the Verizon Center just inside the Capitals’ zone. Groggy and unable to come to his senses right away, he was immediately greeted by head athletic therapist Gerry Townend. Just a few seconds earlier, Lazar had been hit by Washington winger Tom Wilson - who has certainly gained the reputation of playing on the edge in the past couple of seasons.
Senators’ players who were on the ice - including Chris Neil - were livid with Wilson taking liberties with one of their young players and went after him in the corner when the play was blown dead.
Now the referees had a decision to make: Should they give Tom Wilson a five-minute major penalty for an illegal check to the head - or should they let him go unpunished?
The optics certainly looked terrible; a downed Lazar left woozy on the ice after a hit from Wilson, who has made a living by delivering punishing hits that have fallen into a very murky grey area.
With no ability to review the play, the referees decided to give Wilson a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct. At first glance, it seemed like it was the right call and one that could fall into the category of a Rule 48 (Illegal Check to the Head) hit. (Full disclosure: When watching the hit in real time, I absolutely thought it was a reckless and dangerous hit that fell under the Rule 48 umbrella).
The Capitals - who were in complete control of a 2-0 hockey game - suddenly had to kill off an extended major penalty. The Senators scored once on the man-advantage and were buzzing around the Washington zone for the tying marker in the following minutes. The momentum of the game had completely changed because of the referees’ decision to give Wilson a major.
Meanwhile, various alternate camera angles of the hit were being made available on television broadcasts showing Wilson did not make Lazar’s head the principal point of contact. Pretty soon, the GIFs were flying around social media, exonerating Wilson for the hit. And Capitals fans were venting their frustration towards referees Wes McCauley and Jon McIsaac, who, in hindsight, had made the wrong call.
This story would have likely blown up into something even bigger if the Senators were able to tie up the hockey game on the ensuing power play. But the Capitals staved off the late Ottawa rally and escaped with a 2-1 victory.
But the point here is that the on-ice officials got the call wrong on the ice. And while I completely respect the opinion of Kerry Fraser in his C’Mon Ref column on TSN.ca this week - saying that the officials need to have better communication in these situations - I firmly believe that it’s time for the NHL to adopt video review for all major penalties.
From the Senators perspective, they were livid just a couple of weeks ago when Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Radko Gudas delivered a nasty and unnecessary check to the head of Ottawa forward Mika Zibanejad.
The hit was somehow completely missed by four officials on the ice. But the next day, the NHL Department of Player Safety levied a three-game suspension to Gudas for the illegal hit on Zibanejad. While that’s all well and fine, the suspension to Gudas did not benefit the Senators in any tangible manner, because he wasn’t penalized on the ice.
The Senators were trailing the Flyers by one goal at the time of the Gudas hit on Zibanejad and a five-minute penalty could have certainly shifted the momentum in that game. If Sens’ coach Dave Cameron had a challenge flag in that situation, he surely would have used it in order to initiate a video review of the Gudas hit.
Ejecting players from a hockey game is a call that should not be taken lightly by the on-ice officials. Five-minute penalties create major momentum swings in hockey games and can often help determine the outcome.
In the year 2015, referees should not have to play a guessing game when figuring out whether or not to eject a player. With the benefit of video review, it’s fairly obvious whether a hit warrants a five-minute major or not. If the league is willing to slow down a game to determine whether a player’s skate lace may have been offside, perhaps it’s time to afford the same luxury to major penalties.
In both cases - the decision to eject Wilson and the decision to not penalize Gudas – the referees on the ice did not make the correct call. It’s shame because this could be easily fixed by taking an extra couple of minutes to review the hit on video.
It’s one thing when these hits are occurring in December, but just imagine the outrage in the heat of a playoff race if a referee makes an incorrect call on a major penalty - and ends up costing a team a couple of valuable points.