This post has been edited for clarity because the writer is a meticulous a*shole
Tough day to be Tim Peel.
For those of you who aren’t aware, during last night’s Detroit-Nashville broadcast, veteran referee Tim Peel was caught on air admitting to calling a nothing penalty on Nashville because he “wanted to get a f*cking call in against [them] early.”
Bizarrely, he apparently said this to Nashville forward Filip Forsberg.
Hot mic alert. Tim Peel will no longer be reffing NHL games… pic.twitter.com/C1R9GubdoS— Tony Cordasco (@TonyDasco) March 24, 2021
Part of the Job Description
Look, this is bad for Tim Peel. I’m not going to defend what he did; it was bullsh*t.
But it also appears to be part of the job based on a long-running precedent, and he did it for over two decades under directives from the bosses who fired him for
getting caught doing it.
Should it be part of the job? Should referees be picking, choosing or exaggerating penalty calls to affect the emotion, pacing and/or “balance” of the game?
First, let’s look at some statistical indicators that it’s happening so we can back up the eye test. Jeff Veillette recently ran a piece exploring the conspiracy theory that the refs are out to get
your favourite team the Maple Leafs, and his findings showed a strong correlation league wide between penalties taken and penalties drawn, from ‘07-‘20 and ‘17-‘20 respectively.
What that shows is there’s a startling and consistent link between getting a call against and getting a call for, which in theory offers pretty clear evidence of referees maintaining an agenda of balanced officiating, team discipline and reality be damned.
Micah Blake McCurdy delved deeper on the subject by eliminating offsetting minors from the equation, and came away with similar, albeit less damning, findings. For those interested, here’s a great thread on the subject that is totally not at all over my head. I completely
don’t get it and I definitely don’t rely on @krisjgalvez and @eamonhamilton29 to explain these things to me like they would a small child.
So with offsettings excluded, you still see a pretty obvious relationship, but it seems like it's era affected. Back in the day (PHX, ATL) we had more penalties called, now (ARI, VGK) we don't. I should look at this another way. pic.twitter.com/tkhlZdXuAq— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) February 4, 2021
Sleight of Hand
So, should referees be impacting the game like this? No, they shouldn’t. It’s insane that they do, but they do, they always have, and there’s no end in sight to it unless this incident snowballs to an irrepressible level (here’s hoping).
If you’re the NHL, how in god’s name do you fire a guy for getting caught doing what he was employed to do for over 20 years? He’s worked over 1000 NHL games to this point and you’re telling me you had no idea this was happening until now? And, to top it off, you see it as an isolated incident?
Come the f*ck off it.
How can you expect people to see an incident like that and feel satisfied with an end result of Peel being fired, with no mention to the greater issues at play?
Look over here, we got rid of the bad man who did the bad thing! Look! We took action! It’s resolved! Ignore the mountain of bullsh*t on our end that led to it, just look where we want you to look.
It’s bad sleight of hand, and early returns seem to show that NHL fans & pundits aren’t fooled by sh*tty magicians and bad card tricks.
The Timing and the Optics
This could not have come at a worse time for the NHL. Around the league, players are routinely being run with dangerous hits that are going uncalled. Worse yet, they’re happening without supplemental discipline, in what appears to be the pursuit of a muddled new standard for physical play in the NHL. This issue extends to NHL’s Department of Player Safety as well.
Let’s run some tape, and by that I mean here’s a slew of clunky embedded tweets.
They seriously blew this play dead……………… for a hand pass. https://t.co/1oMfMWg3DN— Kevin Papetti (@KPapetti) February 5, 2021
Match penalty assessed to Joachim Blichfeld for an illegal check to the head of MacKinnon. Not enough of the body and main contact is the head. MacKinnon to the room pic.twitter.com/AHVOZrV9eD— NHL Safety Watch (@NHLSafetyWatch) March 4, 2021
HOW TF IS THIS NOT A PENALTY? #GoHabsGo— Here's Your Replay ⬇️ (@HeresYourReplay) January 31, 2021
🎥 Sportsnet pic.twitter.com/JRpb62jBFd
After seeing a slew of these not called over the last little bit, good to see this be penalized. Foligno gets two minutes for boarding Pesce pic.twitter.com/q6FPxhpRlT— NHL Safety Watch (@NHLSafetyWatch) March 22, 2021
Driving right through those digits. Ouch. Gotta call that. https://t.co/gbBuA71cgW— Scouting The Refs (@ScoutingTheRefs) March 21, 2021
Of all those hits, only Blichfeld and Foligno were called for penalties. None received supplemental discipline.
Meanwhile, league wide, officials are calling phantom penalties in the name of balance and, dare I say, “game flow”. Here’s a good one of Alex Kerfoot getting two minutes for playing hockey. Note that the other nine skaters on the ice are not getting penalties for playing hockey.
Kerfoot to the box for pic.twitter.com/a9yM0ZfiAH— Ah yes, the Leafs. (@LeafsAllDayy) January 29, 2021
The contrast between these two issues is stark, and the connection between them is creating a perfect storm. The optics of this are terrible; it paints the picture of a league that’s allowed or instructed its officials to foster a long-held culture of calling both dangerous and non-existent infractions at their own discretion, while showing a consistent disregard for player safety. At what point does a player get seriously hurt on a “borderline” hit that the perpetrator has thrown countless times with limited repercussions?
Who’s more at fault in that scenario; the player, or the league that’s set a precedence of allowing them to throw dangerous hits on their peers with inconsistent consequences?
To top it off, the message has now been sent that as soon as a ref gets into hot water for doing what ref’s around the league are currently expected to do, they’ll be thrown under the bus in the name of ‘protecting the integrity of the game.’
Integrity, or gutlessness?
An Unresolved Problem
The NHL has a very real problem on its hands, one that fans are rightfully incensed over. They can spout off about the “integrity of the game” all they want, but it’s a smokescreen that’s intended to distract us from the real issue:
The league’s officiating and Department of Player Safety, both in tandem and independently, are in need of a drastic overhaul.
It’s high time for infractions to be called as they’re seen, not as they relate to flow of the game, and it’s time for headshots and hits from behind to be taken out of the game altogether.
In the same game, you can watch Zack Kassian violently run Nik Ehlers from behind and get away with it, while Connor McDavid draws three obvious penalties a shift with only a fraction of them called. You can change the channel and watch Shea Weber deliver double-minor-worthy cross checks for 24 minutes a night without a call while Brendan Gallagher gets boarded bloodied at the other end, only for the officials to turn a blind eye because guys like Gallagher don’t get the same calls as the rest.
In between all that? You’ll see hooking penalties called on cleanly executed stick lifts to make up the difference.
Time for Change
Enough is enough. We’ve seen frustrated and confused players on both sides of this for too long, and any NHL fan will be able to give you countless examples of calls done in the name of being a “make up call” that alter the flow of the game. It’s been going on for so long you can sense when they’re coming. It’s built into the viewing experience.
Redefining problematic or dangerous infractions in clearly defined terms and calling them whenever they’re seen during gameplay is an important and necessary step for this league to take, because even if this incident blows over, these issues aren’t going to up and disappear. They’ll come right back around in due time. It won’t be an easy transition, but players have shown their ability to adapt to the ‘new normal’ time and time again.
So let the league feed you their statements on how much they care about the integrity of the game, but know that they’re the ones responsible for actively undermining it, day in and day out.
Tim Peel was a month away from retirement.
If they truly cared about integrity, they’d have owned their share of the blame and allowed him to see that through.