How to get consistent refereeing in the NHL playoffs

Once the puck drops for the NHL playoffs, the league’s officiating teams are highly scrutinized. It’s quite common for players, coaches and fans to complain about inconsistent refereeing during the postseason as an infraction that’s called for a penalty one night is completely ignored the next game. The simplest way to solve the problem of inconsistency during the drive to the Stanley Cup is to use the same set of on-ice officials for an entire playoff series. This means the teams will get the same referees and linesmen for each and every contest of a seven-game series.

The way the league currently operates, a different group of officials works each game and the clubs may be lucky to see the same faces twice during a seven-game showdown. Since officials are human it’s just natural that each of them has his own unique style even though the NHL preaches for consistency. Some referees are more lenient than others and this can lead to frustration and confusion from game to game. If the same set of officials worked each game of a series the players, coaches and spectators would know exactly what to expect and what constitutes a penalty.

If the same officials were assigned an entire series they would know what has taken place in each previous game. They would know who has caused trouble, who has been diving in an attempt to have a penalty called, who has been delivering cheap-shots and who has been involved in instigating post-whistle scrums etc. It would be so much easier for the players and coaches since they know where the line will be drawn. The fans would also benefit with less pushing and shoving after each and every whistle.

Since different officials are now employed from game to game we see marginal infractions interpreted differently by them from night to night. Game seven is never called in the same manner as game one and this often leads to a team taking a late-game or overtime penalty which can in turn lead to elimination from the playoffs. If a specific team of officials is more lenient, players will naturally try to take advantage of the situation. And even though they may not be called for a penalty during the game, fans have already seen several players suspended during this year’s postseason for dangerous and dirty plays after the fact due to the league reviewing video replays.

Some playoff games suffer from “under-officiating” one night and “over-officiating” the next. The NHL could do everybody a favour by assigning the same officials to an entire series. They would get a feel for the games and the series and it would lead to more consistency and less frustration. Major League baseball typically uses the same team of umpires for a series so players and managers can basically adapt to the way they interpret the strike zone and the rules in general. NHL players and coaches can be seen to be visibly upset during the playoffs when one pair of referees calls a game completely different than another pair during the same series. The solution is right before their eyes, but so far the NHL hasn’t explored the benefits of it.    

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