This letter is addressed to Mr. Steven Walkom, Director of Officiating of the National Hockey League.
Dear Mr Walkom:
Over the years, you come to expect an NHL official to make a few mistakes, miss a few calls or cost a team a game. In the case to veteran official Chris Lee, it has become abundantly clear to most Montreal Canadiens’ fans, and by extension the media and the organization, that some reorientation is in order to reaffirm the definition of ‘objectivity’ in officiating a hockey game.
At 1:04 of the first period, the Montreal Canadiens were called for a too many men on the ice penalty. Montreal defenceman Nathan Beaulieu played the puck at his bench as he got on the ice, and the whistle was immediately blown by Lee.
By definition, Rule 74.1 in the NHL Rule Book states:
- If in the course of making a substitution, either the player entering the game or the player retiring from the ice surface plays the puck with his stick, skates or hands or who checks or makes any physical contact with an opposing player while either the player entering the game or the retiring player is actually on the ice, then the infraction of “too many men on the ice” will be called.
That’s all well and good, except in this case, P.K. Subban was the player retiring to the bench, and was on said bench when Beaulieu played the puck.
Later, at the 14:18 mark of the same period, Canadiens’ defenseman Andrei Markov received a tripping penalty on Boston Bruins’ forward Colin Miller. Both players did make contact at the Canadiens’ blue line, but Miller fell too his knees a full three second after the contact was made. At no time did Markov extend a leg out or lunge with his stick to impede Miller in any way. It was the most blatant form of embellishment I have seen in over 40 years of watching the National Hockey League.
Then, there was the high sticking call made on Canadiens’ centre Torrey Mitchell at 4:36 of the second period. Mitchell was skating from the corner to the Bruins’ goal mouth area, where he was confronted by diminutive defenseman Torrey Krug. Both players were face to face, and it was Krug that was trying to initiate contact in front of the net. When Mitchell tried to push off Krug to get some separation, Krug went down like he had been shot atclose range…holding his abdomien.
And finally, making matters even worse, at 4:01 of the third period, Tomas Plekanec scored on a goal mouth scramble to seemingly tie the game, with Brendan Gallagher falling over him. After Bruins’ coach Claude Julien asked for his Coach’s Challenge, Lee took no less that 35 seconds to review the play, and came back to centre with a “no goal” announcement due to incidental contact.
Firstly, Gallagher entered the crease behind Bruins’ goalie Jonas Gustavasson. Then, as he tried to back out of the crease, Bruins’ captain Zdeno Chara fell into him, forcing his weight onto Gallagher, causing the contact. Last time I looked, there’s nothing ‘incidental’ about that.
Hockey is a physical game. It’s a foregone conclusion that there will be contact, punishable or not, in almost every area of the ice. Calling justifiable penalties and calling back goals on incidental contact are expected. But when phantom calls are made, embellishment ignored and goals reversed when contact was by no means to fault of the ‘offending’ player and more because of reputation, I fear for the integrity of the game.
It’s the league’s responsibility to take action to correct this sub-standard level of officiating. And not by ‘punishing’ the officials in question by keeping them out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but by reorienting them on what correct calls and good goals are. The lack of clarity, and lack of objectivity in Lee’s case, mark the game in a way the league should never allow.