Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Impossible Perfection

The biggest single problem in the NHL today is officiating. Everyone except the NHL head office agrees on that. What is the solution? There isn’t one and everybody knows it.

The problem is the expectation level is now so high there is no human being or group of human beings who could ever officiate the fastest non-motorized team sport in the world and call each foul and make the correct call on each play. A perfectly officiated game has never occurred and will never occur. Just like a perfect game has never been played and never will.

The NHL wants the fans and media to stop talking about it because the league believes it distracts everyone from the high level of play and diminishes the excitement that the best players in the world create. In reality the excitement level can be highest when officiating is a central part of the game. It’s one of those unpredictable components of live sports which make it exciting in both good and bad was, but it is exciting.

The NHL would most like the media to stop talking about officiating because it believes the media incites the fans into their displeasure by repeatedly showing blown or missed calls and then using their expertise to explain to the common fan how bad a call it was and why. Second guessing and critiquing officiating is now almost a secondary sport unto itself but is the media, especially the broadcast media, really doing the fans a dis-service when they don’t call and or comment on all facets of the game. Especially when some of these calls or non-calls directly result in goals, wins and losses? Sometimes a bad call or a non-call really does cost someone a game and the media should not comment on that? I agree that a never ending preoccupation with officiating during a broadcast is not productive, but a fearful aversion to any negative officiating analysis is cheating the fans of the coverage they deserve.

Network TV doesn’t help in this regard. While there has never been a perfect broadcast, the level of expertise and technology in network TV has never been higher. There is very little which is missed by the cameras and often it’s in beautiful high definition where something the size of the head of a pin can be microscopically analyzed. This time of year the production trucks are filled with the most experienced and very best producers and directors in hockey and their talents bring everything to the surface for both appreciation and exasperation by the fans.

Let’s look at last night’s controversial call in the San Jose/Dallas game. Marty Turco is down and we can see clearly he did not have the puck covered and it was poked into the net. The goal was waived off by the official because he had lost sight of the puck. This morning I was listening to the debates on radio. One of them was that the official was in the wrong place on the ice. The fact is, he was in the right place and made the right call but TV is right there to magnify the fallibility of human referees. Media and the fans now have come to expect technology can fix everything. Every play should be reviewable, every foul should be called, every game should be perfect. It is both impractical and impossible.

Officials try each game to call things fair and equal. At least that’s what they say. It’s a great goal to work towards, but it’s ultimately impossible. Officials are human beings and as such are prone to the same things the rest of us are. Why do some players get away with things others do not? Why do some teams seem to get an unfair shake from certain officials? How can a coach or player expect to get a completely unbiased call from an official when those same players and coaches often scream at and berate certain officials?

If I were an official I would have grudges and historical bias towards certain players, coaches and teams based on the way I had been treated by them in the past. I like the officials in the NHL would never admit it publicly but let’s face it, it is human nature. Pretending it doesn’t exist is naive.

So there it is. The bottom line in officiating is “S___T Happens” and that will never change no matter how much technology is added to the process. Technology has only increased the fodder for our debates not decreased their likelihood.

Here is another undeniable truth. Everyone except the NHL believes officiating is the leagues single biggest problem yet the officials we have are the best in the world. It can not be called by someone else who is better. We already have the best.

Technology has shown us all the warts. We knew they were there before, but now they are shoved in our faces in high definition and everyone knows a wart under a microscope is not pretty. But when that wart is on the chin of your loving grand mother, you choose not to focus on it because everything else in that dress and sensible shoes you love so much more. Try to think of that when next you want to dump on this game and its officials. If you can look for what you really love about the NHL without focusing so much on a wart that can never and will never go away. If you can’t, just keep on bitching about things you can’t change. It’s a useless waste of emotion but its everyone’s right to waste it if they choose to.

See you at the rink.


Ed said...

I would just like to know what the penalty was when Malkin got the penalty shot.

Anonymous said...

Hey Big Mouth - buy a striped shirt -
learn how to skate - volunteer to
referee some peewee games.

We'll gladly show up and point out
the 500 things that you're doing wrong.