Tim Peel is the NHL's Latest Scapegoat
Long-maligned NHL referee Tim Peel suffers the consequences for saying the quiet part out loud.
There may not have been much of a choice for the NHL after Tim Peel was caught on a hot mic saying he wanted to call a penalty on the Nashville Predators to even things up a bit, so he called a weak one.
The incident is deeply embarrassing for the NHL, in that the quiet part was said out loud, but everyone who watches this sport on a regular basis knows that “game management” happens all the time.
There is some confusion in media about what exactly is at issue here, with many citing make up calls being a very human reaction for referees to have. That’s true, but what happened here isn’t a make up call. A make up call is when a ref believes they got a call wrong, but it’s too late for it to be reversed, so a borderline infraction is called on the other team in order to even things up. They can happen during a powerplay in order to make it four-on-four, or later in the game to give the opponent a powerplay.
Make up calls can lead to frustration from fans and teams, but by and large those types of calls are almost unavoidable. Game management, which is what Peel did here, is entirely different. Game management comes from officials believing it’s their duty to not create a situation where one team runs roughshod over another.
At the time Peel called the penalty on the Predators that caused all this outrage, the Predators were up 1-0 after scoring seconds into their first and only powerplay of the game, and on top of that they were controlling 56 per cent of the shot attempts, 60 per cent of the shots, 64 per cent of the scoring chances, and 67 per cent of the high danger scoring chances. Essentially, the Red Wings were being run over, so Peel gave them a sympathy powerplay.
For the NHL, Peel saying out loud what he was doing, to the Predators bench for some strange reason according to Matt Duchene, was enough to keep him from officiating any more games this season.
Peel was set to retire in the next month or so, and the NHL was careful in its wording to say he won’t be officiating any games, they did not say he was fired. Thankfully for Peel, that should mean he will get his full retirement package at the end of the season, so the biggest wound to him is likely his pride.
On the surface the reaction from the NHL looks incredibly harsh, but in reality it’s not so bad, and the optics of it are intended to look harsh for a reason; to end discussion about this issue.
The fact is game management happens in the NHL all the time, and is likely encouraged by the league, or else it wouldn’t be so commonplace. Everyone who watches a bit of hockey can think of a game where one team was up 3-0 in the third period, owning the puck every shift, and suddenly were dinged for multiple borderline calls.
Sometimes it settles the game, sometimes the trailing team manages to bust the shutout bid of the winning goaltender, and sometimes it sparks a full on comeback. No matter the result, it shouldn’t happen at all. The only time where game management should enter the picture should be if a game is trending towards violence, and officials need to drop the temperature.
Unfortunately, the reality is that officiating the score is a constant issue in the National Hockey League, and while the blame always seems to end up with officials like Peel, referees ultimately do what they’re directed to do by the league.
Complaining about referees is a time honoured tradition in hockey fandom, and while Kerry Fraser speaking to The Athletic didn’t exactly help the situation by saying what we all know; that this happens all the time and all refs do it, the issue isn’t ultimately on referees.
Officials are given directives by the NHL’s Director of Officiating; Stephen Walkom, among other league executives like Colin Campbell, the NHL’s Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations. What a title. You might remember Colin Campbell from emails that were released where he berated the Director of Officiating for calling a penalty on his son Gregory Campbell, or emails in the NHL’s continuing litigation over concussions that don’t paint him in a positive light.
Referees didn’t suddenly start calling interference after the 2004-05 lockout because they wanted to, they didn’t crack down on slashing a couple years ago because they felt it had to happen, they were following league directives. Game management might feel natural to referees like Kerry Fraser, not because it is, but because the league has always been okay with it at the very least behind the scenes- but more likely promoted as a positive.
The NHL’s officiating directives are anything but transparent for the most part, but if we can learn anything about them without them being detailed for us, it’s that the league wants officials to do less officiating overall.
Since the NHL began recording the data back in 1963, the league has never seen fewer powerplays on a per game basis than the current era players are playing in. Of the 10 seasons in NHL history with the fewest penalties called per game, eight of them were in the last eight seasons, including all seven of the bottom seven seasons.
With fewer powerplays available, and offensive coaching improving, the average powerplay of 20 years ago where teams scored on about 16.5 per cent of their opportunities has been replaced by modern powerplays; scoring on over 21 per cent of their opportunities so far in 2020-2021.
So powerplays are less frequent, but far more dangerous when they’re given.
In an era where the NHL’s focus is clearly to take the direct impact of officials out of the scoreline, allowing game management style penalization has more of an impact on the final scores than ever before, and instead of the NHL ensuring their paying customers and clients that they’re committed to maintaining the integrity of the game by at least attempting to remove that practice in favour of, oh I don’t know, calling the rule book as it’s written in all game states and situations, they’ve put everything on Tim Peel as a scapegoat.
I can’t be the only one who finds this entire situation tragically disappointing.
I believe officiating in the NHL is inconsistent and arbitrary. Since the "new nhl" began in 2005, with its emphasis on cutting back on obstruction (holding, hooking) fouls, we have seen an explosion of undeserved penalty calls. Before 2005, it was uncommon for a player to be penalized for a foul he did not commit!! There is no doubt today's game is much faster and is therefore a much better product for fans like me. I think one simple directive to officials must be "Don't call what you don't see". If that means more calls are missed, so be it. Too often players, commentators, and fans are left wondering why a foul was called when no foul was committed. Unlike other sports, a single penalty in hockey often determines the outcome of a game. It is too big a factor to be determined arbitrarily.
Also, I think players and teams are conscientiously playing cleaner hockey. Therefore fewer penalties, as per the graphic in the article. That's a good thing. Power plays are formulaic, often relatively boring, and seldom produce the most dynamic goals.
in my opinion, the ideal hockey game would be fast, with lots of great scoring chances, great goal tending, some good clean hard hits, some goals, and no penalties.