As a retired official, an officiating director, supervisor and teacher, the idea of pre-judging a play is beyond disgusting and the anthesis of all we are taught. It casts a pall over all officials in all sports and the fundamental integrity of what we do.
I never publicly criticized the skills or work quality of other officials during my career, nor do I even now say "so-and-so is a bad official" for public consumption. I do not have a problem criticizing NHL decision makers by name and I am vocal in saying that the coaching that officials receive needs improvement. I will dissect certain calls for positioning and other such teaching-tool reasons. However, I will not publicly wade into the territory of naming which officials' bodies of work do not appeal to me. I won't crap on former NHL officiating colleagues, whether I personally like them or not. If I do not have something nice to say about a fellow official's work from an ability standpoint, I simply say nothing at all.
I am going to focus solely on what Tim Peel said that that was caught on the hot mic and the bigger implications of the incident. Peel had to be let go -- and it's a truly awful way for a career to end, but he brought it on himself.
We are in the business of getting calls right to the best of our ability. There's an invisible tool of the profession that we all carry around with us: call it "Mental Clorox". In other words, we scrub away the gory details of the last game, the last play and get focused on the next one.
There is a lot of nuance to officiating that is hard sometimes to explain to someone who has never officiated. Fans are inclined to be believe that officials are "out to get" their team, as are some coaches. It isn't true, but you'll never convince them of it so don't bother trying.
The nuance is this: We all have better relationships with certain coaches and certain players than others. Based on your history and experience, you learn who to watch a little more closely and who deserves more or less benefit of the doubt and who does not. You give them a certain amount of rope and if they get hanged, well, they hanged themselves.
One thing you never do as an official is prejudge a play. To "invent" a call that you KNOW is wrong -- not a misread, not a mental or positional mistake but a deliberately fabricated call -- is something that has zero place in the profession. This is true regardless of the sport that's involved.
In one of my very first blogs for HockeyBuzz back in 2013, I wrote at length on the topic of accountability and acceptability
as an official. I also tried to explain the boundary lines of "reputation penalties."
A hockey workplace, in many ways, is like any other. But it's also pumped full of adrenaline and testosterone. There are things that get said on the icem in a locker room or a postgame bar, that are not meant for anyone else's ears. A lot of it is B.S.ing, gossiping, posturing or blowing off steam. I am sure even Gary Bettman has said some things to people with whom he works that he'd word differently or simply avoid if outsiders had unfettered access. We live in a world of "total access", social media, etc. that simply were not part of the reality back when I was officiating.
So to those saying, "Didn't you ever say something stupid on the ice to a player, official, coach, etc. that you didn't really mean or perhaps went a bit too far?" the answer is yes. I used my share of foul language. I told people they could meet me under the stands or outside the arena after the game if they really wanted to press the issue. All of that happened.
But I never deliberately pre-determine that I was going to call an unmerited penalty, nor did the four generations of officials who taught me, worked alongside me, and whom I later supervised and trained. Not one, not ever.
I have no idea what Peel was thinking. That's a question only Tim can answer. I have a theory but it's only that. I'm not in his head and I'm not a psychologist.
My theory is this: Peel made a bad call and knew it right away. Then he tried to save face with his partner, Kelly Sutherland, by basically saying, "I meant to do that," ala Pee Wee Herman tumbling off his bicycle and claiming it was his intent all along.
Frankly, that's not a good look, either. The only other alternative is that Peel really DID mean what he said. Either way, he put the NHL in a position where he had to terminated immediately even though he was slated to retire after this season, anyway.
Now here's another question: Where does the buck really stop? There are big problems in the way that the NHL manages, supervises and coaches its officials. Hockey Operations is where the buck ultimately stops and the Department of Officiating (which is a rung down on the totem poll) reports to Hockey Ops.
We needed more here than a pre-written statement attributed to Colin Campbell. Besides, there are deeper questions here that demand answers.
If Tim Peel as a veteran NHL referee felt he had the "I'm untouchable" authority to invent a call based on a prefabricated agenda, well, who enabled the guy to feel that way in the first place? He was a veteran, and a very long-tenured one at that. So long, that I worked with him while still an active ref and also dealt with Tim as a supervisor.
Also, is there no accountability here on the broadcast production side? Who turned on and then suddenly cut off the ice-level mic (it wasn't the ref's own mic for public address)? Is a camera person being fired, too? Or just the ref?
To me, this should serve as a wake up call to all in officiating that the sanctity of handing someone the power and responsibility to judge is something that needs investment, quality control and buck-stops-here management. Will it? I doubt it.
A 2018 inductee into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.
Visit Paul's official websites, YaWannaGo.com and Officiating by Stewart.