In one of the first major incidents involving an official since the Tim Donaghy scandal took over the NBA in 2007, the NHL finally had to bring the hammer down on a referee after a game between the Nashville Predators and Detroit Red Wings.
Midway through the second period in Nashville, the Predators found themselves up 1-0 when the local FOX affiliate began to head into a commercial break.
However, the attention quickly turned away from the game being played on the ice. Instead, it was placed solely on a few words from referee Tim Peel, who was caught on a live microphone with a NSFW comment about a penalty he had called on Predators forward Viktor Arvidsson.
“It wasn’t much, but I wanted to get a f—ing penalty against Nashville early,” Peel was heard saying in a video posted by Sportsnet video producer Matt Best.
The moment drew the ire of hockey fans around both the United States and Canada, and certainly made its way to the higher-ups at the NHL, as well.
In a statement the following morning, NHL Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell announced that Peel “no longer will be working NHL games now or in the future.”
“Nothing is more important than ensuring the integrity of our game,” Campbell wrote. “Tim Peel’s conduct is in direct contradiction to the adherence to the cornerstone principle that we demand of our officials and that our fans, players, coaches and all those associated with our game expect and deserve. There is no justification for his comments, no matter the context or his intention, and the National Hockey League will take any and all steps necessary to protect the integrity of our game.”
While the firing was a quick solution to the obvious problem of Peel’s overall presence, it wasn’t the silver bullet that will ensure that incidents like this aren’t a factor moving forward.
Officiating is a tough egg to crack in any sport, given how subjective of a profession it inherently is. Referees make mistakes on basketball courts, on football fields, on the ice, and behind the plate during baseball games, and it’s simply become part of the sport.
But, when referees are vocal about things like “make-up calls” or sending a message by calling penalties early on, it casts doubt on the entire process in any sport.
“I don’t think there’s a place in hockey for that,” Predators center Matt Duchene said during a weekly radio show appearance. “I hope that’s not something that goes on with more officials, but there’s definitely nights when you’re skeptical of it, for sure.”
Retired NHL official Kerry Fraser, who called almost 2,000 regular season games and 12 Stanley Cup Finals in his career, revealed in an article from The Athletic that some officials, himself included, would “want to have a penalty” in order “to bring the temperature down in a game.”
“There are so many hot mics around in a rink now that officials can’t have any sort of private conversation, because somebody’s always listening,” Fraser told The Athletic.
While the instant reaction from the league would probably be to cut down on the use of microphones to prevent incidents like these from happening in the future, the best solution would likely be the opposite.
If the NHL and other leagues that are worried about the same issues are looking to protect the integrity of their games, the proper next step would be to place more of a focus on the monitoring of referees’ microphones, and disciplining them as needed to prevent the presence of worrisome in-game officials like Peel.