Opinion: John Torterella Was Right to Criticise the Officiating of Last Night's Game

Last night, after a 3-2 overtime win shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, John Torterella sounded off on the timekeepers, referees, and the situation room in Toronto for robbing the Blue Jackets of a win. Despite criticism from Colin Campbell, Torterella was right to voice his displeasure with the way this game was called, and should not be punished for his comments.
For those who are not aware of the events that took place last night, here is a quick rundown. With 19.2 seconds remaining in overtime, the Chicago Blackhawks are caught with too many men on the ice, and receive a penalty for it. The timekeepers were slow, and let the clock run down an extra 1.1 seconds, which the referees decided not to put back on the clock. Zach Werenski scored a goal which was called back due to the time expiring (by less than 1.1 seconds). As a result, the teams went into a shootout. In that shootout, Columbus goaltender Joonas Korpisalo sustained a knee injury, and is apparently going to be out for weeks, according to Torterella.

In other words, the league completely screwed up this situation, which led to the wrong team winning the game and caused a player to get hurt and miss significant time.

Torterella was rightfully livid at the way this game concluded, blaming the timekeepers, referees, and the situation room for causing Korpisalo's injury, and stealing a win from the Blue Jackets.

As is typical for the NHL, they did not hold the officials accountable, and chose to chastise Torterella for his comments, likely with some measure of supplemental discipline coming in the next few days.

My question is: Why can't coaches or players hold the referees accountable, and call them out for dictating the outcome of a game?

There have been several instances where referees blow a call, toss out a coach, or otherwise sway the outcome of a game. Yet when a player or coach decides to publicly criticise their performance, they quickly apologise, likely due to pressuring from the league, and the referees do not get any sort of discipline for their actions.

In 2014, Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher was held back several times by Jets defence-men Jacob Trouba and Zach Bogosian as well as goaltender Al Montoya. As a result, the Gallagher was held offside by almost 20 seconds, while the Canadiens are attempting to tie the game late in the third period. During the post-game interview, Gallagher was to angry to respond to questions, and reporters flocked to Josh Gorges to answer questions instead. Gorges was quoted as saying "I have to be careful with what I say." He brushed over the idea that referees have a bias against players like Gallagher, without delving too deep into that theory. Not a bad idea since he apparently has to watch what he says about officiating.

A different situation saw Gallagher in an interview with Chantal Desjardins, who asked about a missed call earlier in the game. He answered the question with a quote, allegedly from the referee, which said "any other player gets that call but you, Brendan." Is that really what a referee told him? We don't know for sure, since the league appears to not have investigated this story. What we do know is that Gallagher apologised for voicing his displeasure in a public manner.

In the 2015-16 season, Jets coach Paul Maurice was incensed by the officials not calling a penalty on a nasty hit on Bryan Little by Anton Stralman. After the intermission, veteran referee Francois Saint-Laurent decided to stare down Maurice, effectively baiting him into saying something. As soon as Maurice opened his mouth, *poof* he gets ejected from the game.

These three cases, along with the most recent situation with John Torterella have something in common. The league always sides with the referees, and seems to pressure the opposition into apologising. It is mind-boggling that the league rarely gets involved when the officiating is blatantly terrible. Everyone understands the difficulty of being a referee for one of the fastest sports of the planet. However, none of the mistakes in these examples were caused by the speed of the game, given that the referees had the opportunity to understand and digest the events that were unfolding, and act accordingly.

The referee chose not to give a penalty when Gallagher was being interfered with multiple times, they have been accused of intentionally calling the game impartially, tossed out an emotional head coach after staring him down as he came back out from the locker room, and decided not to add time on the clock (which the referee has complete authority to do) when it was clearly warranted.

The league should not look upon referees as perfect individuals. They are humans, like players and management, yet receive this free pass whenever they do anything wrong. Meanwhile, the players and management will be punished if they dare say anything bad about the officiating in a game.

There have been only three incidents in recent memory in which the league and on-ice officials differed in opinions on a given play. The most recent was an apology to the Minnesota Wild for bungling a coach's challenge call which lead to a goal against.  The second being an apology to the Vegas Golden Knights for receiving a major penalty on Cody Eakin which led to the Sharks mounting a comeback and eliminating the Golden Knights. The last was the league's decision to strike a diving penalty off of Arturri Lehkonen's record after a game against the Ottawa Senators during the 2018-19 season.

This further proves the point that referees are human, and can make errors like anyone else. But when errors are blatant, or even intentional, they should not be exempt from criticism from coaches or players. Torterella should not be punished for his rant regarding the shootout loss to Chicago.

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