Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy may have forced the National Hockey League’s hand with his dangerously high hit to the head of Columbus Blue Jackets forward Josh Anderson. McAvoy’s headshot may seem like a garden variety illegal check, but it is a key piece in a very frustrating postseason for officials.
Throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year, there have been missed calls and other mistakes from officiating crews. McAvoy’s hit was an example of an underwhelming response from referees. The Bruin defender was only given a two-minute penalty with the implication that the NHL’s Department of Player Safety would take care of further punishment. McAvoy would later receive a one-game suspension, but to the majority that thought McAvoy should have been thrown out of the game, this was a poorly mishandled situation.
Just 12 days earlier, the officiating team assigned to the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights first-round series fumbled another infraction that ultimately changed the outcome of the game and the series entirely. Trailing 3-0 in the third period of game seven, Sharks forward Joe Pavelski was taken down by the duo of Golden Knights forwards Cody Eakin and Paul Stastny, resulting in Pavelski’s forehead to be split open.
Referees Dan O’Halloran and Eric Furlatt gathered while crimson red dots trailed Pavelski to the San Jose locker room and determined that Eakin hit Pavelski with a high-stick. Eakin was given a match penalty, the team was assessed a five-minute major and the Sharks scored four straight goals during that span. The Golden Knights would tie the game with a minute left, but the momentum swing was deep in the Sharks corner as they took the game, and the series, in overtime.
Looking back at the replay, it was clear Pavelski was not hit with a high stick. He was cross-checked in the chest by Eakin and then, after awkwardly colliding with Stastny in mid-air, hit his head on the ice. Was Eakin deserving of a penalty? Yes. Should he have been kicked out of the game and given a five-minute major? No, a two-minute cross-checking penalty would have sufficed. O’Halloran and Furlatt were sent home for the rest of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
In the middle of this madness, there has been a call to action. It has been suggested by media members that the league could be looking into setting up a video review process for major penalties. The details as to how far these discussions have gone are unclear, but it is clear that the NHL does not want this to happen again.
It would be wise for the NHL to adopt the NCAA policy. At the collegiate level, all dangerous hits that could be worthy of a five minute major and a game misconduct are reviewed by officials on the ice through video review. This process has worked very well for the NCAA. It puts head contact under scrutiny but does not impede the flow of the game.
The NHL already taking action by sending referees home is a good sign that there will be change coming. It is a shame that it had to happen in this fashion, but every moment of change starts with a tipping point.