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Bettman: NHL referees ‘the best in the world’

Jun 12, 2013, 7:21 PM EDT

Stephen Walkom

To nobody’s surprise, Gary Bettman was asked about the quality of playoff officiating during his Stanley Cup Final press conference.

And, also to nobody’s surprise, the commissioner was ready to answer.

In a reply that sounded like it was prepared for that very question, Bettman stuck up for referees and linesmen, saying he felt NHL officials were the best in the world — regardless of sport.

“The officials in this league are the best in the world, I believe – not just in hockey, but in any sport,” Bettman said. “I believe they have the most difficult job, and it always seems to undergo even more intense scrutiny this time of year.

“This is a game of errors. Coaches make them, players make them, and occasionally the officials make them. We constantly critique, supervise and coach them. They’re held accountable for their performance. You’ve got the best four referees who’ve made it to this point to work the Stanley Cup Final.”

One of the referees not chosen to work the Stanley Cup Final was Stephen Walkom, who controversially called coincidental minor penalties late in Game 7 of the Chicago-Detroit series, wiping out what could’ve been a game-winning goal for the Blackhawks.

Walkom did advance to the Conference finals — after the NHL came out and publicly supported his call — but didn’t make the cut for the final four.

Bettman said refereeing can be a thankless job.

“No matter what they do, they get criticized,” the commissioner explained. “If they call penalties at the end of the game, people get hysterical and say you shouldn’t call penalties like that at the end of a playoff game. If they don’t call penalties, ‘oh they’re not calling it, they’re letting the standard slip.

“The officiating has been consistent. It’s been consistent through the season. It’s been consistent over the last few years.”

One person in disagreement with that assessment?

NHL on NBC analyst Mike Milbury, who recently called postseason officiating “lousy.’

“The officials, they’ve been lousy this spring,” Milbury said. “And I’m telling you, they’ve been lousy throughout.”

Bettman did acknowledge that NHL officiating wasn’t perfect, but was adamant they’re always working and striving to be better.

“Is it perfect? No,” he said. “But that’s what we strive for.”

  1. jdubs21 - Jun 12, 2013 at 7:27 PM

    The main problem with the referee’s in my opinion is the inconsistency of calls during the regular season and the playoffs. When they make a call in the regular season but don’t make a call in the playoffs this makes the refs look lousy. I don’t care about “old time hockey”, a penalty is a penalty no matter when it occurs in every game.

    Look at the NFL the refs make every call all the time, regardless if its the playoffs or game 1 of the regular season. By not wanting to influence the game by making a ticky tack call (a slight penaly, but still a penalty) is completed changing the game.

  2. detroit09 - Jun 12, 2013 at 7:42 PM

    NHL has worst officiating of any sport. Since when is it acceptable to make calls on a whim. The players have no idea what is going to be called. That’s trash. If its a rule. CALL IT!!!
    No other sport allows this garbage.

  3. 19to77 - Jun 12, 2013 at 7:55 PM

    The NHL’s referees call plays inconsistently, at times choosing to put the whistles away and at others choosing to blow every third play down. They call selectively, the practice of make-up calls is well-known, they miss headshots and boarding as often as they don’t, and multiple current and recently-retired referees have been accused of personal bias and vindictiveness far too often for some of it not to be true.

    So no, Gary, the NHL most assuredly does NOT have the best officiating of any sport. If you told the world you were the most successful commissioner of any sport, that wouldn’t make it true. The arrogance of this organization absolutely astounds me. “What? Problems? Criticism? F*ck the fans and the media and the players too, only our lawyers know how hockey works.”

  4. pitpenguinsrulez - Jun 12, 2013 at 8:09 PM

    Consistent? I disagree big time on that one. The refs are never consistent in any sport let alone hockey. Best Refs in any sport? I think the NFL Replacement Refs were better…sarcastically speaking!

  5. nightfireop - Jun 12, 2013 at 8:26 PM

    okay, with that statement, bettman has pretty much made himself the most out of touched commissioner on the face of north american sports.

  6. jacketsfan7 - Jun 12, 2013 at 8:32 PM

    Bettman keeps embarrassing himself over and over…

    • ibieiniid - Jun 13, 2013 at 9:14 AM

      but when he said “best fans in the world,” he was right…. we came back after ANOTHER lockout.

      wonder if “best refs in the world” is just him gearing up for a referee strike. lets cross our fingers…. they’ll come back stronger than ever. WOMP

  7. sharkmaster88 - Jun 12, 2013 at 9:14 PM

    I will be the first to admit I don’t usually see eye to eye with Milbury but he was right on the money the refs not the linesman but the orange bands were awful the NHL rules committee was way worse neither team should be there and they are hope the fans of which ever team gets through this messy year enjoy their TAINTED STANLEY CUP!

  8. cspuck7 - Jun 12, 2013 at 9:45 PM

    Better than the NBA refs at least right?

  9. mrpickled - Jun 12, 2013 at 11:20 PM

    What a tool

  10. bigoldorcafromvan - Jun 12, 2013 at 11:43 PM

    If the zebras called all the games all year long like they are calling the first game with Boston and the Hawks I would be very happy.

  11. wills19 - Jun 13, 2013 at 11:30 AM

    When he says they have been consistent, what he means is consistently garbage

  12. greenmtnboy31 - Jun 13, 2013 at 4:01 PM

    So they are quoting two people here whom no one really cares what they think; Bettman & Milbury; two clowns.

    19to77 makes an excellent point about make up calls. I’m in no way a Bruins fan, but that phantom penalty on Lucic at the beginning of game 4 was just ridiculous and an obvious attempt to give the Pens a leg up and make up for the lack of a hooking call on Jagr that lead to the game winning goal in OT of game 3. Walkom has to have benefitted from the good ‘ol boy network because he never should have been selected for the western conference finals based on his horrid showing in the previous round.

    The NHL has a huge officiating problem on their hands and they know it or we wouldn’t be having weekly articles about how suspect the officiating is and we wouldn’t have Bettman talking like a complete idiot trying to defend them.

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