It seems my newest Screen Shots column about NHL officiating has struck a nerve Â– especially with irate Islanders fans. Many wished for me to do things to myself that are physically impossible unless I remove a rib or two.
Let's deal with one of their nicer fans, then examine an increasingly fascinating situation out west.
I have a couple of gripes with your recent article. As an Islander fan who was at both Games 3 and 4, I have an obvious bias, but please hear me out. First, I want to make sure you have seen the Fox Sports replay of the Witt goal with 2 minutes left in Game 4. At about the two-minute point, there is a clear shot of Witt shooting a loose puck (as opposed to shoving Miller as you asserted). Calls are blown all the time in hockey games, but to assume the right call was made seems inappropriate with such evidence to the contrary.
Second, a major gripe of Garth Snow, myself, and many Islander fans is the contradiction between referee Mike Leggo and the NHL offices in Toronto. Leggo is quoted as saying he wanted a review Â“to make sure the puck didn't get shot inÂ”, but yet on Buffalo radio today Stephen Walkom asserts that Leggo said he said there was contact with Miller, and so the play could not be reviewed. It appears Leggo therefore was unsure of the rules at this time of whether or not he could get a replay on this decision, which is entirely unprofessional, especially when a referee is working a playoff game.
I understand your premise that eventually the best teams will rise to the top, and that my Islanders have not played like a team capable of lifting the cup. However, that we have not played like gods does not take away our legitimate right to criticize referees when they have made mistakes, and taken away opportunities for success.
I know there wasn't a question in there, but yours was one of the few civil ones to disagree with me, so I'll address the continuing controversy through your email.
When I wrote that article, the theme of it was never intended to be the misguided leanings of Islanders fans. But as I was writing, I had Game 4 of the Sabres/Isles series on the tube Â– it was broadcast on TSN here in Canada Â– and it seemed to fit perfectly.
When Witt Â“scoredÂ”, the focus of the discussion centered around Miller being pushed in with the puck. Subsequent replays (which, admittedly, I didn't see) show Isles fans may indeed have a legitimate gripe.
However, the outpouring of astoundingly vicious hate mail (none of which can be reprinted here) to me proves my original point, which was all about unfounded, unhinged suspicions of bias among the officials.
Could Leggo have blown the call? Could NHL officials subsequently and frantically scurry around in an attempt to justify said call to the public? Yes and yes. It wouldn't be the first time and it won't be the last.
And is it possible I blew the recap of it? Less likely, natch (this is where I'd put in a sarcastic-type emoticon, if only I didn't detest emoticons with every fiber of my being), but possible nonetheless.
I don't believe Leggo, Walkom or myself have ever claimed to be unfailingly correct. But I do believe we all act with integrity. And until I see every one of those people who ripped me a new one attending a NHL referee tryout camp and nailing every call, I stand by my argument.
There is no perfect system, no perfect official Â– and certainly, no perfect sportswriters or fans. If we could collectively get past that reality, watching hockey games would be far more enjoyable.
How about that housecleaning in Phoenix? Never thought I'd say this, but after the way his management buddies were tossed over the side, are Wayne Gretzky's days in the desert numbered?
John Morris, Scottsdale, AZ
A very astute observation on your behalf. Reading between the lines of what Gretzky said, it wasn't difficult to see his disillusionment with ownership.
And when you consider (a) the Coyotes won't be big spenders on the unrestricted free agent market this summer, thus making them an unlikely candidate to qualify for the playoffs next year; (b) the team continues to bleed money faster than Michael Jackson; and (c) Gretzky's wife, Janet, already has spoken of the difficulties in living in Los Angeles while her husband works six hours away, I think the potential is there for The Great One to make his exit in the not-too-distant future.
Should the Â‘Yotes stumble out of the gate next season, there will be nobody else to blame but Wayne Â– unless you think director of amateur scouting Keith Gretzky is the real problem. And if Phoenix's record is below .500 by Christmas, they'll almost assuredly be searching for a new head coach.
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