Michael Bunting and the Maple Leafs shouldn’t just have to “deal with” officiating

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Barden
1 year ago
There was something off when Michael Bunting and Boone Jenner got tied up on Tuesday night, during a matchup between the Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets.
It was quiet. Utter silence, actually.
This is, in part, due to Bunting’s relationship with NHL officials. The 27-year-old knows that if he speaks his mind — at all — he could win a one-way ticket to the penalty box.
The saga between the two parties has been going on all season, with it reaching a boiling point on Sunday night vs. Detroit.
“Kyle [Dubas] will deal with that with the league,” said Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe after the game where Bunting was assessed 12 minutes in penalties, one being a 10-minute misconduct.
Whether Dubas has spoken with the league is yet to be seen, and if he has, we’d likely not hear about it. But during Thursday’s game against Boston, there was something interesting that came from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, who was discussing Bunting’s minor scuffle with Jenner.
“I know there’s a lot of Toronto fans who look at this and they say, ‘Wait a second, it’s not fair that it’s being handled this way,'” said Friedman during Sportsnet’s first intermission segment on Thursday.
“My Father always used to tell me, ‘Life isn’t fair.’ This is just the way it is, and you have to deal with it.”
The thing is, this shouldn’t be “the way it is” for Bunting. NHL officials are there to officiate the game, not develop personal vendettas against players who might’ve upset them in a game prior.
Every player, and every team, should be officiated fairly in each game they play in. That means no make up calls, no trying to control the flow of the game — none of that. The referees are there to be the middle men, and nothing else.
It’s sort of like a journalist. A journalist is someone who puts their biases aside for a story. You might dislike one of the people you are interviewing for a story, but you give them the time to speak because they are one side of the narrative.
Getting both sides of the story is essential and being unbiased is indispensable.
Referees should be able to take each team and officiate their games equally, whether they like a player or not. It’s great if you like one player on the other team because they’re nicer to you, but calling everything fair is the most important thing.
Earlier this week, TLN’s Nick Alberga was joined by former NHL referee, and now ESPN Rules Expert, Dave Jackson, on “Leafs Morning Take” to discuss the state of officiating in the NHL.
The two talked about a number of topics, including the way players and officials interact, and how some calls might be made. Or not made.
“When you have a play that’s a judgement call, it could go either way, like you’re trying to get a sightline for it, and you’re not sure that’s a penalty, and the player involved has duped you before, you would rather miss a call than make a call and be shown you’re wrong,” Jackson said.
“And that’s the player that creates that narrative, not the referee.”
The full interview is quite an interesting look into how referees are held accountable after each and every game. However, I do question, again, why referees keep certain narratives of players with them.
They’re there to make calls, that’s it. You shouldn’t be hesitant to make a call because a player “duped” you, that just doesn’t make sense. Call it or don’t call it. Your job is to officiate the game, and if you do it without any biases, everything should work itself out.
Don’t get me wrong, officiating is an incredibly difficult job. I, personally, wouldn’t want to be one because of how much their decisions influence each game they’re in.
However, to say that Bunting should have to “deal with” how he’s being officiated just isn’t right.
Life might not be fair, but you can’t relate a sport to that. Referees should be working incredibly hard to make sure that they get the call on the ice right.
And if they can’t do that, then what’s the point of having them in the first place?

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