Wes McCauley, officiating controversy is the story of the NHL Playoffs

One of hockey fans’ biggest complaints with the NHL is the inconsistency in refereeing with questionable calls, non-calls, referee decisions and more already plaguing the first week of the 2023 NHL Playoffs.

Tons of fans are already in uproar over what appears the same story–bad calls that change the way any particular game works. It seems that not much has changed from the zebra stripes since last year when complaints erupted over similar storylines.

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The Matt Dumba saga and NHL officiating

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Minnesota Wild at Dallas Stars
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Referees and the NHL deemed that Minnesota Wild’s Matt Dumba put up a legal hit on Dallas Stars’ Joe Pavelski. Though, it concussed Pavelski and he is slated to miss at least four games.

Pavelski wobbled and looked visibly shaken as he was escorted off the ice, but Dumba did not even receive a major penalty. Instead, the play went into four-on-four action immediately afterwards. Many thought the hit deserved more consequences than Dumba was dealt, especially since it resulted in such a serious injury.

ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski revealed in a tweet that NHL Player Safety would not even have a hearing for Dumba’s hit on Pavelski. He quoted a source as saying the hit was considered “close to being late, but within allowable window.”

Related: Toronto Maple Leafs vs Tampa Bay Lightning NHL Playoff preview

Wes McCauley drama and Sheldon Keefe

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Tampa Bay Lightning at Toronto Maple Leafs
Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

The second night of the playoffs saw Maple Leafs forward Michael Bunting ejected from his team’s first tilt against the Tampa Bay Lightning after elbowing Erik Cernak in the head. It took the league almost the entire next day to hand Bunting a three-game suspension.

But many question the validity of the refereeing throughout the entire contest, suggesting referee Wes McCauley has it in for Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe and therefore called the game unfairly. Considering some of the questionable decisions, it’s not the worst conspiracy theory Leafs fans have ever thrown around.

“Wes McCauley’s brother-in-law is Jim McCauley, a former player agent better known by his legal name David Frost, Keefe’s former abuser. The nature of the relationship between Jim and Wes McCauley is uncertain,” writes Yahoo Sports. “Keefe was also involved in a 2008 trial involving Frost on four counts of sexually exploiting young hockey players, though his testimony is under publication ban making it unclear whether he testified for or against Frost, unlike the story some have definitively claimed.”

“Those calls that are borderline, more likely than not they’re gonna go their way,” captain John Tavares said postgame, almost giving the Leafs fans extra fire. A call that saw David Kampf get dinged for slashing is used as the example:

Referees missing slashes in Carolina

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Islanders at Carolina Hurricanes
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Jesper Fast won game two for the Carolina Hurricanes against the Islanders in overtime, but the final play was dripping in missed calls. Teuvo Teräväinen is now out indefinitely with a broken hand after he was slashed by Jean-Gabriel Pageau of the New York Islanders.

No call came of it. But on the same play, Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield was high-sticked, and not a single referee blew his whistle. The ensuing play directly led to Fast’s goal. The goal buried the Isles 2-0 in the series, giving them a pretty deep hole to climb out of. A simple penalty call could have changed the outcome of the game and, therefore, the series.

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Edmonton Oilers fans are mad at the referees, too

In Game 1 of the highly-anticipated Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers NHL Playoff series, many Edmonton fans were upset about an overtime penalty. The resulting power play gave the Kings a game-winning goal, putting them up in the series.

Many thought the play was not really worth penalizing, and pointed to a very similar play by Anze Kopitar where the whistle was not blown. That call, too, could have changed the outcome, and therefore the series.

A history of controversy

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Carolina Hurricanes at New York Rangers
Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL referees have come under fire for ages, both in the postseason and the regular season. Tavares is far from the first player to question their antics. Disgraced referee Tim Peel was banned for getting caught talking about game management on a hot mic, but basically confirmed game management is a real thing across the league in a Twitter Q&A.

Meanwhile, Gabriel Landeskog and Auston Matthews publicly went on the record expressing disappointment with the way their respective games were called (interestingly, Landeskog also had a problem with Wes McCauley and a call with former Maple Leaf Nazem Kadri).

TSN has called out these issues as early as 2019. It was a hot topic in the regular season last year, in the playoffs, and is bleeding into this year’s playoffs. With fans becoming increasingly annoyed, it may be time for the league to, finally, listen.

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