It’s the ninth inning of Game 6 of the NLCS. Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen hits the outside corner for a called strike three. Bryce Harper has gone down looking. But wait. He hasn’t. The umpire has not signaled strike despite the clear visual evidence.

“The umpire is letting the players settle this one,” bellows the announcer.

It’s the Super Bowl. Eli Manning has floated a beautiful pass down the sideline for Odell Beckham, who is hit three seconds before the ball gets to him by Malcolm Butler. It’s first-and-10 for the Giants at the spot of the foul. But wait. It isn’t. The official has not thrown a flag despite clear visual evidence.

“The referee is letting the players settle this one,” bellows the announcer.

It’s the NBA Finals. Steph Curry picks the pocket of Kyrie Irving and is headed the down the court for an easy layup. Out of nowhere, LeBron James flies in to block the shot, but gets zero ball and propels Curry into the fourth row. He has committed a flagrant foul. But wait. He hasn’t. The referee has not whistled the foul despite the clear visual evidence.

(Photo by John Mabanglo/Pool/Getty Images)

“The referee is letting the players settle this one,” bellows the announcer.

It’s the UFC lightweight championship. Conor McGregor pulls a switchblade from his shorts and…

You get the point.

If the standard of officiating were to so blatantly change between the regular season and playoffs in any other sport, nobody would stand for it. So why does the NHL let its officials get away with such a departure from norms once the postseason begins? Why are we at a point where we all just sort of go along with officials not doing their jobs when the games matter most?

And the situation is getting worse.

During Game 3 of the first-round series between the Blue Jackets and Penguins, Zach Werenski ate a puck shot by Phil Kessel. Werenski dropped to the ice immediately and the aftermath was as brutal as any puck to the face in recent memory. Instead of blowing the play dead like they always have in that situation, referees let play continue for 10 seconds until the Penguins scored the tying goal in a game they would go on to win.

For the people in the camp that believe referees were right to allow play to continue (they weren’t), here’s a compilation video of players taking pucks to the face:

In every instance, play is immediately whistled down. In almost every instance, the attacking team still has the puck or is about to fire the puck on net. And a few of the plays occurred in the playoffs.

So what’s changed? Have the already gutless referees who should have to work for 80 percent of their salaries in the playoffs since they’re calling 80 percent of penalties become even more cowardly? It’s a strong possibility. Because the mindset of an NHL referee during the postseason is “we don’t want to affect the outcome of the game” and they feel like blowing the whistle with the Penguins buzzing would somehow do that.

Yet not blowing the whistle can also affect the outcome of the game and maybe even a series. Somehow that fact seems to escape the “let the boys play” attitude that runs rampant in the postseason.

What makes it even more frustrating for fans, players and coaches is even when referees choose to flip the switch and allow The Purge, they randomly switch it back to the tightest possible interpretation of every rule. And just about anything can cause this diversion. Is the score close in the final minutes? Have they given out three consecutive power plays to one team? Has one team not had a power-play chance yet in this game?

And even when you take those tried-and-true rationales for swallowing the whistle or blowing it more often, they don’t always trigger the change. If it’s maddening for you, the fan, imagine what it does for players and teams that have their lifelong dreams or millions of dollars riding on this haphazard style of officiating.

The same problem also exists with the NHL’s other means of disciplining players — DOPS. If you think a referee trembles at the thought of affecting the outcome of a game with a two-minute penalty, you can’t even begin to process the fear that hits the office when they have to suspend a player for one game. The embarrassing nature of the Matt Calvert situation — floating the notion Saturday morning there would be no suspension and only changing their minds after heavy blowback throughout the day — showed that the only way to get them to do their jobs is somewhere between 1-6 hours of mocking when they try to get out of punishing someone for an on-ice assault.

Leon Draisaitl avoiding a suspension for his spear to the testicles of Chris Tierney — a very clear example of an intent to injure in a blowout loss, just like with Calvert — is the picture perfect example of not wanting to affect the outcome of a game or series. Draisaitl was merely fined and it should go without saying that a slap on the wrist is not a fair response for a stick to the nuts.

When will anyone learn that inaction can be just as big a determining factor in a game or series as action?

You know things are getting worse when Pierre McGuire, who would rather read from his origin story diary for every NHL player than saying anything interesting or controversial, spends a full minute destroying the referees that made the call in overtime of Game 3 that led to Ottawa’s game-winning power-play goal against Boston. It’s one thing for the standard to change from period to period, but it’s another to see it change in the two seconds between Bobby Ryan’s elbow and Riley Nash’s gloved punch.

It would be great if referees would just be referees instead of doing their jobs like they are witnesses to mafia murders that are too scared to report the crime.

  • George Hanna

    NHL Rule 8.1:

    “When a player is injured so that he cannot continue play or go to his bench, the play shall not be stopped until the injured player’s team has secured possession of the puck. If the player’s team is in possession of the puck at the time of injury, play shall be stopped immediately unless his team is in a scoring position.”

    • Collin Klopfenstein

      I can quote part of it too.

      NHL Rule 8.1 (the paragraph immediately following George’s exerpt):

      “In the case where it is obvious that a player has sustained a
      serious injury, the Referee and/or Linesman may stop the play
      immediately.”

      • George Hanna

        I can quote your quote.

        …”may stop the play…”

        May not shall.

        • Collin Klopfenstein

          Uh…What? Read it again. “…May stop the play immediately…”

          • George Hanna

            You read it again. Shall = mandatory. May = not mandatory.

          • Collin Klopfenstein

            So you’re saying that the “play shall not be stopped” part supercedes the clarification that if a player is clearly seriously injured a ref “may stop the play immediately”? I’m not saying he HAD to stop the play, but I think it was pretty obvious what happened and stopping the play for a broken face seems prudent…

  • Respected Citizen

    An uppercut to the face is clearly not a hockey move, and should be called.

    If you want an automatic whistle when a player falls to the ice, then you’re rewarding flops.