The NHL’s officiating lost its credibility in Buffalo Sabres loss to New York

The Buffalo Sabres have been hit with awful calls a few times this season, but the worst of the season came during their loss to the New York Rangers.

Dec 23, 2023; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers left wing Will Cuylle (50) and Buffalo
Dec 23, 2023; New York, New York, USA; New York Rangers left wing Will Cuylle (50) and Buffalo / Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

Remember when Eric Robinson boarded Justin Barron and received a game misconduct for an action that should have warranted a minor? Barron was shaken up on the play, but he was good enough to return and finish the game while the Buffalo Sabres were forced to roll with a man down at forward. It was something captain Kyle Okposo felt the need to address, and unfortunately, the message didn’t sink through to the officials, or at least to the crew in charge of last night’s game. 

Because if you thought Robinson’s game misconduct was the worst call of the season that would happen to the Sabres, and it was the poorest call against them for a couple of weeks there, think again. The credibility of the NHL’s officiating sunk to a new level during Buffalo’s game against the New York Rangers last night, and if you missed it, you won't believe this one.

It happened when Will Cuylle delivered a big hit on Sabres defenseman Ryan Johnson, necessitating Erik Johnson (no relation) to address the issue. However, Johnson also got called for an “unsportsmanlike” for supposedly instigating the fight, even if everyone at MSG saw that Cuylle’s body language indicated he was more than willing to drop gloves. Here is head coach Don Granato’s observation regarding the incident:

"“I thought the fight … obviously, what I saw in that regard, was the player did shake his gloves, which is a sign more than willing. We ended up short on that. Obviously, some penalties that players informed me why.”"

Don Granato

Source: Sabres confused, angry after 'ridiculous' penalties stemming from Erik Johnson fight by Lance Lysowski, Buffalo News

But we later found out that wasn't exactly the case, as the article linked above revealed. The "unsportsmanlike" generated from an incident that occurred in the first period involving criticism for a no-call, so yeah, why that wasn't addressed earlier in the game, we will never know.

Johnson ended up serving a 10-minute misconduct, as did forward Jeff Skinner, who was also part of the ensuing argument after the former got hit with the “unsportsmanlike.” As for Cuylle, he received nothing extra even if you can make a solid case that the hit should have drawn a penalty.

Following awful sequence of events the Buffalo Sabres have a right to be angry

Once again, it’s these no-calls and irrational justifications of issuing 10-minute misconducts when players are pleading cases because they may very well be in the right or an "unsportsmanlike" that are issued for something that happened a period ago that the NHL needs to finally say, “Enough is enough” and start exerting stricter oversight of their officials. Calls like these can be game-changing, and when it’s clear one team got the short end on what were clearly bad judgment calls, they at the very least need to start going to Toronto for review. 

In a more extreme case, dishing out monetary fines for officials could also be a tactic that does the trick following the video review of a game if a call is blatantly obvious and it’s not called, or in the case of Erik Johnson, something that never should have been called. The NHL could also adopt a “so many strikes and you’re out rule,” which would suspend officials who make one too many bad or unnecessary calls. Or perhaps the players should just have more liberty to speak their minds without fearing a fine or retaliation from the league. 

At this point, the NHL’s officiating, at least in regard to the Buffalo Sabres, has gotten so bad its integrity and credibility should be on the line in the eyes of many fans. If the NHL wants to start winning back respect, then it’s long past time for them to get tougher on its officials. They can be tough on their players, and the officials should be subjected to the same treatment. Until that happens, we’re stuck with the mess you saw last night.