Bettman: NHL referees ‘the best in the world’

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To nobody’s surprise, Gary Bettman was asked about the quality of playoff officiating during his Stanley Cup Final press conference.

And, also to nobody’s surprise, the commissioner was ready to answer.

In a reply that sounded like it was prepared for that very question, Bettman stuck up for referees and linesmen, saying he felt NHL officials were the best in the world — regardless of sport.

“The officials in this league are the best in the world, I believe – not just in hockey, but in any sport,” Bettman said. “I believe they have the most difficult job, and it always seems to undergo even more intense scrutiny this time of year.

“This is a game of errors. Coaches make them, players make them, and occasionally the officials make them. We constantly critique, supervise and coach them. They’re held accountable for their performance. You’ve got the best four referees who’ve made it to this point to work the Stanley Cup Final.”

One of the referees not chosen to work the Stanley Cup Final was Stephen Walkom, who controversially called coincidental minor penalties late in Game 7 of the Chicago-Detroit series, wiping out what could’ve been a game-winning goal for the Blackhawks.

Walkom did advance to the Conference finals — after the NHL came out and publicly supported his call — but didn’t make the cut for the final four.

Bettman said refereeing can be a thankless job.

“No matter what they do, they get criticized,” the commissioner explained. “If they call penalties at the end of the game, people get hysterical and say you shouldn’t call penalties like that at the end of a playoff game. If they don’t call penalties, ‘oh they’re not calling it, they’re letting the standard slip.

“The officiating has been consistent. It’s been consistent through the season. It’s been consistent over the last few years.”

One person in disagreement with that assessment?

NHL on NBC analyst Mike Milbury, who recently called postseason officiating “lousy.’

“The officials, they’ve been lousy this spring,” Milbury said. “And I’m telling you, they’ve been lousy throughout.”

Bettman did acknowledge that NHL officiating wasn’t perfect, but was adamant they’re always working and striving to be better.

“Is it perfect? No,” he said. “But that’s what we strive for.”