Does the NHL Have a Referee Problem?

This story won't go away:

During the last couple of days, I've heard or read that the NHL is facing one of the biggest challenges to its integrity in the long history of the game. There was an allegation that the league has its own version of Tim Donaghy, the so-called rogue referee who bet on NBA games, and -- partly due to its own actions -- is living its own "worst nightmare." There have also been charges that the NHL has "stonewalled" the Alex Burrows -- Stephane Auger matter and hasn't truly investigated it because to do so would not be in the league's best interest.

All of this sound and fury came about because of Burrows' allegation that he was approached by referee Auger before Monday night's Canucks-Predators game and told that he (Burrows) had embarrassed Auger in a December game. (Burrows supposedly feigned injury after being hit by Nashville's Jerred Smithson and Auger rewarded him by giving Smithson a five-minute charging major and game misconduct that was later overturned by the league after it determined that Burrows had taken a dive.) Burrows, in what has quickly become a legendary postgame rant, charged that Auger told him there would be "payback" and proved it with a series of third-period penalties directed at Burrows -- the last two of which were questionable -- that led to Nashville's game-winning goal.

Now, it apparently matters little, or perhaps not at all, to the alarmists that Burrows has no proof of his charge, or that he made it without any teammates, opponents or other on-ice officials having heard Auger issue his threat. Neither Burrows nor the Canucks could provide a single bit of evidence via video or audio despite the fact that the game was taped and televised. And Burrows apparently did not tell his coaches before the game that Auger was out to get him. He simply made his remarks with passion in the heat of a postgame environment where he was a focal point of a loss. The NHL, the Canucks, their fans and the hockey public at large were supposed to believe him.

I think the reaction is overblown. The NHL can take care of bad behavior and irrational actors all on its own accord. It has ever been thus. While you cannot win a fight with a man who can have you ejected from the game, you can conduct yourself in such a way as to make it apparent to all that you're focused on the game--he's focused on his agenda. Burrows should have told his coaches what was going on--that's the key here. No coach should be forced to try to play a game where one of his players has been singled out like that.

Burrows is out $2,500, and maybe he's out a little credibility as well. I would think that, if integrity is the heart of officiating, then Stephane Auger should be forthcoming about what he said and did, and why he said what he did, and then everyone can move on.