Sherlock Holmes and the Case of Watson’s Intent to Whistle.

**Please tell me somebody else got the joke in the title.


OK. I know “the incident” happened two days ago and that most people have moved on from it at this point. However, as both a Red Wings fan and a former official (albeit, a different sport), I wanted to take some time to let the entire situation sink in, as well as review all of the happenings and rules associated with the play. With that said, let’s break this puppy down.

First, let’s pull out the rule:

Rule 32.2: As there is a human factor involved in blowing the whistle to stop play, the Referee may deem the play to be stopped slightly prior to the whistle actually being blown. The fact that the puck may come loose or cross the goal line prior to the sound of the whistle has no bearing if the Referee has ruled that the play had been stopped prior to this happening.

Combine this with the fact that, throughout this entire thing, we have heard all parties say that “when the ref loses sight of the puck, he should blow his whistle,” and you can make a pretty strong case that (gulp)…Watson called this one by the book and called it correctly.

Fine. But knowing the rules and calling according to the rule book is only one component to solid officiating, and Watson knows this. He’s an official who has been in the league for a number of years and has officiated playoff games -including Stanley Cup Final games – many times before.  And he’s an official that darn well knows the importance of positioning when making a call. What do I mean? Take a look:


As you can see, our friend Brad is in a position where he probably cannot see the entire play in front of him. This is a result of the play changing direction very quickly, and is no fault of his. But this is also where things start to get messy. As you can also deduce, this is right before Hossa is going to jam the puck home to tie the game up. Watson is moving to go around Franzen, so that he can gather in the entire play in front of him, as well as have a clear view of the net. In the meantime, Hossa punches the goal in, but, for some reason, Watson decides that because he is out of position and can’t see the puck, he should blow the whistle.

Totally. Inexplicable. Why? Here’s why:

ref on net

Look where Wes McCauley is. Any hockey fan that watches the game on a regular basis has seen refs do this almost every time there is a close play at the net. They get in close, even grab the cage, and get a close look at what is going on. Where was our boy Watson when he blew the play dead?

Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen watch as a linesman calls no goal after a shot in the third period      Photos are of the Detroit Red Wings vs. the Anaheim Duckis in game three of round two of the Stanley Cup playoffs at the Honda Center in Anaheim, CA., May 5, 2009.    (David Guralnick / The Detroit News)

Yes, on the back wall. So from where we left him, Watson skated around the downed Franzen, blew his whistle as he rounded him, and waved the play dead with his ass on the back wall. Folks, this is what I meant by understanding positioning.

Let’s play out the hypothetical: If Watson comes around Franzen and swoops in on the net to take a closer look at the play before blowing his whistle, what he sees is a pile up heading into the net and Chris Pronger grabbing the puck and throwing it out of the goal. In that extra second or two, he has determined that, even though he didn’t clearly see it from his bad angle, the puck was not frozen and has made it into the net for the goal. Granted, Watson has no idea how the puck got into the net, but he’s ruled it a goal and can go upstairs to video replay to help him iron out if the puck was kicked or batted into the net.

Some folks will argue that he did nothing wrong in blowing the whistle early, but I have to disagree. As an official, we are told to let plays start, develop and finish. Watson found himself in a “bang-bang” situation, which started when the puck was turned over, developed as it moved past Hiller, and finished with a rush to the net (which Detroit has done all season) and a goal by Hossa. But the play never finished because Watson killed it during the development phase. This is a mistake.

Look, mistakes happen. But here’s the thing that really gets me. I’d be willing to bet that, if he could answer honestly, Watson would tell us that he would have liked to have been in better position before whistling that play dead. As an official, you always want to be in the best position possible, and he knows he wasn’t on that call. And I’d also bet on the fact that he – while “right” according to the rules – knows that his call directly impacted the outcome of the game, and that is something no official ever wants. Don’t believe me?

Affecting the outcome of a game is a devastating feeling. Officials strive for perfection.

-Ed Hochuli, NFL



Ed’s been there before. He cost a team a game on a quick whistle and he knew it. But here’s where the NHL should take a lesson from the NFL. Hochuli was the one who made the call and he explained himself to everyone. He humbled himself because he was accountable for the call – right or wrong – on the field and he took it upon himself, knowing full well that it was on him and only him to explain himself. But when it comes to the Watson situation, we didn’t get anything. We got to hear from E.J. McGuire, series manager and spokesman for officials, who was most definitely NOT on the ice making the call.

On a replay, it’s easy to make the correct call. The official was down along the goal line. He was moving forward toward the net to try to get a look at where the puck was. When he couldn’t see the puck, all referees’ instructions are to blow the whistle and blow the play dead. A combination of the black puck and the black pants may have been a factor. But when he didn’t see the puck, he blew the whistle.

He didn’t make a mistake. In hindsight, if he had a slow-motion camera to review it, he may not have blown the whistle. He did what all officials are instructed to do. Blow the whistle when they don’t see the puck. And he didn’t see the puck.

He said he talked to the players on the ice. It’s an emotional game. He wanted to explain to the players on the ice, as he saw it, the puck was out of sight and he blew the whistle. The assumption was that the puck was covered.

Wow. Poor Brad. He’s basically thrown under the bus by this guy, with no chance to back himself up. The opening line of this statement pretty much states that Watson didn’t get it right. Then, to make matters worse, he tries to speculate that Watson didn’t see the puck because it blended in with the Anaheim uniforms. However, it’s the entire last section that really gets me going. McGuire says that Watson was trying to tell the players that in an emotional, hard fought game, he made a call based on an assumption, from the wrong position on the ice.


I’d love to hear what B-Rad has to say about this. But something tells me that if he had a rule in place that allows for a replay of the situation, he would probably be in favor of it. Anything that helps officials get it right should be welcomed, as they are always striving for perfection.


Or maybe I’m just making an assumption call from the wrong position.



Filed under Argh!, Random Thoughts

8 responses to “Sherlock Holmes and the Case of Watson’s Intent to Whistle.

  1. awesome post, and yes I too believe that brad made the wrong call..

    “he tries to speculate that Watson didn’t see the puck because it blended in with the Anaheim uniforms”

    I don’t think i’ve ever heard that excuse… oh well, the red wings are better, they’ve outplayed anaheim in shots, scoring chances, hits, face offs, and even been in the box more… everything except for the scoreboard.. (which is the only thing that matters but still..)

    I like winning but not if I knew the other team was beating us at every aspect of the game

  2. Officials make mistakes, we know this. Hockey is the toughest sport to officiate for a number of reasons we know this. Not all plays are reviewable – this makes sense for many cases, but I think if there is EVER a question replay should be brought in. Lets go back, ok the players are saying the puck is in the net, and clearly it was, lets go to replay to see if the right call was made and the puck was covered. If the goalie did have it, ok no goal. If the puck is lying on the goal line and the whistle blew cause the ref had a bad angle, call it a goal. Review things. People say that if you do that, why not review everyting. Ok then, lets do that especially when there is a play at the net in a critical playoff game. Lets make sure we get it right. Look I have seen scrums in front of Osgood go on and on, I cant see the puck and I question how someone can miss a puck sitting out in the open like that, but see it when there are 10 people around the crease. Use the replay system, make sure its right, especially if it involves the validity of a goal

    • You make a GREAT point when you mention the players being adamant about a goal. My first thought when I saw Watson surrounded by the entire line of Wings was that he immediately knew something was wrong.

      When i reffed basketball, we were always taught to watch the players if we were unsure about a call. For something like an out-of-bounds play, if everybody stood where they were, odds are the ball stayed at that end. But if everyone started walking down the court, it was pretty easy to figure out who was getting possession.

      I think it speaks for itself when you get yourself surrounded after a call and have to have linesman pull players away from you.

  3. Pingback: The Red Wings “Screw Job” – A Postmortem « General Disdain

  4. the funny thing is, watching it again, the whistle was blown AFTER the goal scored… how much sense does that make?????

    • That’s what leads me to believe Watson never saw the puck at all and didn’t realize what had happened until all the Red Wings came crashing at him in protest. At that point, it’s too late and all he can do is “sell” his call to them.

      Again, if he skates in and takes a close look, he sees the puck and sees Pronger trying to throw it out of the net.

      But the language of the rule winds up bailing him out: “The fact that the puck may come loose or cross the goal line prior to the sound of the whistle has no bearing if the Referee has ruled that the play had been stopped prior to this happening.”

      Totally lame, but it saved Watson’s butt.

  5. The bottom line is that he was out of position and got it wrong. McGuire can and should defend him, be it the “pants camouflage” or the “letter of the law” defense, but I don’t understand why it’s so terrible to simply say, “Brad made a call in accordance with our officiating guidelines, and I support him. It’s unfortunate that his call was shown by replay to be incorrect and for that we apologize. However, our officials are human and mistakes happen. No one feels worse about the situation than Brad, the last thing he wants is for the games to be about him.”

    Wouldn’t that make you feel a little better? Or at least stem the angry fire of Red Wings fans?

    What’s the point of blaming Brad but then defending the call? The NHL is the worst run professional league in all of sports.

  6. Oh, and good on the Wings for coming out and spanking the Ducks last night.

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