The National Hockey League messed up, and if vulgarity weren’t frowned upon in journalism, I would not have used the word “messed.”
If the NHL cared about its credibility, not to mention if it wanted to gain a little public exposure that it desperately needs, the league would have come out quickly and harshly against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
On Jan. 7, Simon Gagne of the Philadelphia Flyers should have been credited with a short-handed goal. But also on Jan. 7, Lowell MacDonald Jr., producer for FSN Pittsburgh’s Pittsburgh Penguins broadcasts, failed to send the league a video replay from an overhead camera that clearly showed that a goal was scored.
Based on lack of clarity in the other views, the referee declared no goal, only for FSN Pittsburgh to show the home viewers the overhead camera view right after play resumed.
The Flyers’ broadcasters did not have access to the overhead camera view.
MacDonald’s father, it should be added, was a long-time member of the Penguins in the 1970s, winning the Bill Masterson Memorial Trophy as voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association in 1973.
Even without the goal, the Flyers went on to beat the Stanley Cup champions 7-4, gaining a critical two points. The Flyers are currently in last place in the Atlantic Division and 10th place in the Eastern Conference.
The Penguins are in fourth, just four points out of the division lead.
And, apparently because the Flyers won anyway, the league took no action whatsoever.
Now, before you get me wrong, I’m not blaming MacDonald for doing anything malicious. I do not think he consciously chose not to send a camera view to the league. He’s been involved in hockey all his life and used to be the chief producer for ESPN’s NHL coverage. He had way too much to lose.
But MacDonald should have known there were other images. Someone there should have known. And if that image was not being sent to the league, for whatever reason, the league should have been told from the get go that FSN Pittsburgh had another camera view that it had not yet sent them.
None of that was ever told to the NHL.
So one of two things happened: either someone at FSN Pittsburgh did actually “cheat,” did actually decide not to send the overhead camera view, or MacDonald failed to report that he was having technical difficulties of some sort.
And either way, MacDonald is to blame for doing nothing.
“FSN Pittsburgh’s failure to provide video to the league officials in a timely manner was wholly unacceptable,” the network wrote in a statement. “FSN Pittsburgh has addressed this matter and has taken steps to ensure that such a failure does not occur again.”
That measure, apparently, is to suspend MacDonald indefinitely, make him the scapegoat for the entire embarrassment.
The Penguins agreed with the network’s measure.
“We fully support FSN Pittsburgh in its reaction to the issue,” the franchise said. “The integrity of the game is paramount.”
If the Penguins are correct, if what they just said is true, then more than anything, the NHL is to blame.
When this story broke, the NHL should have immediately suspended FSN Pittsburgh’s contract to broadcast Penguins games for breach of contract. Under terms of all NHL television contracts, television broadcasters must send the league in a timely matter every view of a goal if there is a review into whether it was a goal. FSN Pittsburgh did not do that and it affected the play of a game.
Moreover, the NHL should have revoked media credential for the network for the remainder of the season, a punitive punishment for insubordination.
Finally, the league should have penalized the Penguins themselves.
I understand that the Penguins organization did not do anything wrong. FSN Pittsburgh employs everyone associated with the television broadcast with only minimal influence from the club. But the network, while broadcasting games, represents the team, and any misdeeds by the network are therefore misdeeds of the franchise as a whole.
The NHL, if it wanted to ensure the integrity of the league, should have deducted the Penguins two points, the equivalent of one victory. Gary Bettman, NHL commissioner, needed to put his foot on the ground and show just how seriously the league treats cheating. Simply, the Penguins should have been penalized in the standings.
Again, I understand you don’t agree with me. I understand you may agree that FSN Pittsburgh should be penalized, but not the team. Penalizing the team, you say, is just too harsh. But sometimes you need to make an example of someone or some team.
And so you know, I hate the Flyers. Hate them more than I hate any other team in any other of the Big Four leagues. Nothing would make me happier than the Flyers wrongly being denied a goal like they were.
But in this case, I have to take the Flyers side. The Penguins cheated, even if it was just because of technical difficulties. They had a camera view that the Flyers had scored, one they were contractually obligated to provide, and they did not.
If you don’t do something you are contractually obligated to do, you are in breach of contract and liable to receive punishment.
So why did the NHL do nothing?
The league is responsible because the league did nothing. The league just swept it under the rug, let the story die, because, really, who cares about credibility? Heck, if anything was learned from this, it’s that if a team wants to cheat, it should just never show its home viewers the definitive angle it withheld.
Sure, maybe, if you get caught, you’ll get “suspended,” whatever that means, but if you don’t get caught, it helps your team. And if your team wins, it might make the playoffs, and then you’ll work more games and make more money anyway.
By not acting, the league has set a dangerous precedent. Suddenly, it’s okay to withhold information, okay to cheat.
Quite simply, it’s okay to show the NHL nothing because the league won’t throw anything back at you.
The Pittsburgh Penguins cheated, and the NHL swept it under the rug, and for that the National Hockey League, more than the club, messed up.
I’d use a stronger word, something more fierce, something more taboo for journalism, but when I mess up, my boss isn’t going to just look the other way. He’s not just going to suspend me.