Don’t look now, but fans in Toronto are a bit peeved and many of them are finding excuses for another slow start in a must-win playoff series. As the Leafs get set to try and even their series with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday, fans are still rushing to social media to blame NHL official Wes McCauley. More than a few fans are citing the Leafs’ 0-8 record when he officiates their playoff games.
The conspiracy theorists are having a field day, many suggesting he’s got it out for the team, specifically head coach Sheldon Keefe. Admitting the Leafs weren’t very good in Game 1, many think that an inexcusable series of baffling calls led to the downfall of the team and that the Leafs are pooched if that kind of bias continues.
The good news is, while the Leafs had Wes McCauley for Game 1, he’s not a part of the contest in Game 2. Tonight, they get referees Eric Furlatt and Trevor Hanson. The bad news is, Furlatt is the official who called the Justin Holl interference penalty in Game 7 vs. TBL last year. Another fan pointed out it was “Eric Furlatt who called off the Tavares goal last year…”
We’ll see how many fans use that as an excuse if the Leafs can’t even the series 1-1.
Understanding the Backstory Of McCauley and Keefe
In an article by K.T. Edwards, an off-ice conflict of interest that potentially exists between McCauley and Keefe was brought back to the forefront. Keefe has a checkered past when it comes to his former coach and agent, David Frost. Frost just so happens to be McCauley’s brother-in-law, hence the conflict.
Back when Keefe was part of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), Keefe got caught up in a not-so-ethical circle that was led by Frost, who was eventually accused of sexually abusing and mind-manipulating players. Keefe wasn’t specifically involved in things that would warrant questioning his employment in the NHL, but he looks back at that time in his life and knows it wasn’t a high point.
Furthermore, years later, Keefe’s close friend and OHL linemate at the time, Mike Danton, was eventually caught trying to plan Frosts’ murder. Keefe wasn’t involved in any of that, but it’s logical to jump to the conclusion McCauley might not think too fondly of the Leafs’ current head coach.
At the same time, that was years ago. There’s every reason to assume that this is a past issue that plays no bearing on the results of the current games and that both people are professional enough to simply do their respective job to the best of their ability. Whether either is good at their job is another argument entirely.
Is This Referee Thing Really An Issue?
It’s a bad look for the NHL to have an official like McCauley reffing a Leafs game, but it’s not as black-and-white an issue as many fans are making it out to be. The Leafs were also 5-0-1 during the regular season when McCauley was the official. Is this a matter of convenience? Are Leafs’ fans overlooking the regular season results and focusing on only the postseason? Are they trying to make a connection between the officiating and the result on Tuesday versus the way the team played?
Even Keefe said the game was not well played by his team. “We were loose around our net,” the coach explained. “That’s been a strength of ours all season long, both in our goaltending — managing rebounds and things like that — and in our defending on the inside.” He said they got out to a slow start and got beat by a better team.
The reality is, the Leafs lost 7-3. It’s hard to blame one official for that score. It was a game that also included Michael Bunting hitting Erik Cernak in the face, a play that has resulted in Bunting being suspended for three games by the NHL DoPS.
Do fans have a case here? Should Wes McCauley be ruled out from officiating any future Leafs’ playoff games? Is this conflict of interest a real thing and is it affecting his ability to be impartial?
Next: Maple Leafs Get Clobbered by Lightning: What Can Be Improved?
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