Amid an officiating crisis, the National Hockey League has lost its top referee, possibly for the rest of the 2021 playoffs.
Wes McCauley, 48, is at home and will not return to work in the third round, sources have confirmed to Sportsnet. He is not believed to be injured, and there is hope, however faint, that he could return to work games in the Stanley Cup Final.
McCauley’s last assignment was as the standby referee for Game 1 of the New York Islanders-Tampa Bay Lightning semifinal. He has not worked since.
The consensus “best referee in the NHL,” McCauley has been assigned to eight Stanley Cup Finals. He was one of eight referees named to work Round 3 of the playoffs by the NHL’s director of officiating, Stephen Walkom, who would not comment on the situation.
This loss comes at a time when NHL officials are under fire for a perceived lapse in the officiating standard from the one set during the regular season. Hitting from behind, cross-checking and general obstruction all traditionally rise in playoff hockey, but this year in particular the variation in standard from regular season to playoffs has been more abject than ever.
A veteran referee like McCauley — who is well known and highly respected by fans and players alike — is the exact tonic needed to reign in players who have been crossing the proverbial line with more and more regularity in these playoffs.
The league is still holding out hope that he can return for the Stanley Cup Final.