A few words on rookie NHL official Francois St. Laurent

In just a few months on the job, Francois St. Laurent has received this look quite a few times.

You could call the February 22 game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Wells Fargo Center one of those where the 2010-11 regular season began to go south for the Philadelphia Flyers. Heading into that evening, the team was on a roll -- 15 wins in 20 games, dating back to the beginning of January. They seemed a lock for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

But by the end of the night, an extremely frustrating loss would rear its head and the downward spiral that lingered until the final week of the season would begin. The Flyers beat the Islanders in overtime two nights later, but following that one, they'd roll off four straight losses, including that 7-0 drubbing at the hands of the New York Rangers.

In all, the Flyers would put together a record of just 8-8-6 to end the season following the Phoenix loss. So what the hell happened in that game, anyway? 

Well, it's not so much a what as a who, and his name is Francois St. Laurent.

From our recap of that game on February 22:

According to the stat sheet, Kimmo Timonen took a hooking penalty in overtime tonight, and as a result, Shane Doan scored a game-winning goal as the Phoenix Coyotes topped the Philadelphia Flyers, 3-2. 

Go back and watch overtime and you'll wonder where the hell that penalty came from. It was a phantom hooking call that shouldn't have been called, and it essentially robbed the Flyers of a legitimate shot to earn two points tonight.

And video of that penalty (sorry it's a bit choppy):

Of course, you've connected the dots already. That call was made by No. 38, Francois St. Laurent. Timonen didn't really comment on it after that game, saying only that he had to go back and look at it on tape. Peter Laviolette rarely speaks out about the officials, especially when it comes to a single call, but he voiced his opinion after this one. 

"I didn't like it," Laviolette said. "I didn't like that one and a lot of others. We are preaching discipline and that is all we talk about is staying out of the box. We'll kill the ones we have to but with points on the line and things really valuable at this time of the year, I did not like the call. There is a lot of stick work that goes on. We were fighting around that net offensively and with 4 on 3, I again did not like the call."

Hard to disagree with him. Sure, Timonen's stick looked like it was parallel to the ice in the corner there, but that's not a hook by any stretch, especially when battling for the puck in overtime. St. Laurent made the wrong call and it cost the Flyers a point. If you want to get real about it, the Flyers lost the top spot in the Eastern Conference by a single point this season.

And that brings us to Wednesday night, where St. Laurent made another boneheaded call against the Flyers, inserting himself into the plot of the Flyers season yet again. We're obviously talking about the elbowing major handed to Mike Richards in the final seconds of the second period.

If you missed it, the video is below, but basically, Patrick Kaleta took a run at Richards along the boards. As Kris Versteeg said after the game, you never know what a guy like Kaleta is going to do out there, and Richards stuck his elbow up to protect himself.

That's not to say that he was totally right for elbowing Kaleta in the face (although admittedly, I'm not crying for the guy), but the five minute major penalty handed out by St. Laurent implies intent that clearly is debatable at best.

Laviolette was clearly livid with St. Laurent after the game (this GIF illustrates that pretty well), but he was reserved with his post-game comments. Richards, on the other hand, piped up a bit when talking with Steve Coates (video of the elbow also in this clip). 

Richards:

I just tried to protect myself. Maybe a two minute, but when you make a call like that, it's kinda personal maybe. I'm not sure. Not overly thrilled about it. Put the team behind the eight-ball a little bit which is disappointing, and we had a couple of opportunities to score just out of our reach or we missed 'em. It's disappointing.

There were other things wrong in Game 4 for the Flyers, and given that they killed the 5-minute penalty in the third period, one might say it's silly to be angry about this. At the same time, though, it's hard to ignore what five extra minutes of potential attack time in that third period could have done for the orange and black. Could've meant the game. In the grand scheme of things, it could mean the series.

A call like that has implications, and in his rookie season as an NHL official, Francois St. Laurent has shown a propensity to insert himself into big time debates just like this one. These two incidents with the Flyers aren't the only examples we have of this.

Back in October, he and his partner, Wes McCauley, collaborated on a controversial call against Dustin Brown of the Kings. They alleged that Brown delivered a blindside hit to the head of Antti Miettinen, despite the fact that the video clearly shows the hit was delivered to the shoulder

St. Laurent has a history of this stuff. Most people that screw up this much in their work get demoted or even fired from their jobs, so can we get an explanation here as to why he's officiating in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

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