NHL officiating is in the crosshairs every year, but the vitriol and unpleasantness soared to new heights during last year’s playoffs. And if one single moment capsulized the collective frustration, it occurred in the Stanley Cup semifinals when Islanders defenceman Scott Mayfield crosschecked the Nikita Kucherov by the boards and didn’t get called for a penalty.

Afterward, the Lightning’s Steven Stamkos reported on Zoom that referee Chris Lee told him he declined to call a penalty because he didn’t believe the crosscheck was malicious. Injured on the play, Kucherov might have begged to differ, but since he was getting treatment, he wasn’t in much of a position to comment.

“That was the smoking gun,” said TSN analyst Craig Button. “Because (Lee) had been instructed, unless it’s a malicious crosscheck, don’t call it. They revealed it right there. Tell me where it says ‘malicious’ in the rulebook on crosschecking.”

It clearly doesn’t. But the degree to which force is applied will still be a factor in how the penalty is assessed.

But if there was a silver lining to all of last year’s noise and angst about the state of NHL officiating, it is this:

With the NHL about to open the 2021-22 season, the league is promising change.

Under terms of a new crackdown on crosschecking that was already in the works even before the playoffs, the NHL acknowledged that the Mayfield crosscheck on Kucherov should have been a penalty and will be called in the future.