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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Why is the Best NHL Referee "None"? (Part 2 of 2)

In Part One, we addressed the possible causes behind the current sorry state of NHL officiating. Today, we'll look at five solutions/improvements.

5. A Third Referee

Even if I'm completely wrong and NHL officials are 100% bias-free, the fact remains that the boys in stripes either miss calls or make the wrong call with alarming frequency. The game of hockey moves so fast that it seems even two referees can't keep up. A third referee on the ice would only get in the way, causing even more problems. On the other hand, a third referee in the press box (or perhaps in Pierre McGuire's spot between the benches), with two-way radio communication to the on-ice officials and access to the video feed, could catch many of those missed calls and utilize the video feed to help the on-ice officials make the right call.

How would it work? When the third referee sees an infraction which both of the on-ice referees failed to call, he keys his mic and says, for example, "Hooking, 29, white". The on-ice refs' arm goes up, whistle blows, and #29 in white goes to the box. Likewise, after the whistle blows, the third ref can review the video to ensure the correct call is made (as in Rick Nash's "no goal" against Detroit). To keep controversy to a minimum, the off-ice ref would have to have the authority to overrule his on-ice counterparts.

4. Coach's Challenge

Dale Tallon was right: NHL coaches should be able, on a limited basis, to challenge certain calls. How limited? Coaches should be allowed up to three challenges per game. If the first challenge fails, the challenging team is charged with a timeout. If the second challenge fails, a two-minute minor for Delay of Game is assessed. If the third challenge fails, a double minor is assessed. If the challenges are successful, no penalties are assessed. Ideally, though, the introduction of a third referee (as above) would make the Coach's Challenge unnecessary. That's predicated on the competence of the third referee, however.

3. Kill the "Intent to Blow" Rule

One of the most controversial rules in the NHL is the so-called "Intent to Blow" rule. In a nutshell, it means that the play is considered dead as soon as the referee decides to make a call (blow his whistle), as opposed to when the whistle is actually blown. In other words, play is stopped by the referee's intent, rather than his action. Many a goalmouth scrum has resulted in a good goal being waived off because of this awful rule. It's demise is long overdue.

2. Publicized Fines and Suspensions for On-ice Officials

When players and coaches are fined or suspended, those penalties are public record. Are NHL officials ever fined? Are they ever suspended? What sort of disciplinary measures are referees and linesmen subject to...if any? Who knows? On-ice officials would receive greater respect from fans, players and coaches if only we could see proof that they're subject to some form of discipline.

Referees are, and should be, held to a higher standard. Far too many nights, we watch them fail to meet that standard, seemingly without consequence. The net result is that referees are generally held in low regard. "Wow - wish I could do a lousy job every night, and get rewarded with a trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs at the end of the year" is a common refrain. Publicizing penalties assessed to on-ice officials would be one way to let the public know the NHL is truly interested in producing the best possible product.

1. Actively Recruit On- and Off-ice Officials from Non-Traditional Markets

Bias among NHL officials is real. Sure, we all want to pretend that every NHL official treats the Atlanta Thrashers with the same respect and attention as they do the Montreal Canadiens, but that's simply not the case. As we've already seen this year, a blown call in a Thrashers-Panthers game won't receive the same level of scrutiny as it would in, say, a Maple Leafs-Canadiens game. In the Leafs-Habs game, many more people are watching; thus, the game is considered "more important". What NHL officials fail to understand is this: While there aren't as many fans of the Panthers, those who do care, care deeply. By the same token, the objective in non-traditional markets is to grow the game. It's difficult to turn casual fans into fanatics when they see the home team screwed repeatedly by capricious and disinterested officiating.

The NHL needs to actively recruit on- and off-ice officials from the non-traditional markets. I'm not suggesting, for example, the Dallas Stars should have a Dallas-born-and-bred referee for every home game; what I'm saying is that a referee from any non-traditional market would carry with him a greater level of respect for the Dallases, Phoenixes and Floridas of the world. In the end, the Atlanta-Florida game would be officiated with the same level of attention to detail as Toronto-Montreal. Bias is mitigated, controversy subsides, and non-trads succeed or fail on their own merits, rather than at the hands of an inattentive referee.

Take me back to On Goal Analysis.

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