Penalty: Too Many Referees On the Ice

By JD Lagrange – American journalist, editor, and author Charles Peters once said: “Bureaucrats write memoranda both because they appear to be busy when they are writing and because the memos, once written, immediately become proof that they were busy.” The NHL is filled with bureaucrats who feel the need to “fix the game,” to justify their position and their pay cheque.

The problem is that the game didn’t need that much “fixing” to start with and they have gone overboard in trying to micro-manage a product which was already excellent to start with. The main reason? Over-expansion in non-traditional markets, in an attempt to draw fair-weather fans to those markets.

In the meantime, NHL bureaucrats are trying every which way imaginable to change the roots of the game with what is, in many cases, gimmicks. Let’s add some new rules, new ways to end games, more referees… You want fries with that? That should bring fans to the game, right?

There are many examples of micro-management, suits trying to change the game for what they claim is the better. Yet, it is painfully obvious to traditional hockey fans that they have not thought those decisions through, not thinking of the collateral damage those decisions have on the actual game itself.

Some examples

I will not write a whole thesis about each one of them today, as most of these points could be a column of its own, with its own debate attached to it. While I know that some people will want to argue those points by the simple fact that they are mentioned in this article, I refuse, for the time being, to be drawn into it until such time that I write my full take on each and every one of them.

➙ Someone decided that fans didn’t like tie games, although it’s been there for ages. They’ve decided that no game should end in a tie and they’ve come up with a five minutes playing at four on four at the time, and have now made it three on three. But wait, what if it’s still tied? Let’s end it with our most popular skills competition at the All Star break! Oh no doubt that some fans loved it. Many hated it, and more and more have grown tired of the gimmick.

➙ After the 2005 lockout, they chose to crack down on interference. Further, let’s not allow the goalies to play the puck in the corners! It definitely has sped up the game, but so have the unprotected contacts, putting targets in the back of defensemen chasing the pucks in the corner, resulting in more concussion and serious injuries. They didn’t think of that.

➙ Whoever decided it wasn’t fair for the home team to have the penalty box on their side and to “fix it”, the two benches should be on the same side, should be hung. The last time I checked, each team plays the same number of home and away games, so it evens out at the end of the season. What’s wrong with giving the home team a slight advantage, in front of their own fans who pay to go to the games? Also, having the two benches side by side has cause more problems with line changes and such than it was before. They didn’t think this one through either.

➙ The tighter enforcement of the instigator rule was brought forward to prevent so-called “goons” from attacking star players. What they didn’t think about is that it has given the green light to the rats of this league to play their game without fear of reprimand in tight games. We will protect them through our NHL Player Safety and refereeing on the ice, they said. How is that working out? They have even been talking about removing fighting from the NHL, which would undoubtedly worsen that same situation.

➙ Let’s get some video review, they said. Getting the calls right was the goal of implementing the reviews. How is that working out? Everything that they’ve worked on to speed up the games, they have killed with the delays of video reviews. It takes minutes to drop the puck after a goal because the bench is looking at their iPads to look for offsides, deflections with a high stick, infractions that should have stopped the play and/or goaltender interference. And then, the endless time taken by referees and linesmen to determine the “right call”… which ends up being wrong in many occasions anyway.

This play, resulting in a goal by San Jose, was challenged by the Habs. After review, they deemed the play wasn’t offside. Clearly, the puck isn’t completely across the line and the Sharks player is well in the offensive zone. The Canadiens were assessed a penalty for losing the challenge…

Two referees

Now the best, and the actual point of this article: the two referees system. This is one of the biggest issues needing to be addressed and reversed immediately. In their wisdom, NHL bureaucrats decided that having another pair of eyes on the ice would allow catching more infractions. Facts indicates that it hasn’t. Yet once again, they didn’t think about the consequences.

1. Two referees, two judgments: In the days when there was only one referee, players knew, before the puck was dropped, what kind of game to expect. They knew the referees and what they called and allowed, in most cases. If Andy Van Hellemond, Terry Gregson, Kerry Fraser or Ron MacLean, each had their own way to manage a game. Now, while players and coaches know each referee, they don’t know which one will call what and when, bringing total inconsistency in calls made during the same hockey game. Players, coaches and fans have no idea where they stand game in, game out.

2. Incompetence: In the past, only the best referees in North America were doing NHL games. When the league chose to double the number of red bands on the ice, guys from the AHL received a promotion. With the rule changes alone and with the speed of the game increasing, calling a game would have been a challenge for the most experienced and qualified referees. But bringing guys who are not ready and/or simply not qualified for the position, the bureaucrats created a monster! The refereeing in the NHL has never been as bad and as inconsistent as we’ve been seeing since the lockout of 2005. Then you had the over-expansion, the talent is completely diluted and at least half of those guys have no business in the best hockey league in the world. Worse, fans and teams at every level will tell you that it channels down to every single league, from the AHL to junior and college hockey as well. Those leagues not only have lost their best referees at their level, but they followed suit and have two referees. Imagine this issues!

3. Too many people on the ice: Let’s face it… players are bigger and faster than they’ve ever been, yet the ice surface has remained at the same size. Many people, including myself, believe that the NHL needs to force teams to go to an Olympic size ice but that’s another topic. In the meantime, there is less room on the ice for players to maneuver. Adding one more referee on the ice takes more space and they are getting in the way of clearing attempts, passes and/or players trying to skate away and make plays.

And I won’t even touch on the topic of linesmen not dropping the puck and chasing centermen away from faceoffs, another ridiculously amplified problem…

When you had 18-24 teams in the NHL, playing 72-80 games per season, with one referee per game, you had the best of the best wearing the red armbands for each game. Now, you have 32 teams, with each team playing an 82-games schedule. That in itself puts stress on the quality of refereeing. Now you double the need by doubling the number of referees, adding an unqualified judgment? You do the math…

Finding solutions

The solution? I’m not sure. Is it time for the league to have an official in the press box with a button that blows a whistle to catch stuff happening behind the play but only on blatant calls? Linesmen can call some infractions such as the too many men on the ice. Is it time to give them a couple more rules they can enforce like things happening behind the play?

The one thing I do know though is that this two referees system is not working. It has never worked from day one and it’s only getting worse. Not for the teams, and certainly not for the fans. It’s more than time to revert back to the three striped men on the ice. That I do know for sure. But what do bureaucrats think? After all, it’s their pay cheques that need justification.

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