Reffing Notes

> in football even with seven guys on the field they still are pretty
> consistent.

In large part because each ref has a specific area of control, and they
don’t cross over much. So there’s no much ambiguity over differing

But beyond that, the NFL has had many years to train their people and
standardize the way they call games. The NFL also has a pretty strong
commitment to a standardized system, as well as to a consistent calling

Contrast that to the NHL — we’re in year two of the two ref system. The NHL
is still working out some of the issues in that. When the NBA went to three
refs, it took three seasons before the new system settled down and worked
(as well as the NBA reffing system works, but we won’t go there. The
problems aren’t in the number of refs). Prior to Van Hellemond returning,
there was little to no attempt by the league to standardize how the game was
reffed — it wasn’t an NHL game, it was a “stewart” game or a “Koharski”
game. Baseball’s struggled with this as well — there’s the official strike
zone, which every umpire ignores, and then each umpire has “their” strike

There are, honestly, positives and negatives to that. I think allowing the
refs some leeway in interpretation is good. I always found that it added a
little flavor to a game — it wasn’t just the Sharks/Hawks, it was the
Sharks/Hawks with Stewart reffing, which you knew would be a different game
than the same teams with Faucette in charge. It gives coaches one more
aspect of complexity they have to coach to.

But in the two ref system, that can get tough. You have to create the
assignments of control for each ref, but since action in hockey is so fluid,
you simply can’t partition the field the way you do football. There IS no
way one ref can handle just the line of scrimmage in hockey… So the NHL
has to move to the NFL model for consistency across referees, and it’s
working on it.

It simply isn’t there yet. And I think it’s unrealistic to expect it to be.
I think the two ref system is improved this season, and I think it continues
to improve. But it takes time for everyone to break their old habits, and
for the league to come up with the standards and training needed to get
everyone on the same page. Some refs won’t be able to make the shift, and
they need to be given a gold watch and a handshake. And some of the new refs
aren’t going to make the cut, too — and they’re training on the job as it

IMHO, the NHL is on the path to quality reffing, if everyone just gives it
time to get the job done. Teams can’t build overnight successes — but the
referees were expected to by some, even though the refs had to build through
the draft like everyone else…. (grin).

And I’m still convinced the refs are being interfered with from above (i.e.,
above Van Hellemond, the board of governors). The first round this year was
a travesty — how many guys ended up in the hospital in the name of Cherry’s
“let the boys play” grail? And gee, here in the second round, the refs found
their whistles again. What a coincidence.

Next season is likely the make or break on the two ref system. It has some
flaws, but I think it’s a good thing for the game. Personally, I don’t care
if the back ref ever calls a penalty — the existance of his eyes keeps a
lot of the behind-the-play scrumming from happening in the first place, and
stopping that garbage is, IMHO, his primary function. So I see it as a
success just for that.

But for the two ref system to work, it needs to work some stuff out:

O positioning: something we talked a bit about earlier in the week. I went
and grabbed some tapes to look at some one ref games and I think the
comments were right. The two ref system does seem to remove the ability for
the deep ref to slide up the boards — he has to try to slip behind the net
to get out of the action, so the ref is stuck in the play more than with a
one ref system. How to fix? I dunno, but it seems to me this has to be
addressed. His mobility’s been limited, and so he’s getting into the action
more, and that’s not a good thing.

O sphere of control: who manages what? It’s a good thing when one ref misses
a call and the other covers his back. It’s not when one ref chooses to
non-call, and the back ref calls it anyway. I don’t know any easy way to get
around this, other than finding ways for the two refs to communicate on
these issues. Perhaps referees ought to start overtly washing out non-calls
with a hand gesture.

O consistency: better standards, better training. The NHL’s made good
strides here from what I’ve seen. It has more work to do. The more you can
get the referees to call consistently from referee to referee, the less
sphere of control matters. They go hand in hand. This is something only time
will fix — with training, documentation and feedback.

O better fan education: I think the NHL needs to be more accessible to the
fans. The printed rule book is just too simplistic for the game, but the
casebook is unavailable. I realize the casebook is a constant work in
progress, but a lot of education can be done to help people understand how
the rules are interpreted — and that education needs to be made avaialble
to the fans, and stuffed down the throats of announcers, broadcasters and
journalists, since a lot of those folks spend a lot of time ripping the refs
AND ARE WRONG. But that’s the story the fans hear, and react to. By putting
the casebook info out for the fans, the NHL can start working to repair the
damage that stuff causes.

And finally, my pet peeve: situationally neutral reffing. A penalty in the
first is a penalty in the third. A penalty 5 on 5 is a penalty during a
power play. A penalty by Bryce Salvador is a penalty by Chris Chelios. All
of which are significant issues and hurt the reputation of reffing in the
NHL. This is THE one place where I think the NHL ought to study the NFL
closely – because lots of people gripe about the NFL refs, but they rarely
accuse them of being corrupt or biased. The NFL is best (but not perfect) at
this, followed by baseball, then the NHL. The NBA is so blatant at refs
pandering to the stars I can’t watch it any more, it’s little better than
the WWF.

If you keep teaching the refs “the NHL way” to get consistency up, start
outreaching to properly explain what “the NHL way” is so that guys like Greg
Millen can’t pull some of his intelleectually dishonest slams at the 2 ref
system, and start reffing so that fans can learn that a penalty is a penalty
(except in the third, when chris chelios hits you on a PK), you can really
improve the reffing situation. And,in fact, much of this isn’t so much
“fixing” reffing in the NHL, but PR work to help people understand why it’s
not all that broken in the first place.

I would also, and I realize this is controversial, start publicly reporting
referee/linesman suspensions and fines. Right now, they seem to be above
rebuke (even though they aren’t). By announcing these in public, the public
will start to understand that referees are called on the carpet for
mistakes, too. And I think it’s an important perception for people to
understand the professionalism of the refs.

All IMHO, of course.

> in other sports (basketball and football) the officials have no problem
> calling an infraction at any time of the game regardless of the score, heck,
> many times the “officials decide the game” in basketball by calling a late
> game foul. heavens forrib we as hockey officials decide the game!

God, a real hot button of mine. Choosing to “not call a penalty” also
decides the game. It just decides it in a different direction. People whine
and complain about the interference, hooking, holding, and all that garbage.
And then when a referee calls a penalty in the third, he gets screamed at
for not letting the boys decide the game. Well, hell, guess what? By not
calling that penalty, he decides the game: in favor of the lower-talent,
grinding guys who hook, hold and interfere the high skill guys we all claim
we’re paying to watch. And that’s why the game has turned into a
corner-grinding, in-your-face, low-scoring hook and slash affair. Because
that’s “letting the boys decide”, and if they know they can get away with
it, they’ll do whatever it takes. So the referees have decided the game, in
the favor of the grinders. And then we bitch about the grinders taking the
game away from the skill guys….

Referees are in a lose-lose situation here. And it’s worse, because it’s
clear there are key power groups in the board of directors (the Philly guys,
the Boston guys, the Chicago guys) who are “old school”, don cherry
advocates pushing that kind of hockey, and as long as the guys at the top
demand it, it won’t change…