NHL Under The Gun As Critism Mounts Part Two: Solutions

In part one we pin pointed some of the key flaws in the officiating in the NHL. Now that we have addressed what the issues are. In part two of this piece we will focus on ways that the league can implement measures to resolve the issues at hand.

Recruitment & Training

There is some questions that need to be asked in regards to the sourcing of new prospective officials. Historically, Southwestern Ontario has been a primary recruiting ground for officials. Geographically it is not coincidental as seen by the crop of recently retired referees and linesmen indicate. Most reside in or around but not exclusively to Guelph and the surrounding area. This was for the longest time considered the one of the best referee hubs in North America highly regarded for the coaching and development of young officials. Many of these officials were groomed into the higher levels through officiating at the grassroots of minor hockey and having a supervised progression through the ranks. However if the league were to increase their investment into the infrastructure of the recruitment and development programs. Which would also increase their involvement in the game from a beginner level of hockey.

As the game has grown and expanded into new geographical regions along with that expanded the volume of new prospects. Quantity doesn’t always means quality. An ideal situation for recruitment would see most of these new recruits to have had some professional playing time also coupled with a more extension resume of officiating experience in at least the junior levels of hockey. An example of that case is with current referee Wes McCauley. He is a former Michigan State Spartan that was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings 150th overall in 1990. A stronger emphasis on recruiting more similar prospects that have that experience and knowledge from being a player should be a focus for the league. The familiarity and understanding of the rules of the game from playing at the higher levels of hockey as well as the physical conditioning to be able to keep up with the pace of the action. It is also important that the officials are able to be in the right place to observe and make the right calls. Positioning is crucial for being able to see the infractions and be able to make the proper calls. An official that is unable to keep pace or be able to get in the right position to see things unfold may miss a pivotal call due to this.

Game Calling & Accountability

One major point that needs to be decided by the league and ingrained in the officials once decided is how the game is called. With the various personalities of officials also comes with different ways the games are officiated. Some referees tend to use a game management style of officiating. Others call it by the book which leads to overall inconsistency. If the issues lies with the rule book being to open to interpretation then that needs to be addressed to make it crystal clear and eliminate the interpretation factor. There are arguments for game management as it provides the official to have some freedom in how the game is called. However if you are going to go this route then the rule book is nothing more then a reference guide and that leaves the rules more as suggestions that what they are intended to be. I am more for calling the game by the book. Officials are there to enforce the rules and maintain order in the game. The officials are not who us fans pay our hard earned money to watch. We go to see our favorite teams or players. We are hockey fans not referee fans.

Linesmen need to have more authority to make calls. Referee’s can’t be everywhere on the ice at all times and there has been several occasions where a linesmen is in a better spot to see an infraction take place but yet can not make the call. To provide the linesmen with the ability to be able to call an infraction or at least draw attention to it would help cut down the missed calls. The referee’s would still remain as the primary authorities on the ice. They would now just have some of the onus taken off them by the linesmen while at the same time go along way to improve the enforcement of the rules.

Other leagues such as the NFL and NBA have their officials call the games by the book and neither of these leagues are embroiled in the controversy in regards to the officiating of their respective leagues. The NBA issues statements after each game evaluating the performance of their officials. This provides accountability to their league and officials. This has not made things perfect by any means. However, it has improved the quality of officiating in the NBA. As long as there is the human element involved it will never be completely flawless however with measures in place to hold them accountable has provided a positive affect.

Video Review

Another option to assist in the improvement of the quality of officiating is implementing an eye in the sky. Have off ice officials watching the game from a press box or even utilizing the situation room at the NHL offices in real time to help assess penalties. Given the fast pace of hockey this would be welcomed as it is not a “Big Brother” scenario and should not be considered undermining officials but another way to aide them. This would reduce the missed calls as well as provide another prospective for getting calls right. Incorporating more video review would also benefit the game. Yes it may incur extending stoppages in play but if it ensures that the calls being made are correct and accurate then I am all for it. It is working in other sports as proven in the MLB, NFL and EPL.

Final Word

The ground work to remedy the officiating conundrum is already laid with a few of the options presented. Leaning on more video review can be done easily as the resources required are already in place it just becomes a matter of utilizing them. Contributing a larger financial investment to better the training and development by providing more infrastructure is beneficial to the league and the game as a whole. Also by removing game management and implementing a standardize procedure on officiating to provide a consistent and accurately officiated product. It’s now on the league to implement the measures necessary to rectify the problem.