Officiating in the NHL

Eric MacLachlanCorrespondent IMay 21, 2008

In recent years, specifically right after the lockout the NHL instituted the new standard of enforcement, there has been plenty of criticism since this was instituted, more so then before the new standard.

Let’s be clear on this though.  Although there were new rules put in place after the lockout, there are not many new rules, just a new standard. 

Before the new standard, there was way too much in the way of clutching, grabbing, and interference. In other words, we needed the standard to be enforced to a stricter degree.

The problem is they went too far the other way.

If you put your stick on the guy, you sit for hooking. If your free hand touches an opponent, two minutes for holding, which has led to many complaints about weak penalties.

As a minor hockey official, we have also had the new standard implemented in Canada and the United States as well as many other places around the world. Our standard is much different then the NHL standard, however.

The way we are instructed to enforce the standard is that there must be a consequence to the action for it to be a penalty.

Consequence could mean anything from a loss of momentum, forcing a turnover by means of a hook, hold, or a loss of balance.

The NHL says it is a penalty whether or not there is a consequence but merely if the action happens. On the face, this doesn't sound like such a bad thing, but it leads to penalties that look very weak or are even none existent.

Another issue is that it seems like officials are afraid of the consequences of missing a penalty. Even with two refs calling penalties and two linesmen capable of calling major penalties, things will be missed, and infractions will go uncalled.

As long as the officials are human, human error will always be a factor. After all, they are all judgment calls.  Some are just easier then others. There are many reasons not to call an infraction.

The player went down way too easy or out and out dove, which could lead to both guys sitting for two minutes. But back to this fear of officials to miss an infraction.

I have seen too many phantom calls this year because a player went down, and the official made a guess as to what happened.  We see a replay, and there was no one near him as he went down.

This is simply unacceptable. I would rather have an official miss actual infractions then call one that never happened.

Kerry Fraser has always been my favorite NHL referee. He has been somewhat of a controversial official with a few interesting calls, but overall, I think he is the most consistent official.

He hasn't had great seasons in the last couple years since the new standard. He has the loosest standard of any NHL official, and he has been punished because of it.

His standard is more in line with the Hockey Canada standard then with the NHL standard, which is why he hasn't worked past the second round of the playoffs since the lockout.

And the most saddening thing is that with Kerry having to wear a helmet based on the new rules, we don't get to see his outstanding hair.

I have officiated both hockey and baseball and have played baseball, hockey, soccer, and basketball, the first three at fairly competitive levels.

To me, although never actually having officiated it, soccer seems to be the easiest of the four.  In my area, it seems to be the most lacking in competent officiating.

Other then saying soccer is the easiest I am unable to say which of the other sports is easier or harder then any other. They all present their own unique challenges.

Positioning seems to be least crucial as an umpire in baseball, as more or less you can make all the calls from very similar positions, especially as the plate umpire.

I will readily admit I was a lousy umpire, which is why I stopped doing it. I struggled calling balls and strikes. 

I think umpiring requires the least fitness ability but probably the best eye sight to determine whether that pitch caught the black on the outside corner or missed outside.

Basketball to me seems tough because going for a block or a steal, it can be very difficult to determine whether or not that was all ball, or he caught a piece of the players hand making it a foul. 

As a fairly experienced hockey official, it would be easy for me to say hockey is the toughest because I can go on forever about the challenges hockey officials face. Being on skates presents one challenge right from the start.

I am, in most cases, officiating in the three official system, which means I am the only one calling penalties.

In soccer, it is the same, but in football and basketball, you have a few different guys watching the same play from vastly different angles, who both have the authority to make the call.

And being in Canada, people are the most nuts.  You could say on the verge of psychotic about hockey. I have seen parents threaten to kill officials because of calls.  Officials are physically and verbally abused over games they reffed. 

Seldom but not as rare as it should be, officials needing a police escort out of a town after a Junior B game. And it may not always be the people you think.

Yes, it can be the gruff hockey dad, but I have been sworn at on more than one occasion by sisters, moms, and grandmothers (which actually make me laugh sometimes.)

Another problem is that size can be a real issue. These guys are getting bigger, even at 14 years old, faster and stronger.

Even though officials hoping to make it to junior hockey are under fitness testing, there simply are not enough officials for the officials to be in as good of shape as the players.

Where size is the biggest issue is breaking up scrums and fights. I am 5-foot-8 and 150lbs. I am routinely dealing with players who are over 6 feet tall and weigh quite a bit more then I do.

I am not saying hockey is the toughest sport to officiate, but these are some of the problems I see with the NHL and some the things I have experienced as an official.