Two Referees System an Issue in the NHL


By Joce, Senior Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

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. ~ Charles Peters


PENTICTON, B.C. — The NHL is filled with bureaucrats who feel the need to “fix the game,” to justify their position and their pay cheque. The problem I see 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 reason? Over-expansion in non-traditional markets, in an attempt to draw fair-weather fans to those markets.

Has it worked? Yes… when the team wins. The Lightning packed the arena when they won the Stanley Cup. The Anaheim Ducks did the same the year they captured Lord Stanley’s prize. Not so much since, however. But wait… was it the new rules that brought the fans to those markets? Aren’t the rules pretty much the same today as they were then? Is there a remote possibility that winning is what brings fans to the rink?

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, and more gravy on the poutine. That should bring fans to the game, right?

There are many examples of micro-management, bureaucrats 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.

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.

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. Now some are talking about removing fighting from the NHL, which will undoubtedly worsen that same situation.

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. 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 love it. Many hate it.

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. 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.

Now the best, and the actual point of this article: the two referees system. This is one of the biggest issues which need to be addressed and reversed immediately. In their wisdom, the NHL bureaucrats decided that having another pair of eyes on the ice would allow catching more infractions. It sure did. Yet, 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. Now, while they know each referee, they don’t know which one will call what, bringing total inconsistency in calls made during the same 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 nightmare! The refereeing in the NHL has never been as bad and as inconsistent as we’ve been seeing since the lockout of 2005. Worse, fans and teams will tell you that it channels down to every single level down, from the AHL to junior and college hockey as well.

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…

The solution? I’m not sure. Is it time for the league to have an official in the pressbox with a button that blows a whistle to catch stuff happening behind the play? 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. 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 know. But what do bureaucrats think? After all, it’s their pay cheques that need justification.

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J.D. Lagrange
J.D. is a Senior writer for All Habs as well as Associate-Editor for the French version Le Magazine All Habs, while one of three Administrators of the fan forum Les Fantômes du Forum. He has created the handle Habsterix as a fictional character for the sole purpose of the internet. It is based on the cartoon Asterix of Gaule and his magic potion is his passion for the Montreal Canadiens. How old is he? His close friends will tell you that he’s so old, his back goes out more than he does! He was born when Béliveau lifted the Cup and remembers the days when seeing the Habs winning was not a wish, it was an expectation. For him, writing is a hobby, not a profession. Having moved to beautiful British Columbia in 1992 from his home town of Sherbrooke, Quebec, he started writing mostly in French to keep up his grammar, until non-bilingual BC friends pushed him into starting his own English Blog. His wife will say that he can be stubborn, but she will be the first to recognise that he has great sense of humour. He is always happy to share with you readers his point of views on different topics, and while it is expected that people won’t always agree, respect of opinions and of others is his mission statement. || J.D. est Rédacteur-Adjoint sur Le Magazine All Habs et il est un Rédacteur Principal sur le site anglophone All Habs, tout en étant un des trois Administrateurs du forum de discussion Les Fantômes du Forum. Il a créé le pseudonyme Habstérix comme caractère fictif pour l’internet. Celui-ci est basé sur Astérix de Gaule et sa potion magique est sa passion pour les Canadiens de Montréal. Lorsqu’il est né, Jean Béliveau soulevait la Coupe Stanley et il se rappelle des jours où gagner n’était pas un espoir, mais une attente. Pour lui, écrire est un passe-temps, pas une profession. Ayant déménagé dans la superbe Colombie-Britannique en 1992 en provenance de sa ville natale de Sherbrooke, Québec, il a commencé à écrire en français pour garder sa grammaire, jusqu’à ce que ses amis anglophones ne réussissent à le convaincre d’avoir son blog en anglais. Son épouse vous dira qu’il est têtu, mais elle sera la première à reconnaître son grand sens de l’humour. Il est toujours fier de partager avec vous, lecteurs et lectrices, ses points de vue sur différents sujets, et quoi que les gens ne s’entendent pas toujours sur ceux-ci, le respect des opinions et des autres est son énoncé de mission.


  1. I think we’d be all a lot more upset with more missed calls if they took away the 2nd official. The NHL’s never been faster than it is now and the officials are needed to help catch what the other guy is missing. If two guys are missing what is blatantly obvious to the observer, I can’t imagine what only 1 official would miss.

    Are they all great? Certainly not, I’ve got a list of officials I want nowhere near an important game. But going back now isn’t going to happen and the NHL needs to invest in a better program to train officials. Perhaps help back having a full 2-official program in the AHL for all games to improve possible candidates and training opportunities.

    I don’t think we want a Brad Marchand running around with only one pair of eyes to see what he’s up to.

  2. Though I agree with a lot of your ideas (that you weren’t going to discuss ;-), I’d have to agree with Robert about the two ref system. Other leagues are capable of working with multiple refs making important calls and controlling the activity on the ice/field/court. I think that the two ref concept in the AHL would be a benefit and maybe placing more faith in the linesmen would be helpful. To be honest, I’ve thought at times that all the boys in stripes should have the autonomy to call any infraction. Fighters are one way to control the rats of the league, but a qualified reffing team, supported by the disciplinary committee is the surest way to eliminate cheap shots from the jackasses who are skilled enough to make it to theNHL.

  3. I have no problem with the two man system, my reasoning being along the same lines as Robert’s. That said, I do agree with you that most rules are “judgment calls” and it can get confusing.

    That’s where the bureaucrats should concentrate their energy: the rulebook. There are too many grey areas. With many rules left up to interpretation, you’re left with what we see now. Refs have been awful so far this season, and it’s league wide. Most games have no rhythm and as much as I enjoy a 4-on-3 or 3-on-3, I don’t want to be talking about the refs more than the game itself during play.

    As I tweeted yesterday, you have to at least give them credit for their consistency this year. It’s shitty call after shitty call. I hope they shake off this lockout rust sooner rather than later.

  4. I would actually like to see some of the refereeing duties go to the video room – it would be fairly easy to have several guys watching several cameras and calling infractions. I would love to see the game called as it is written. I want to see these guys learn to play clean – but they never will if they are not consistently penalized.

    Consistency in officiating is one of the major problems in the game today. How is any player to play effectively when they don’t know from day to day what a penalty is.

    On a side note, I’d like to see goalies able to handle the puck as they wish, but I’d also like to see them get hit like any other player on the ice when they’re out of their crease.

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