It's an official explanation
While watching officials attempt to keep the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks from mauling each other in Game 2 of their first-round series, I had a thought. Wouldn't it be better if these Game 2 officials were the same ones who had called...
While watching officials attempt to keep the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks from mauling each other in Game 2 of their first-round series, I had a thought. Wouldn't it be better if these Game 2 officials were the same ones who had called Game 1? Wouldn't that make them better able to keep the series under control and prevent bad blood from causing violence to escalate? And shouldn't the same crew stay on until the series ends?
It seems so obvious. The league couldn't be overlooking an idea that makes so much sense, could it? Who better to ask than the NHL's director of officiating, Stephen Walkom?
The lengthy conversation I had with Walkom was curious by NHL exec standards because he wasn't defensive, dismissive or condescending. He might not have converted me on all officiating issues, but he made good arguments. I certainly can't agree with every call I've seen these playoffs - or some things I haven't seen called - but I've tabled my idea of keeping the four-man crews together from the beginning of a series to its end. Walkom agrees it would work great - theoretically. But as a former referee, he says in practicality, it's much different.
"From freshness and performance level, we always found it easier if we moved from series to series," says Walkom, who admits it's difficult to explain why. "(Officials are) sharper picking up and going to the next city. They're refreshed and ready to go." As for knowing the tone of past games and what nastiness exists between the two teams, Walkom says each series has a manager who briefs the incoming officials on its history - to a point. There apparently is a fine line between knowing enough and knowing too much.
"We want them to be aware of what has happened previously but react to what is happening in that game," Walkom says.
OK. But what about consistency? When the referees are switching up every game, doesn't that mean every game of the series is called differently? Isn't a hold in the eye of the beholder?
"That's the way it used to be in the old culture," says Walkom, who was a part of that world as an NHL referee from 1990 through 2004. "In the old culture, different referees called the game different ways."
But that's not what the league wants anymore. They want a standard to be followed rigidly. A hook is a hook. A hold is a hold. A referee is a robot - or at least is the same as every other referee and makes every call based on the league standard.
A consistent set of rules is great, but does it mean taking the "feel of the game" element out of officiating? And is that best? And what about a series that is teetering on the brink of chaos? Wouldn't it be better to call things a little tighter early so the players get in line and don't turn that inch they're given into a mile?
Not an issue, says Walkom. There is no longer such a thing as the game being called tightly or loosely. It's called by the rules. At least that's the hope. Walkom admits it doesn't always happen - and that's another good reason, he says, for moving officials around.
"What happens if guys go into a game and don't have their very best game?" says Walkom, who shocked me by admitting the scenario is even a possibility. "Do we want to have the teams with a crew they're not comfortable with?"
In that situation, Walkom says, the crew wouldn't be sharp with the same teams the next game, either. Better for them to pack their bags, clear the slate and see a couple of new teams.
And in another nod to the human element of officiating, Walkom says referees can't help forming relationships with players they see over and over again in a short period of time. That isn't fair to a new team they'd see in the next round.
So much for another brilliant idea of mine, though Walkom conceded that one day it might be the way to get the best out of the officials. Right now, he doesn't think it is. And, at the moment, I can't help but agree.