Would the NHL be better off with one less official on the ice?


fourreferees.jpgBack when Brendan Shanahan organized a research and development camp this summer, there were all sorts of different experimental rule changes and tweaks being tested. One possible alteration included the interesting idea of taking a referee off the ice and placing that official on a platform overlooking the ice (to provide a different vantage point to call penalties and – perhaps – to open up a little more room).

Sportsnet.ca’s Mike Brophy brings up an idea that takes a zebra off the ice … altogether.

While the league and its officials continue in collective bargaining agreement talks in an effort to secure a new contract between the two groups before the 2010-11 season begins, there are some who believe the day is approaching when the league will go with two referees and just one linesman per game.

There has been no indication the league would use the elimination of one linesman as a bargaining tactic.

NHL hockey was traditionally officiated by one referee and two linesmen until the 2000-01 season when a second referee was added to the mix.

“Ten years ago if you talked about doing this it would be universally turned down,” one source told sportsnet.ca. “But now, since the league took the centre red line out (in 2005-06) linesmen are doing less than they ever have. The NHL has tapes of at least eight games in which two referees and one linesman worked and those games were mistake free. Those games were officiated that way because of injury, illness or travel issues. One concern the NHL has is will players try to break the rules more knowing there are only three officials on the ice?”

I enjoy the feng shui*-friendly dynamic of opening up a little space on the ice, but my gut instinct is to think that less officials mean more blown calls. If anything, I want more eye balls on the kind of tomfoolery hockey players engage in, not two less.**

As far as opening up the ice, perhaps that research and development camp idea has some wisdom in moving a ref to a platform off the ice … or maybe the NHL could use new-fangled technology to buzz extra officiating advice into the ears of officials at crucial times? That’s probably a potentially lousy idea, but I’m just spit-balling here, kids.

Anyway, this is far from a confirmed idea – there’s no concrete word on discussions, let alone a vote on the changed rule by the Board of Governors/Competition Committee – but how would you feel about the idea of the NHL reverting back to its one referee, two linesmen setup? Let us know in the comments.

* – There is at least a 90 percent chance I used that term incorrectly. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of viewing my living quarters, you’d know that the lesson was lost on me either way. So let’s pretend I used it incorrectly for comedic purposes, OK?

** – Not to discriminate against one-eyed officials, naturally.

After years of hype, McDavid to play first NHL game

Connor McDavid
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The hype surrounding Connor McDavid couldn’t be much greater, but finally expectations will start to give way to results.

The NHL career that’s been talked about for years will begin tonight when his Edmonton Oilers face St. Louis.

“It’s something that you dream of for so long,” McDavid told NHL.com. “The draft is one thing, but to finally be in this situation is another, so I’m really excited. It’s been a long road; it’s been a lot of hard work. I think a lot of guys’ stories are different in how they get here, but the one common theme is hard work and my story is not any different that way.”

McDavid has transformed the Oilers with his mere presence. Its breathed fresh optimism into a city that have watched this team struggle in its efforts to dig out of the NHL basement. One also has to wonder if Peter Chiarelli would be the team’s new general manager and Todd McLellan its new head coach if Edmonton hadn’t won the draft lottery.

But where will he lead Edmonton? Will he be just the sixth 70-point rookie of the salary cap era? Will he struggle out of the gate, putting the hype into question? Perhaps he’ll draw comparisons to Steven Stamkos, who had a modest rookie campaign by the standards of a highly regarded top pick, but has nevertheless gone on to become a superstar.

That would surprise Stamkos as the Lightning captain feels McDavid is better than he is currently. Just further proof that those lofty expectations are coming from all sides.

“You don’t want to put too much weight on his shoulders; he’s an 18-year-old kid,” Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli said. “I don’t care how good he is or how good he’ll be, it’s a lot to shoulder if you’re supposed to be the guy and you’re the only guy. Fortunately we have a lot of high-pedigree players that are high picks who have gone through similar situations that he’s going through.”

Edmonton certainly has no shortage of first overall picks, but none as highly regarded as McDavid. But then, few ever are.

Related: There’s ‘a real positive vibe’ in Buffalo, where Eichel will make NHL debut tonight

There’s ‘a real positive vibe’ in Buffalo, where Eichel will make NHL debut tonight

Connor McDavid
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Jack Eichel didn’t disappoint in the preseason, finishing with six points in four games, including two shorthanded goals.

Tonight in Buffalo, his NHL career will start for real when the Sabres host the Ottawa Senators in regular-season action.

“It’s something I’ve dreamed of my whole life, stepping foot on that ice and making the NHL,” Eichel said, per NHL.com. “It’s kind of been a whirlwind, but you’re finally playing hockey for a living and everything you’ve done your whole life is to get to this point. It’s pretty special.”

The 18-year-old’s debut was front-page news this morning in Buffalo, where the Sabres have been among the NHL’s worst teams since last making the playoffs in 2010-11.

Eichel front page

Granted, even with the additions of Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane, Robin Lehner and Cody Franson, expectations for 2015-16 remain modest for the new-look Sabres. Certainly, a spot in the playoffs would count as a surprise.

But for the fans of a team that’s barely possessed the puck the past couple of years, it’s night and day.

“People are excited,” GM Tim Murray said earlier this week. “It’s great. They think we’ve improved, and there’s a real positive vibe, I believe.

“That’s what I said to our coaches, ‘I want everybody to be positive. I’m the only guy in the organization allowed to be negative.’ That’s the way I wanted it. If I’m the most negative guy in the city about the team, that’s pretty good.”