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

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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.