The other night on social media I quipped that the NHL Officials need a summer league. Like half a dozen other off the cuff mutterings, the more I think of it, the more sense it makes. This was in reaction to the utterly putrid nature of calls in the Winnipeg Jets versus Boston Bruins game. The general state of officiating in the NHL has been bad for two or three years. This year it’s been so bad it’s ceased to be funny or excusable in anyway.
The primary functions of the bootcamp would be:
- Evaluating and grading all officials.
- Correcting failures of positioning, and practice
- Evaluating potential additions to the officiating roster.
The question is of course how to do this. For me, a combination of players who are AHL and NHL free agents, players from other professional leagues wanting to be scouted by NHL teams and players recovering from injuries would make up the bulk of the players. College and major junior free agents could be added as well. A case can even be made for having a division of NAHL, USHL and similar age players present who would have a slightly slower pace and allow the officials the most time to evaluate plays. For maximum similarity to the NHL and AHL season, when the next CBA is negotiated, some players might be required to appear after certain levels of discipline.
With two to three games being played a day, and a given official working all the games, one day, they could then be critiqued with extensive video coverage of what they did right and wrong by trainers the very next day, and given a full day of recovery before being tasked with putting changes into play. Sounds exhausting? That’s part of the point. Like the players, officials work a long season. Sometimes the density of games is high or the travel is wretched. Any linesman or referee who can go through four days in six of three games a day and be better at the end than the beginning should be able to thrive in the regular season.
When to do it? Starting it the second week of April is one approach, or the second week of July when players are officially out of contract. Make it a six or so week training session. You can double duty by field testing proposed rule changes in the latter stages once the officials are having more clean games that putrid. Will the NHL adopt a fix like this? Unlikely. Whatever they do, they need to bring more accountability to the position, and cease covering for officials who just plain screw up by the numbers.