An article in the current (April 8, 2008) issue of The Hockey News
announced that certain officials may very well decline to work this year's playoffs.
"Some veterans, who are winding down their careers, are expected to take a pass on the playoffs to allow younger referees and linesmen to work the post-season."
Naturally, the league hasn't released the names of the officials in question. However, as the article states: "they weren't asked to step aside. Rather, they volunteered."
The author, Mike Brophy, rightly points out that you'd never see a veteran player act likewise.
The league, in the person of Director of Officiating Stephen Walkom, characterizes this as a good thing:
"Guys who have worked the playoffs their whole career will let younger guys work ahead of them. They were not asked. They are doing it for the team. They are really helping us evolve as a team."
That's a lovely sentiment, to be sure, and--this is purely my own speculation--Walkom (whom I really like and respect, by the way) may be offering a positive take on an uncomfortable situation.
The idea of the league contendedly moving into its most critical time of the year--the Stanley Cup Playoffs--without putting its best officials on the ice is another example of how the NHL doesn't seem to get it these days. We've been told for years how the league takes a lot of time and effort to judge the officials throughout the season to assure that the most deserving (ie, best
) of them call the biggest games of the year.
This is not the All-Star Game we're talking about here. If a few vets decide to skip that exhibition to rest up or spend time with family, it's unfortunate, but not earth-shattering. What we have here is the league openly accepting the idea that officials who, in its own estimation, didn't merit the responsibility of being in charge of playoff games will be receiving just that.
As for Walkom's assertion that it will be good for the "team" of officials a whole for younger (ie, less experienced
) officials to gain playoff experience this way, I'd counter that they're supposed to earn
the right to gain that experience. Again, the league office itself didn't deem them to be worthy of it based on their performance this year.
So now, in addition to questions about the quality of officiating in the playoffs--already a yearly hot-button issue--the NHL opens itself up to criticism on a larger basis for failing to assure that the best quality officials are even available in the first place and--more disturbingly--at least on the surface, seems just fine with that.
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