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Campbell's Cuts: NHL referees to work pre-season games without contract

Referee Kelly Sutherland talks to Duncan Keith, Mike Richards and Daniel Briere in the Stanley Cup final. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Referee Kelly Sutherland talks to Duncan Keith, Mike Richards and Daniel Briere in the Stanley Cup final. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

As it turns out, not all the news on the labor front in the NHL is doom and gloom. Even though the league and the NHL Officials’ Association do not have a contract for this season, THN.com has learned the pre-season will open with the best officials in the world working without a contract while negotiations continue.

“We’re working tomorrow night’s games,” said one official, referring to the start of the exhibition season Tuesday night.

When asked whether that means the officials intend to continue working as long as good-faith negotiations continue, he said, “I didn’t characterize it that way. We’ll be working the games. I don’t know for how long. I can’t comment on that.”

Still, it’s refreshing to see that the league, while playing hardball with the officials, at least is willing to have some sense of compromise when it comes to negotiations. The league could have easily locked the officials out of the NHL rinks starting tomorrow night and used replacements from the American League and ECHL. As THN.com first reported, the league reached out to non-contract minor league officials over the summer to find out which ones would consider working NHL games as scab officials.

But the league also realizes the pre-season isn’t only for the players. After four months off the ice, the referees and linesmen need the exhibition games to sharpen their skills, too. It clearly wouldn’t do the league any good to throw its officials into the pace of the regular season without having their guys do the pre-season as well.

But what happens if there is no deal on the horizon? Well, the league has vowed that all pre-season and regular season games will be played regardless of whether or not the officials are under contract. That means at one point, the officials will either have to go on strike or the league will lock them out.

Don’t count on this imbroglio extending into the regular season. And it’s in everyone’s best interests for this to be resolved because no matter what you think about the level of officiating in the NHL, they are the best 80 on-ice officials in the world. To have anything less, such as a guy in the minors who wasn’t good enough to crack the lineup in previous years, would be a travesty.

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NHL, NO HITTING LEAGUE

Anyone who calls into question the masculinity of those who oppose fighting should be required to sit down and watch the video covering the NHL’s official rule changes on nhl.com.

The video first deals with blindside hits and, to the surprise of nobody, the Matt Cooke head shot on Marc Savard and the Mike Richards hit on David Booth are the first two examples of the kinds of hits that won’t be tolerated this season. It then goes on to talk about a new clipping standard, using a Darcy Tucker low-bridge hit on Michael Peca from eight years ago as the most egregious example.

But when it points out examples of contact on icings, the league makes hockey players look like a bunch of wimps.

In one example, Michal Rozsival of the New York Rangers is chasing down an icing and gets to the puck, only to take a rather innocuous shoulder check from Rob Niedermayer of the New Jersey Devils. You really have to see it to believe it.

That hit is going to result in a boarding penalty from now on? Are you kidding me? Then the video goes on to say, “players must avoid any type of contact on icings.”

Hey, wait a minute. Wasn’t this rule supposed to cover just the blatant blindside hits where a defenseman chasing an obvious icing gets his face smashed into the glass or the boards? Since when did that morph into avoiding contact at all costs when two players are chasing a loose puck?

As the NHL has stated ad nauseam, it is loathe to take the “physicality” out of the game. Well, if they want to take physicality out they’ll do it more with these kinds of silly penalties than by penalizing head shots.

 

Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears regularly and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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