Time for off-ice officials?
Referee Paul Devorski looks on during a regular season game. (Photo by Mike Stobe/NHLI via Getty Images)
Time for off-ice officials?
Hello again, friends and non-friends. This is the latest edition of the THN web mailbag. I also answer the questions you submit in our magazine and on our Sirius/XM Radio Show. Thanks as always for taking the time to ask.
Adam, will Nicklas Lidstrom ride off into the sunset never to be seen or heard from again? Has he ever conveyed a desire to assume a roll behind the bench or any other type of position within the hockey world? Thanks.
John Peirce, Oaks, Pa.
I’m currently putting together a major feature on Lidstrom for an upcoming edition of The Hockey News magazine and in talking to Detroit GM Ken Holland, I didn’t get the sense the future Hall-of-Famer would be acting in any official capacity with the Red Wings or any other team or group. He and his wife are headed back home to Sweden to enjoy their four children and the family and friends who missed them greatly over the course of the past two decades.
That said, I think Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall was absolutely right when he told me, “I’d love to see (Lidstrom) continue to work somehow in hockey one way or another. Athletes like him don’t come around too often. Not only are we losing an incredible player, but also an outstanding ambassador for the game.”
Of course, Lidstrom could choose to spend the grand majority of his time at home and helping Swedish hockey, rather than coming back to North America. That’s absolutely acceptable given his status as a legend in his homeland.
Hey Adam: Since almost everyone has been complaining about the refereeing this year, and years past, will the NHL do something to improve it? During the playoffs they have an additional ref on the sidelines, but he has no input and they refuse to use replay. Really frustrating.
John Cawdrey, Walnut, Calif.
I suggested in a recent THN magazine column that the time had arrived for an official on the sidelines – say, above the arena in the press box – who can step in to make calls that were missed. Not every call, mind you – just the obvious ones that make the league look horrendous, such as the fact Raffi Torres continued to play a full game after viciously decimating Marian Hossa in this year’s playoffs.
After I wrote that piece, I received a nice email from THN contributor and reader Pastor Glen Goodhand, who pointed out that this discussion has been happening in some form for the past 80 years. Indeed, in the March 20, 1970 edition of THN, coaching legend Scotty Bowman said, “(r)eferees need help” and suggested “some kind of official in the stands…who could take notes without any pressure, and who could at least be a witness of anything major that happens.” The more things change, the more they stay the same.
In any case, I think the officiating business will always be fraught with controversy. It’s a subjective business and until you bring in robots who can do the job personally, there will always be teams upset with missed calls. The best teams overcome those calls.
Adam, I follow you on Twitter. I’m often amazed at the things you write…and not so much in a positive way. Today you tweeted about fighting (again) and Derek Boogaard. We all understand you are against fighting, but do you truly believe that fighting is what led to his addiction problems? Hockey has been around a long time and there have been many fighters. Because they’re fighters we are saying they are more likely to be addicts?
Also, without fighting are Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak or Rick Rypien regular NHLers? Other NHLers have suffered from depression issues; Theo Fleury writes of his thoughts about suicide in "Playing with Fire"; and it is well known Stephane Richer had depression issues. What can this be attributed to? Can we blame this on fighting also? It makes me mad to hear the constant negative press written on this issue. Fighting is what sets hockey apart from other sports. With the recent trend, as Mike Milbury says, of the "pansification" of the game, I think we need to settle down on this issue and sell the game for its positives – including fighting – not tear the game apart for an element that has been involved for many years. Thoughts? Thanks.
Lincoln Carriere, Dawson Creek, B.C.
I could probably use a whole mailbag just to respond to your many points, but here’s the quick version:
1. The tweet you referenced was my quoting of Boogaard’s father, Len, who told the New York Times the following: “Derek was an addict. But why was he an addict? Everyone said he had ‘off-ice’ issues. No. It was hockey.” To me, that says a lot and I won’t ignore it simply because it doesn’t fit with someone’s narrow view of the game.
2. A percentage of players and people from all walks of life and in all professions struggle with drug and alcohol abuse or depression, so yes, it’s natural NHLers of all kinds would be affected to varying degrees. But I’d challenge you to take an honest look not just at the history of the three men who tragically lost their lives last summer, but at the struggles of enforcers such as Chris Simon, Donald Brashear, Ryan VandenBussche and Jim Thompson, among others, before you argue players of all roles suffer the same types of issues with the same frequency as do tough guys. You can’t do it, at least not to my satisfaction.
3. In the book I wrote last year on the subject, Thompson – a very brave guy, in my opinion – outlined the manner in which the enforcer role affected his personality and ability to cope with reality and said the grand majority of enforcers suffer similar issues. I put much more credence in his opinion than I do of people who have zero experience with the ramifications of that lifestyle and throw out words like “tradition” as a shield against rational argument and debate.
4. There is no more spurious pro-fighting argument than the one that asks the question, “Whatever will these tough players do if there are no goon jobs waiting for them in the NHL?” Uh, they’ll have to be better players. Where is the concern for talented American League players who couldn’t get an NHL job because a roster spot was taken up by a guy who couldn’t play at the top level? Seems like selective empathy to me.
5. I’m under no obligation to “sell” the hockey culture. My job as a journalist and opinion columnist is to present passionate arguments and challenge established notions, not to cheerlead and pander to the lowest common denominator. Plenty of people do that.
6. I have never once written that the sole reason for the deaths of Boogaard, Belak and Rypien was their role as an enforcer. Rather, I’ve argued there is no proof fighting doesn’t take a huge toll on these guys. I’m willing to be open-minded about the possibility of other factors, but don’t sense that same open-mindedness from the pro-fight faction, which tries to emasculate people like me via words like pansification and phrases like “it’s a man’s game.” Their first knee-jerk inclination is to say fighting has nothing to do with these issues. That’s a much bigger problem than anything I’m doing or saying.
Hi Adam, Tim Thomas choosing to "take a year off" instead of retiring has prompted many questions. Will he still be property of the Bruins or will he be a free agent after the year off? If he still belongs to the B’s, how does that affect their roster and salary cap next year? Has this ever happened before?
Louis Perrone, Tolland, Conn.
It is unclear what the Bruins will do with Thomas right now. The prospect of a new collective bargaining agreement complicates matters – and Boston management could either choose to try and hold him to the final year of that contract in the 2013-14 campaign, or void his contract altogether.
Has this happened before? Sort of. Look at the situation the Islanders faced with goalie Evgeni Nabokov after they claimed him on waivers in 2010-11. He refused to report, but the Isles refused to allow him to walk away from the one-year contract and he served the full term this past season.
The other issue here is that Thomas’ decision could be nothing more than a negotiating tactic to control where the Bruins would trade him. For now, though, we’ll have to let a little time pass and see how the issue comes to a head.