By Times staff writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 2, 2003
Call it as they see it
One referee, a lot of skating.
The NHL abandoned that model three years ago for the two-referee system. Now it is considering going back, but with a twist.
In an attempt to fix what director of officiating Andy VanHellemond called "a deficiency" in the two-referee system, an experiment will be conducted this month in the AHL that could alter the way NHL games are officiated. VanHellemond, in Tampa last week, said one referee will skate end to end and be responsible for the action near the puck and nets. The second referee will watch the neutral zone and action behind the play.
The current system has both referees, generally, watching everything. While that has meant better overall coverage, it has prompted complaints from coaches and players about consistency between officials.
Many rules are subject to interpretation, and VanHellemond agreed not each referee's interpretation is the same. Different positioning also can lead to problems.
Tampa Bay defenseman Cory Sarich was called for a crucial interference penalty Feb. 23 against the Sabres after a similar play, in which Tampa Bay's Ben Clymer was obstructed, was deemed okay.
"It's a deficiency in the system," VanHellemond said. "Some (referees) skate better than others. Some anticipate better than others. Skating ability and movement and anticipation is so important for the official to get a good look at what is going on.
"The players' positioning changes constantly. They are rotating, turning, twisting. So when teams complain they see something constant in the same play, they're comparing apples and apples. The one referee's view of that play was an apple. The other time it happened, the referee's view and positioning didn't think it was an apple, so he thought the play was okay."
With one referee calling plays around the nets, there should be no repeats of the situation in Thursday's Lightning-Panthers game.
Paul Devorski correctly stopped play in the second period after Florida goalie Robert Luongo covered a puck in the crease while being poked at by Dan Boyle. But Rob Martell, woefully out of position, let the Panthers continually jab at Nikolai Khabibulin after he covered a puck in the third period.
"If there is any common ground they could get to where it's cut and dried, it's going to make their job a lot easier," Lightning center Tim Taylor said. "It's going to make the coach's job a lot easier because he's not yelling at them and not knowing what referee is going to call what. If they do this, it will be a good stride."
As for the referee who must do all of the skating, VanHellemond, a former referee, has no empathy.
"When we worked, we had to do it all," he said.
Still, in the case of a breakaway or if the play gets too far ahead of one referee, the neutral zone official is supposed to jump in.
"It's tinkering, trying to adjust to make it stronger, better, more understandable and have coaches know that we're trying to do the best thing for the game," VanHellemond said.
The Panthers are 12-11-5-4 on the road but 7-14-7-5 at home, so coach Mike Keenan asked if his players wanted to stay at a hotel before home games. "They said no," Keenan said. "They have to eventually sort it out." ... Bruins coach Robbie Ftorek is in trouble. Boston began 19-4-3-1 but is clinging to a playoff spot. ... After consecutive benchings last week, Theo Fleury is all but gone in Chicago. ... Calgary's Jarome Iginla had four goals Feb. 23 at Phoenix: even strength, power play, short-handed and empty net. He was a penalty-shot goal away from the Mario Lemieux hat trick, which No. 66 accomplished Dec. 31, 1988, against the Devils. ... Eight games after being traded from the Flyers to the Hurricanes, right wing Pavel Brendl had knee surgery, prompting Carolina to ask if Philly GM Bobby Clarke had sent damaged goods. Similar questions followed the 'Canes acquisition from the Flyers of Rod Brind'Amour, who had a broken foot. ... Detroit's Steve Yzerman played 13 and 12 minutes in his first games after summer knee surgery. ... As if the Hurricanes did not have enough problems, the players scheduled a team-bonding luncheon and golf outing Thursday in Phoenix. It rained. ... Possible destinations for Sharks captain Owen Nolan: Toronto, Philadelphia and Montreal.
"He got my sweater over my head, and I was thinking, 'Oh, my god. I'd better get going because he's killing me.' " -- Oilers enforcer Georges Laraque on his fight with Atlanta's Jeff Odgers.
-- Compiled by staff writer Damian Cristodero from personal interviews and information from other news organizations.