"I saw the play," said Asselstine.
"The spear. Hoffmeyer speared him. It should be a major."
"That's good enough for me," said Harris, and he gave Hoffmeyer a five-minute penalty. The Flyers, naturally, were up in arms, and their humor wasn't improved when the Islanders scored two power-play goals while Hoffmeyer was in the penalty box and won 3-1. All the confusion and arguing would have been avoided if Asselstine could have stopped play the moment he saw the spear, as he'll be able to do this year.
The point is, the referee doesn't see a lot of violations. The game is fast, players block his view, and to a certain extent the referee must follow the puck to determine when a goal has been scored. Although linesmen now can assess major infractions and a few minor ones (e.g., too many men on the ice), they still can't call the far more frequent occurrences of interference, tripping, cross-checking, hooking, elbowing and slashing that go on behind a referee's back. The obvious solution? Switch to two referees and one linesman. One referee would call penalties that occur around the puck; the other would call penalties away from the puck. The mere presence of a second ref would eliminate a lot of the cheap stuff that goes on in a hockey game, such as kicking the skates out from under an opponent and knocking his stick out of his hands.
An additional referee also would allow refs to stay in the sport longer. "I'm green with envy when I watch the Super Bowl or the World Series and I see that the chief referee or umpire is 52 or 55 years old," says Morrison. "I'd love to have a guy on our staff with 22 or 23 years' experience. But in hockey the demands are so strenuous that our officials are retiring at 45 or 46. Beyond that they just can't keep up with the play."
Witness pro basketball—it uses two referees, and 10 of its 28 refs are 45 or older, the eldest being 54. Lack of consistency is a major gripe of basketball coaches, too, but Cecil Watkins, the NBA's chief of referee development, believes that using two referees with equal authority helps maintain officiating standards throughout the league. Every few games he splits up the pairings so that one tandem doesn't go off on its own tangent. Everyone is in touch.
Not so in hockey. Currently, most referees work close to 70 regular-season games a year. After their week-long training camp in September, they seldom have a chance to see their peers work in person. No wonder standards are wildly divergent. Yet mention the idea of switching to two referees, and NHL voices rise as one. No bleeping way! "It would be chaos," says one coach. Adds another, "Right now you've got one guy messing up discretionary calls. You don't need two or three." Says a third, "One man can control a game. Two can't." And a fourth, "You'd slow the game down to a walk. You'd get three guys feeling they're important. Let one guy feel he's important."
O.K., O.K. Score another one for the immutability of the NHL. But, properly administered, the two-referee system would work, and we might see more referees, with an equal partner out there, bypass the path of least resistance.
Short of adopting a two-referee system, the NHL, Ziegler notwithstanding, should rediscover the rule book. "It's time officials called everything," says Buffalo Forward Craig Ramsay. "Let the whole league know there will be a change in the way they call violations. Go exactly by the rules. At first, most teams won't believe the refs will go strictly by the book. There will be a lot of penalties, power plays and scoring. Sooner or later, the guys who take a lot of penalties won't be playing because they'll be giving the opposition too many power-play opportunities. Then hockey will be played the way the game was intended. It will be a better game to play and to watch."