A better game. There's that phrase again. The thing is, better is in the eyes of the beholder. Philadelphia's Clarke would like to see the old days return. "If two guys took a shot at each other, [the referee] would say, 'O.K., now you're even,' and that was that," he says. "Now if you retaliate, the referees are all over you. They're more involved in the game, and they shouldn't be."
"In hockey, you get so many ideas how the game should be played," says Matt Pavelich, a former NHL linesman who's now a supervisor. "One guy wants it this way and one guy wants it that way—and we're supposed to be inconsistent. That's why we're on the firing line all the time."
Oh, so true, and, sadly, so inevitable. When a sport strays from its rule book, as hockey has, it lurches and stumbles like a drunk, unsure where it's headed next. You can hardly blame the players; they would be foolish not to go as far as the referees allow them. "The players have almost gotten to the point where they challenge you," says Morrison, "especially in the areas of interference in front of the net, interference away from the play, holding along the boards, and goalies hanging onto the puck too long. We discussed all that with our referees at training camp this year. We're being criticized for the non-call and it's time we were more aware of that."
"I think you'll see a difference this season," says Harris. "In the old days, a guy knew how much he could get away with in the third period, but now there are so many young guys in the league, they're taking advantage of our good nature. We'll have to send them a message."
"It's a changing profession," says Dave Newell. "It's gotten to the point where we've got to make the players aware we'll call the same penalties in the third period that we do in the first." A good step, and the referees seem sincere about enforcing a tighter standard this season. Of course, we shall see.
In the closing minutes of the final game of last season's Stanley Cup finals, the Islanders' Smith hit Vancouver's Stan Smyl in the face with his stick, cutting him. Harris, the referee, apparently didn't see the play, but the television tapes showed that Smith had struck Smyl deliberately. On the next shift, Tiger Williams of the Canucks retaliated by crosschecking the Islanders' Mike Bossy along the boards, nearly decapitating him. Again, no penalty was assessed. In a more perfect world, the league office would have reviewed both incidents and Ziegler would have fined and suspended Smith and Williams—both of whom have a long history of such behavior. Instead, silence. Now you're even.
"We can eliminate anything we want to eliminate," says Harris.
Now's the time to start.
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]