BOCA RATON, Fla. — The 30 National Hockey League general managers can’t decide whether to expand video review, whether to let the head coaches be the ones who set a review in motion, or if they should let the men in the Video Review Room in Toronto have greater power.
Meanwhile, the guy who knows better than anyone else when a call might be bad was standing right in front of them on Monday at the NHL’s GM meetings in Boca Raton.
Most of these GMs have yelled at referee Paul Devorski plenty over his 1,500 games. This might have been the first time they’ve ever spoken to him, however.
“Ha! Isn’t that the case?” Devorski laughed. “No, they’re real laid back here. Get them out of the arena, and we had some pretty good conversation.”
Here’s the deal on NHL refs: They get 95 percent of the calls right. And on the five percent they don’t, they know 95 percent of the time that they might be wrong.
You’ve heard of the referee who goes into the dressing room in between periods to watch a replay of a certain call? Why do you think he’s looking at it again? Because he thinks he might have screwed it up.
“The guys on the ice have a real sense of when something doesn’t smell right,” Director of Officiating Stephen Walkom told Sportsnet Monday, after he took part in a discussion on whether the on-ice officials should be able to initiate video reviews or not. “There are just certain times where a referee calls a penalty. He thinks he has a (number) six but it’s really 16. Guys come to him and say, ‘You sure you have the right number?’ It doesn’t stop the game. It just gets the right guy.”
That play in Detroit, where the puck went off the netting, hit Jonathan Quick in the back and went into the net? Those officials knew inside two seconds — by the reactions of those players who saw the flight of the puck — that there was a good chance they were wrong. And they’d have loved to be the ones who started the review process to make the call right.
“Officials probably have a few situations where they would like to initiate reviews,” said Walkom. “Not be micromanaged to death. Just initiate review to get it right.”
During the Olympic break, Walkom met with his opposite numbers at the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and the National Football League. Ironically, all are leagues that have approached video review from the opposite side as the NHL.
In hockey they have the Video Review Room in Toronto, and they are hesitant to include a referee and off-ice monitor into the process. In baseball, basketball and football, the referees (or umpires) leave the playing surface and make the call themselves with the help of video. Each of those leagues is, in turn, studying the value of setting up a control centre like the one the NHL uses.
Speaking with the GMs here in Florida, the concern is having so many reviews that games take too long to play. Speaking with Devorski, who has ref’ed more games than any active player has played, he’ll tell you that there are instances in a lightning fast game where referees are forced to make calls they aren’t entirely confident about.
“Goaltender interference,” he said. “Getting it wrong, then looking back and it’s not goaltender interference. That would be the primary one. Maybe you do it for major penalties. Did a guy go in headfirst? Did he jump into the boards? What you don’t want is to give out a major, have them score three goals, and find out later that it was probably just a minor penalty call.”
Same with that high-stick that turns out to have been committed by a teammate. “I’m calling a double minor, and (his partner) is at the point and he says, “Devo, I’m not sure that wasn’t his own player.’ We initiate a review, and go look at it right away.”
It happens so fast now, yet still we sit back and expect perfection. Meanwhile, even the great Wayne Gretzky struggled to score on breakaways, and Bobby Orr missed the net once in a while.
As long-time referee Rob Shick always said of refereeing, “It’s one of the only professions where you start out perfect and go downhill from there.”
Hockey players move faster than do baseball, football or hockey players, and only a baseball can rival a puck in terms of the speed of the object of the sport. I mean, did anyone ever lose sight of a basketball?
“Our game is different than any other game,” said Walkom, in summation. “The other games go for maybe 15 seconds between baskets. Baseball comes to a stop all the time. We don’t. When it comes to our guys, they strive for excellence. They’re all in.
“If I ask them for perfection, they’re likely to tell me that they need to find another job.”