By MARK SPECTOR
Two senior National Hockey League referees are divided on whether Dean Warren should have been fired by the league.
"I’ll be frank: he was horse shit," said Paul Devorski, a 21-year referee who regularly works Stanley Cup Finals.
"Dean Warren is a good ref," countered 30-year veteran Kerry Fraser, who has to a certain extent fallen out of favour with the NHL, having not been assigned a playoff game in several seasons.
Warren was fired by the NHL last year, and after an unsuccessful appeal through the NHL Officials’ Association has taken his cause to the Ontario Labour Relations Board. In hearings this week, Warren – an NHL referee from 1999-2007 – asserted that it was his involvement with the NHLOA that caused him to fall out of favour with the league.
Warren claims that after joining the NHLOA’s executive board in 2006, he was denied playoff assignment for the next two years, then fired. In the seven seasons prior to joining the NHLOA executive board, Warren worked 12 playoff games.
Devorski made it clear that, in his opinion, Warren’s work was simply not good enough anymore to continue to crack the line-up of NHL referees in the regular season, let alone playoffs.
He didn’t skate well enough, Devorski said, a deficiency that was exacerbated as the game sped up coming out of the lockout.
"He would get killed right now, the game is so fast. He was a below-average skater who had no rapport (with the players)," Devorski said. "He has no business being on NHL ice. There is nobody’s job he could take right now. There are guys in the AHL who are better."
Though Warren’s skating may not have been at the top of the officials’ class, "he was always in position. His judgment is so good," Fraser said. "(This firing) is not about performance. It is about the fact he was proactive as an executive on the union side."
So which veteran zebra is right?
Sportsnet.ca spoke with another senior official on Wednesday and asked him to give a consensus opinion on whether Warren was fired with cause, or because of his union activities.
"The consensus of our group would be consistent with (Devorksi’s opinion)," said the senior official, who declined to be named. "(Warren) is not up to it. Devo summed it up. And his assertion that this is tied somehow to his role on the executive? In the (officials’) room, guys consider it ludicrous.
"The idea that the league is intimidated by his position on the executive board? In our room, if we have three guys (out of 74 officials) who believe that, I would be surprised."
One of those three would be Fraser, who has been requested to testify at the OLRB hearing. He says Warren is being blackballed because he helped officials who were fired navigate their appeals against the NHL. Dan Marouelli, another long-time referee who, like Fraser, is working his final seasons in 2009-10, has also sided with Warren.
"Dean was the guy everyone was going to (to be guided through the appeal process). Dean was a bad guy in the NHL’s eyes," Fraser said. "There is nothing in this for Kerry Fraser, for Dan Marouelli, other than to stand behind a good colleague."
The OLRB hearings continue this week in Toronto.
Mark Spector is the lead columnist for Sportsnet.ca