In the NHL’s video room in Toronto, every angle from every game is available in high-definition. In New York, where Brendan Shanahan makes his judgments, those same crystal-clear views are available for the league disciplinarian to review on the device of his choosing.
Even on the team benches, some assistant coaches can turn to laptops or iPads for instant replays of critical moments.
Former referee Paul Stewart is quick to issue a reminder that the on-ice officials, overseeing a sport played at its most rapid pace in history, have no such luxuries.
“The whole dynamic has changed. It’s a foreign land for me,’’ said Stewart, who was last seen in NHL stripes in 2003. “I used to have the attitude of, ‘I hope I’m right. I’m going to give myself every chance to be right. I’m going to do the best I can to minimize the chances of me being wrong.’ ’’
In hockey, the referee has a unique task. The gap between the job’s degree of difficulty and the respect granted the position is like the gulf between Mount Everest and the Marianas Trench. Every party involved - from fan to player to coach to general manager to owner - has a better view of a controversial play than the referee who was closest to it does.
It takes a moment of reflection to remember just how darn hard the job can be.
“The game is so fast. It’s much faster than it ever was,’’ Stewart said. “Guy Lafleur would be average speed by now.
“I give speeches at USA Hockey about how you should referee a scrimmage just to see what it’s like. You keep your head on a pivot. You’re constantly moving.
“If there’s a call in the first period that you don’t call, now you can’t call it in the third period because you’ve set the bar. All that stuff goes through your mind.
“Now, you’re skating 3, 4, 9 miles a game. When the game’s over, I can promise you that I’ve walked out of rinks so physically drained. I’d have headaches, I was concentrating so hard.’’
It’s not an easy time to be an NHL official. Upon the elimination of the red line, the game’s speed reached its zenith. And the league has lost a handful of veterans. Since 2008, Bill McCreary, Don Koharski, Mick McGeough, Dan Marouelli, and Kerry Fraser are among the tried-and-true referees who have tucked away their whistles. That’s a lot of institutional knowledge missing from NHL rinks.
“The whole dynamic of television has made scrutiny much more intense,’’ said Stewart. “It takes what would ordinarily have been a close play at the blue line, then micromanages it to an event that changed the game. It’s now a big call.
“All of a sudden, officials are being questioned as to whether they’re good enough or not.’’
With technology’s advances, Stewart is worried about the shortage of good, experienced referees at every level. Stewart, who is the ECAC’s director of officiating, will host a two-day referee camp at Walpole’s Iorio Arena June 22-23 ($125 registration fee, 617-429-4842, or officiatingbystewart.com). At such camps, Stewart reminds budding referees to emphasize the fundamentals of the job: positioning, conditioning, dialogue.
Officials aren’t perfect. In the first round of this year’s playoffs, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville questioned how Stephen Walkom, Ian Walsh, Brad Lazarowich, and Jonny Murray all could miss Raffi Torres leaving his skates and launching himself at Marian Hossa’s head. Torres was not penalized on the play, but television caught him red-handed, and he subsequently was suspended 25 games.
Replays, especially in slow motion, showed how guilty Torres was.
Because of the game’s speed, all it takes is a momentary lapse for such plays to go uncalled. For example, Stewart cites Matt Cooke’s blind-side blast on Marc Savard in a Penguins-Bruins game in 2010. Tim Peel, the front referee, was most likely focusing on the players converging toward the Pittsburgh net. Marc Joannette, the back referee, was probably watching the shot Savard had just taken. Linesman Pierre Racicot had just ruled Milan Lucic onside. Bryan Pancich, the other linesman, was following the play on the side of the ice. Cooke was not penalized.
“You have to allow for the fact that it’s possible for the people on the ice to miss it,’’ Stewart said. “Not enough people who have never done the game as an official fully comprehend the difficulty of the job.’’
LET FREEDOM RING
He can go his own way
Sometime this month, Justin Schultz will most likely become an unrestricted free agent. Had Schultz, Anaheim’s second-round pick in 2008, gone the traditional route, he would have to sign an entry-level contract with the Ducks. But the three-year standout at Wisconsin is following the same path blazed by former Bruin Blake Wheeler.
Under the collective bargaining agreement, a collegian who has yet to become a senior but was drafted four years earlier can leave school and declare his professional intentions. The team that holds his draft rights is granted 30 days to sign or trade the player.
Wheeler was originally selected fifth overall by Phoenix in 2004. Upon the conclusion of his junior season at the University of Minnesota, Wheeler announced his decision to leave school and turn pro.
In explaining his decision, Wheeler noted the opportunity, as a 21-year-old, to choose his preferred NHL team. Wheeler never said so publicly, but the Coyotes’ financial situation most likely played a part in his decision.
In Wheeler’s case, the Coyotes allowed him to walk. Upon the conclusion of the 30-day window, the Bruins won the bidding, signing Wheeler to a two-year contract on July 1, 2008, the first day he could agree to a contract.
While Wheeler was unrestricted in the sense of being able to sign with any team, he remained under the boundaries of the entry-level system. He signed a two-year contract with an $875,000 annual base salary.
Like Wheeler four years ago, Schultz has most of the league interested in his services. The two-way, right-shot defenseman, who will turn 22 July 6, had 16 goals and 28 assists for coach Mike Eaves’s Wisconsin club in 2011-12. He led all collegiate defensemen in scoring.
Colorado on goalie’s map?
One scenario regularly discussed regarding Tim Thomas for 2012-13: a team near the cap floor landing the goalie via trade or waivers. In theory, the acquiring team would apply Thomas’s $5 million annual hit toward its cap number, thereby making the cutoff for the league minimum. Colorado could fit the bill. According to capgeek.com, the Avalanche have just under $25 million in salary committed to 2012-13. The cap floor could be in the $50 million neighborhood next season. Thomas had planned to retire in Colorado Springs; last fall, he moved his family there. The sticking point is the history between the two sides. In their previous iteration, the Avalanche (formerly Nordiques) picked Thomas 217th overall in the 1994 draft. The Avalanche released him after training camp in 1997. Before leaving, Thomas requested a meeting with then-coach Marc Crawford. “I told them I was going to prove them wrong,’’ Thomas said in the fall of 2008, 11 years after his dismissal. “And part of the drive has been to do exactly that.’’
Arbitration option for Rask
If Tuukka Rask and the Bruins aren’t close in their contract negotiations, either side can go the arbitration route. On July 5, Rask will be eligible to file for arbitration. If he does, the organization chooses either a one- or two-year award. If Rask declines, the Bruins have the option to file for arbitration the following day. Because arbitration is available for both sides, an extension palatable for both player and franchise is just about guaranteed. Given the prickly nature of arbitration cases, it’s likely they will agree on an extension. The guess here is that Rask, currently carrying a $1.25 million annual cap hit, will double his payday. The wrinkle is the threat of an offer sheet between July 1-5. Doubtful, but always a possibility.
Ex-Bruin Kris Versteeg, once wheeled to Chicago for Brandon Bochenski, will become a restricted free agent July 1. The feisty winger skated mostly on Florida’s No. 1 line with Tomas Fleischmann and Stephen Weiss in 2011-12. In 71 regular-season games, Versteeg had 23 goals and 31 assists for 54 points. In the postseason, when the Panthers fell to the Devils in the opening round, he added three goals and two assists. Versteeg is coming off a generous second contract (three years, $9.25 million) inflated by the Blackhawks’ mishandling of qualifying offers during the summer of 2009. Versteeg is a core player and well-liked in the dressing room, but he doesn’t project to be a game-breaker. “We like the character we have,’’ Panthers general manager Dale Tallon said during a conference call Wednesday, referring to Versteeg and Jason Garrison (unrestricted as of July 1). “They are two character guys who really played well for us. We’re talking to them. We’d like to get something done that makes sense for us moving forward.’’
Noble and Greenough head coach Brian Day confirms, with a laugh, that he asked Mark Fayne to do quite a bit more than his professional bosses now demand. At Nobles, Fayne was a two-way defenseman and team leader. With New Jersey, Fayne has strictly been a stay-at-homer, paired with Andy Greene against opposing top players. Fayne graduated from Nobles in 2006 as one of the school’s sharpest stars. After his college career, Fayne needed only 19 games of AHL work before graduating to the bigs full time. “Does it surprise me? No, it doesn’t surprise me,’’ Day said. “He’s always worked hard. The athleticism piece is huge. It’s everything. He was off the charts athletically. He’s a nice kid, a humble kid. He always had presence on the ice. He understands where to be. He’s very smart defensively. He’s very good at making the simple play.’’
A task for Therrien
Two-time Canadiens coach Michel Therrien will have some dependable go-to pieces in his first season back at the Bell Centre. Therrien has Carey Price, one of the league’s sharpest goalies. He has a solid if unspectacular scoring line in Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais, and Erik Cole. The wild card, however, is P.K. Subban. Under the correct guidance, Subban can be a top-two defenseman worthy of 25-plus minutes per game. The question is whether Therrien can wring that out of him. In Pittsburgh, Therrien coached Kris Letang for parts of three seasons and played a part in his development into one of the game’s most dynamic offensive defensemen. While Subban might not have Letang’s offensive touch, he is bigger and stronger. No reason why Subban shouldn’t be one of the league’s elite D-men.
The NCAA is considering doing away with full shields/cages for collegians. One possibility is adopting a three-quarter shield similar to the version worn by Dany Heatley and Andy McDonald. Boston University coach Jack Parker has always insisted that full cages make players more fearless and thus prone to dangerous situations.
Not sure what’s more entertaining about watching “Coach’s Corner’’ online: Don Cherry’s take on the game or the campy energy drink ad that precedes each show. Some great acting between Mike Zigomanis and Luca Caputi . . . Good luck to Randy Cunneyworth, let go as a Canadiens assistant Wednesday. Cunneyworth was never given a fair shake in Montreal. After he replaced Jacques Martin, none other than his owner shanked him in the back for not speaking French. And who can forget Jan. 12 at TD Garden? A one-goal game between the Bruins and Canadiens turned into amateur hour when then-GM Pierre Gauthier instructed Mike Cammalleri to leave the building and head back to the Ritz-Carlton to await instructions. Not like Cunneyworth could have used his best scorer or anything . . . Before Game 4 of the Final, Kings coach Darryl Sutter stressed the significance of routine. That morning, Sutter noted, he drank his usual “pail of coffee.’’ My kind of guy. Even more so if he takes it black . . . One of Fayne’s Nobles classmates: Ayla Brown, daughter of Senator Scott Brown. As Fayne was doing his thing on the ice, Brown was a basketball star . . . Among Day’s former players is Anaheim slugger George Parros. Before he matriculated at Princeton, Parros played for Day at the Delbarton School in Morristown, N.J. “Never thought he’d be an enforcer for 10 years in the league,’’ Day said. “George was our go-to offensive guy. But here’s a guy who worked hard and understood where his skill level would bring him. At the end of the day, if it didn’t work out, he had a Princeton education in economics to fall back on.’’ . . . The Tradition will take place June 27 at TD Garden, and Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs will be among those honored. Tickets are $200 for general admission and $300 for reserved seating. For more information, visit sportsmuseum.org . . . After Game 4 of the Final at the Staples Center, the NHL released a list of some of the celebrities who were at the rink. Don’t know if it’s good or bad that the only name I didn’t recognize (others included Alyssa Milano, Jeremy Renner, and Al Michaels) was somebody named David Boreanaz. Three words: out of touch.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.