SUN Hockey Pool

New deal for NHL, officials

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:25 AM ET

The people who run the National Hockey League don't do a lot right. But in this case, they did.

They quietly negotiated a new deal with their officials which not only erases the spectre of yet another labour battle, but is fair and honourable.

The NHL's treatment of its officials during the lockout was less than stellar. The officials were given no salary, just a small interest-free loan if requested. At the same time, the league made it clear that it expected its officials to do no work for other leagues.

But when commissioner Gary Bettman spoke to the officials during their pre-season training camp, he thanked them for respecting his wishes. In the subsequent negotiations, his gratitude was expressed in a more tangible fashion.

The league dropped the adversarial attitude that was so evident in all previous labour negotiations during Bettman's tenure. Instead, the approach was amicable and conciliatory.

The officials lost nothing from their last collective bargaining agreement but gained a lot. Salaries will increase at varying levels, but in general, the officials will get a 30% raise over four years.

Some linesmen will receive even more. Under the last CBA -- which technically expired last year but was extended for one year because of the lockout -- a linesman with 10 years of seniority earned less than a first-year referee.

Termination pay for all officials also was increased in the new deal. After 15 years on the job, an official who leaves receives two years pay.

But the new contract is not the only source of gratification for the officials. Even though, as is the case with everyone who is employed, they like to earn a decent salary, job satisfaction is also a major concern.

And at the moment, the officials are very satisfied with their working conditions.

They love working for Stephen Walkom, one of their former colleagues, who they see as fair and supportive. Many of them felt that they didn't receive sufficient understanding from Walkom's predecessor, Andy van Hellemond, also a first-rate referee.

In the hockey world, gossip travels fast and the reports filtered back that when an official erred, van Hellemond would be publicly critical, not only of a call, but of the official's ability.

Walkom points out an official's errors, but realizes that mistakes happen.

He expects officials to minimize those mistakes and to learn from their errors, but he is always positive and supportive, especially with the younger referees.

He also has the ability to see the big picture. Although he won't admit it publicly, Walkom has let it be known to some general managers that he was concerned about a slippage of standards in the two weeks prior to the Olympic break.

REFOCUSING CAMP

As a result, he has called for a command performance in Toronto on Friday, at which point the standards will be reinforced in a three-day refocusing camp.

One of the ways the NHL has changed this year is that GMs are demanding that calls be made. In the past, they used to complain about penalties assessed to their teams. Now their complaints are more likely to concern uncalled infractions on the part of the opposition.

So with the comfort of their new CBA on their minds, the officials will be reminded that for most of the season so far, they have upheld the new standards. They will be shown some videos illustrating the recent relapse and urged to stay the course for the final six weeks of the season.

They will be reminded that even though some people in the media don't like the new standards, a significant majority of the fans are in full support.

And in the long run, despite the new CBA from the league, it is the fans who really set the standards.


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