Around the NHL: New/Old Head of Officials

Stephen Walkom eyes Dustin Brown with suspicion...and fear - Harry How

Inundated with hockey talk from Toronto-based media daily, one of Kid Ish's aims in contributing is to bring league-wide news and notes to the AC community.

Terry Gregson, the most recent Director of Officiating, announced his retirement Wednesday, August 7. He took the position in September 2009, replacing the man who will now step back into the role: Stephen Walkom. Walkom was the director from August 2005 until 2009.

In recent memory, Walkom is best remembered as the on-ice official who made a questionable double minor call late in a playoff game between the Red Wings and Blackhawks. Although the call drew much criticism, it was by the books and handled appropriately – despite the Hawks scoring on the play. The goal was waved off, but Chicago still won in overtime.

Prior to that, he drew ire from many for missing Raffi Torres leveling Marian Hossa in the playoffs a season earlier. Hossa was clearly concussed on the play, and Torres was later suspended for a fraction of forever, although a successful appeal reduced it somewhat.

Some may not remember, but even earlier than that, Walkom was linked in the Colin Campbell Emails during his time as director. That story was originally unearthed by Tyler Dellow here and revealed many unflattering things about Campbell, to whom Walkom reported.

One thing Walkom is better remembered for than all these is being the Director of Officiating coming out of the 2004-05 NHL Lockout. The rules of the game and standards for officiating changed massively coming out of the first lockout, and Walkom spearheaded those changes.

While many people disagreed with the stringent nature of the rule changes, what should not be overlooked is Walkom’s success in managing and enforcing them. He did a remarkable job in that, truth be told. He sent video and materials to teams to outline changes and highlight instances when they would be called. He was also accountable to the media in answering for the changes and calls his officials made.

This past season, there were many vocal complaints about officiating – not only had standards for calls slipped, but consistency over what constituted penalties came into question nearly every night. Teams had complained from the outset that some of the rule changes made in Lockout #3 (last year) were not adequately explained.

The prevalent theory on why the NHL moved away from the strict rule enforcement set after Lockout #2 (2005) was to slow the game back down through obstruction. With no two-line pass to clog up the center of the ice, guys were moving around with incredible speed – and concussions are a very big issue in sports right now. But the most recent data on concussions found them occurring with the same frequency, despite the allowance of more clutch-and-grab play and rules designed to stop head shots.

During the GM meeting near the end of the season, one of the biggest discussions was officiating consistency. Coaches and GMs wanted a return to the clarity of the officiating after the 2005 lockout, regardless of how strict the rules would be called. This follows only a season after the GMs agreed to address the issue in the offseason, which the lockout delayed.

One can only suspect that with Gregson stepping down, and with Walkom’s most recent success as director fresh in everyone’s minds, the NHL is hoping he brings that clarity and consistency back. In all, this is a good promotion by the NHL, as Walkom was a very effective executive despite his on-ice controversies.

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