Their contract was up. Efforts to forge a new one weren’t going well.
The NHL officials felt they had no other choice but to strike.
“I was, quite frankly, devastated,” said NHL Director of Officiating Bryan Lewis of the 1993 officials’ strike. “I never, ever thought that we’d get to this. I rode the roller coaster of emotions.”
The league’s referees and linesmen had previously agreed to officiate the start the 1993-94 season despite the lack of contract. Negotiations were tense, with the officials looking for a 60-percent salary increase and the NHL countering with a 29-percent raise. In addition to the raise, they were requesting an increase in benefits. They also wanted respect.
“These are proud people, and they want to be respected,” said Don Meehan, legal counsel for the NHL Officials Association. “They place a value on their significance in the game. If they can be compensated the way other officials in other sports are, by way of salary and benefits, then they will be happy.”
By mid-November, talks were at an impasse. After unanimously voting down what the NHL claimed to be its final offer, the officials walked.
In came the replacements.
1993 Replacement Officials
Referees: Jim Anderson, Larry Antoniuk, Bob Best, Darryl Borden, Gord Buchanan, Frank Cole, Mike Foy, John Gallagher, Chuck Harrison, Luc Lachapelle, Scott Leavitt, Darren Loraas, Tim MacConaghy, Kevin Mallin, George McCorry, Tom Monahan, Bob Morley, Mike Rebus, Brien Ricci, David Ross, Brent Rutherford, Greg Shepherd, Drew Taylor, and George Wilson
Linesmen: Scott Adams, Bob Bell, Kevin Boschert, Doug Brousseau, Gerry Burt, Roger Castle, Luc Charron, Steve Corlyon, Bill Doiron, Brian Farley, Paul Flaherty, Rick Galipault, Mike Galletti, Jeff Gardner, Real Gauthier, T Gillespie, Jim Gilligan, John Gould, Sam Gowan, George Henderson, Jeff Huber, Scott Hughes, Ray Jollimore, Michel Joly, Marc Khedouri, Christopher Kit, Brian Marshall, Dave McClellan, John McCutcheon, Stephen Metcalf, Steve Miller, Dan Moffatt, J. Morgan, Ian Nathanson, Bob Porter, Jim Romeril, Dave Shaw, Dennis Sholes, Miles Spencer, Curt Stevens, Alex Stobo, Jim Tedesco, Chip Tyson, Derek Wasiak, Peter Wicklum, and Chuck Wynters
The league had taken steps to prepare for the possibility of a strike, including holding an officials training camp in Indianapolis in early November to prepare the 58 potential replacements, who had been pulled from minor leagues, junior levels, and amateur hockey, including some with international experience.
“We went over procedures on how the NHL wanted us to do things,” said Sam McGowan, a linesman in the Central Hockey League. “There was a quick run through the rule book, because there are some differences between pro rules and junior league rules.
“We worked with the radios that we have to wear – we worked on things all the way down to travel arrangements. Every little detail was covered. “
“It’s a dream come true,” added McGowan. “I might as well get my shot, too.”
While the NHL sparred with the officials’ union over money, the dollars were more clear-cut for the fill-in officials. Referees were paid $800 per game, with linesmen earning $500 for each appearance.
In an effort to protect the replacement officials, the league issued a reminder to coaches and players to avoid criticizing the officials and to temper their frustrations on the ice.
“We’re going to explain [to the players and coaches] that this is a difficult time,” said NHL Vice President Brian Burke, “and we expect them to act professionally.”
The league also implemented a safety net for the officials. The referees and linesmen were issued earpieces that would allow the on-ice crew to communicate with officiating supervisors in the press box for assistance.
On the ice, it was more or less business as usual. From the Washington Post:
In Toronto, fans took the replacement officials in stride. When Maple Leafs left wing Wendel Clark got a five-minute penalty for boarding, referee Luc Lachapelle drew only a few jeers. When he nullified a Maple Leafs goal in the second period because he lost sight of the puck, the boos were louder. Fans’ feelings were mollified when Toronto scored two goals in quick succession to tie the game. Lachapelle, 39, works in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Said Toronto Coach Pat Burns: “He did a good job. The outcome of the game was not affected by the refereeing.”
In Ottawa, there were cheers and boos as the officials skated onto the ice, according to the Associated Press. Ottawa Coach Rick Bowness had a brief shouting match with referee Bob Morley, a 10-year official of Ontario Hockey League games, over line changes, but Morley settled the matter.
“In the heat of the moment you always get yapping” at the referee, Montreal’s Kirk Muller said. “But all-in-all I thought he did a good job.”
As time went on, though grumblings began to surface about the officiating. Both players and coaches reportedly complained about the quality of the replacements and an increasing number of missed calls. There were even some missed assignments.
Referee Chuck Harrison, out of the Central Hockey League, missed the first period of a matinee game between the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and the San Jose Sharks due to a travel issue. The start of the game was delayed, with the two linesmen ultimately covered refereeing duties for the opening twenty minutes in his absence. The duo called one minor penalty in what turned out to be an uneventful period.
“I was very pleased with the way the linesmen were reffing in the first period,” Ducks enforcer Todd Ewen said. “I was extremely pleased.”
On the opposite coast, Florida Panthers head coach Roger Neilson was frustrated with the officials in a 3-2 loss to the Bruins after what he thought was a missed offside call led to the game-winning goal. Neilson threw a water bottle and other objects on the ice in protest.
“There were two offsides not called in the last five minutes, and it cost us the game,” Neilson said.
Veteran coaches Al Arbour and Mike Keenan both separately called out the replacement refs with concerns of player safety and missed calls, with increased physicality and players getting run from behind.
Lewis called the replacement refs’ duties “a very tough task, with limited training.”
“They are hoping the substitute officials won’t do a good job and we’ll be forced into accepting their demands,” Blackhawks General Manager Bob Pulford told the Chicago Tribune. “But I think we’ll get some new referees out of this and all the substitutes will do a decent job.”
Kerry Fraser, veteran referee and vice president of the NHL Officials Association, countered by stressing the skills of the NHL officials.
“We’re confident in our abilities, that we’re the best in the world,” said Fraser. “To us, it’s not a matter of ‘if.’ It’s a matter of ‘when.’ Whether it takes a week or two weeks, there is going to be recognition that the sport isn’t as good with those people out there on the ice.”
The “when” came on December 1, when the officials and league announced an agreement in principle on a new four-year agreement.
While official details were not released, the officials reportedly accepted the league’s previous salary offer. Those terms would see a rookie referee bumped from $50,000 to $65,000 in his first year, with an increase to $80,000 by year three. Referees with ten years in the league would jump from $80,000 to $125,000, then to $140,000 in the third year of the agreement. The officials also lowered their request for a benefits increase from $1.5 million to $750,000.
On December 2, 1993, NHL referee Paul Stewart returned to the ice alongside linesmen Ron Finn and Jean Morin to drop the puck between the Boston Bruins and the New York Islanders.
The strike was over.