Teams have the benefit of taxi squads as a backup plan for a COVID outbreak, but what about the officials?
Elliotte Friedman reported on their plans:
The AHL is also considering what to do if officials have to be quarantined. As it stands, as long as one referee is available, games will be a go.
The National Hockey League is apparently also ready to operate with a short staff.
“We go with one [referee] if there is no one else available,” said NHL Director of Officiating Stephen Walkom. “We had a virtual training camp and went through the scenarios where we might be down one man or we might be down two people.”
It’s not like these officials haven’t worked as part of a three-man crew. All of the league’s referees have worked solo during their careers. Many have also been forced into service in a shorthanded unit due to injury or illness of a crew member. While the NHL assigns standby officials to all playoff games, regular season games don’t have a backup official waiting in the wings.
The league has already taken steps to reduce travel, with referees and linesmen staying in town to work multiple games between the same two teams.
“Whenever we have the opportunity to reduce travel, such as with the two-game series, we’ll have the same crew work both games,” added Walkom. “So some teams will see the same officials two or three times in a row, which isn’t something we normally do.”
NHL officials are already stationed around the country, with all living near an arena and large transportation hubs. That local coverage will certainly assist if referees and linesmen need to make last-minute changes.
The league is also reportedly considering calling up local emergency backup officials. Consider them the EBUGs of the officiating world. The Edmonton Journal’s Terry Jones reports that Walkom was impressed by the officiating crew at the World Juniors – who the league has already been scouting – and would consider using them on an emergency basis.
And, hey, there’s always the players who could step in. Here’s Rule 31.11:
If, through misadventure or sickness, the Referees and Linesmen appointed are prevented from appearing, the League will make every attempt to find suitable replacement officials, otherwise, the Managers or Coaches of the two Clubs shall agree on Referee(s) and Linesman(men). If they are unable to agree, they shall appoint a player from each side who shall act as Referee and Linesman; the player of the home Club acting as Referee and the player of the visiting Club as Linesman.
If the regularly appointed officials appear during the progress of the game, they shall at once replace the temporary officials.
It’s good to have a plan. In our current environment, though, it’s even better to have a backup plan, or two or three. The league and the teams are all on board with doing everythign they can to ensure a safe and successful NHL season.
“The one good thing is that the coaches and general managers totally understand what we’re up against.”