As the exodus of locked-out NHL players for various hockey ports of call around the globe hits full swing this week, it brings up an interesting moral dilemma.
Should players making millions of dollars annually be descending on teams in Switzerland, Russia and Sweden, and displacing players who presumably need the money more than NHLers ostensibly looking for a place to keep their skills sharp while the NHL lockout drags on?
They’re hockey players and they want to play; that’s a given. Rick Nash, Joe Thornton, Ilya Kovalchuk, Alex Ovechkin et al have an absolute right to pursue their craft wherever possible given the current situation. It’s hard to argue that fact, given that the players’ union and the NHL have not even bothered to sit down for formal discussions since before the lockout began last Saturday.
And it’s no surprise that team owners and managers across Europe are eager to have top-caliber NHL stars in their lineups, even if it’s just for a few weeks. Who can blame those teams and their fans for being excited at the prospect of seeing those players, even if it might not seem all that exciting to the player whose roster spot Nicklas Backstrom or Evgeni Malkin swipes?
Easy to see how the practice would be offensive to some, but regardless of which side of the fence you occupy when it comes to this talking point, it’s somehow reaffirming to see that the NHL’s on-ice officials have once again made their lockout position very clear: They are NHL officials and they’ll work only NHL games. Full stop.
As was the case eight years ago when the NHL, and by extension its officials, lost an entire season to a lockout, the NHL’s officials have agreed that they will not seek work overseas or in other hockey leagues in North America.
“It’s not a place for us,” Brian Murphy, head of the National Hockey League Officials Association (NHLOA), told ESPN.com.
“We’re not planning on going anywhere right now,” said Murphy, whose organization represents 33 NHL linesmen, 33 referees and 11 minor league officials.
The NHL’s referees and linesmen recently conducted their annual training camp near Collingwood, Ontario, and now have scattered to their homes around North America.
A New Hampshire resident who called his first game in October 1988, Murphy was in the process of closing up his pool, which usually signals the start of NHL training camps and the preseason. Usually.
Instead, as the NHL announced Wednesday the cancellation of preseason games through the end of September, the lockout marks a period of uncertainty for a group of athletes who won't get paid until the labor dispute is resolved.
And unlike players, who can easily find a group of guys with whom to work out and stay sharp either in North America or abroad, for the most part officials will be on their own until the games resume and they join their colleagues calling icings and penalties and signaling goals in NHL rinks.
As part of their collective bargaining agreement, there is a mechanism for officials to obtain financial aid from the NHL if need be. Eight years ago, many officials turned to other sidelines or hobbies, such as cabinet making or real estate, to supplement their incomes and to occupy their time as the players and owners couldn’t reach an agreement in time to save the 2004-05 season.
Regardless how long this labor dispute lasts, one place they won’t be is on the ice working games for money in the place of other officials.
Regardless of where you stand on the correctness of players going elsewhere to play pro hockey, you have to admire the kind of resolve shown yet again by the NHL’s on-ice officials.