When is a zebra not really a zebra? When you're an NHL linesman

If Alexander Radulov broke in on goal, got hooked on the way in and no penalty was called, did it really happen?

Think about that question for a moment. A linesman probably saw the infraction but couldn't call it.

This is a thought I've had in my head for some time, but after the Clowe incident last night, I feel compelled to put it down. The National Hockey League is the ONLY one of the major professional sports leagues (read: Big 4) that does not give all its playing-surface officials the power to enforce all infractions. The only one.

Currently, the referees are the only ones who can call penalties on their own merit. The linesmen can stop play for a number of situations (I'll list those shortly as they are covered in the NHL Rulebook), but cannot simply call a minor penalty during the course of play.

The Linesmen's duties are covered under Rule 32 (full list), and Rule 32.4 specifically states the circumstances in which they can stop play (as described in the NHL Official Rules):

32.4 Reporting to Referee - The Linesman shall give to the Referees his interpretation of any incident that may have taken place during the game.The Linesman may stop play and report what he witnessed to the Referees when:

(i) There are too many men on the ice (Rule 74)
(ii) Articles are thrown on the ice from the players' bench or penalty bench (Rule 75)
(ii) Match penalties (Rule 21)
(iii) Misconduct penalties (Rule 22)
(iv) Game Misconduct penalties (Rule 23)
(v) Abuse of Officials (Rule 39)
(vii) Unsportsmanlike Conduct (Rule 75)
(viii) Double-minor penalty when it is apparent that an injury has resulted from a high-stick that has gone undetected by the Referees

The Linesman must report upon completion of play, any circumstances pertaining to:

(i) Major penalties (Rule 20)
(vi) Physical Abuse of Officials (Rule 40)
(iii) When team personnel interfere with a game official (Rule 39)
(iv) When a player who has lost or broken his stick receives one illegally (Rule 10)

"Should a Linesman witness a foul (above) committed by an attacking player or goalkeeper (undetected by the Referees) prior to the attacking team scoring a goal, the Linesman shall report what he witnessed to the Referees, the goal shall be disallowed and the appropriate penalty assessed."

Nowhere in that list does it allow linesmen to call single minors (too many men notwithstanding) other than unsportsmanlike conduct, and in that case, it's usually a post-whistle infraction.

Going back to the Clowe incident, because it did not fall under the parameters of the linesmen's duties, even if they had seen it (and we're not really sure if they did), they did not have the authority to call it. That's not only bad form, it's simply bad for the game to have four on-ice officials miss something like that. Worse yet, only two of them could have called it at all.

This is where the NHL has it wrong. There have been some cases of blatently missed calls (Tim Peel...words cannot describe) and having two extra pairs of eyes will keep some of the obstruction squelched somewhat. It's creeping back into the game and threatening to push the league back into the pre-lockout days where clutching and grabbing were the norm, not the exception. The league made an effort to try and curtail it coming out of the work stoppage, but in recent years that effort has been spotty at best. Players have adjusted and they know what they can and cannot get away with.

It's time for the NHL to step up and give all its on-ice officials an orange armband. The game needs it. The league needs to take a hard look at its officiating and seriously consider making this change. I'm sure Patric Hornqvist would certainly appreciate having two extra officials who could call a post-whistle roughing penalty for all the garbage he's had to endure this year. Or maybe I'm just hallucinating at that last thought.

Either way, the game deserves the best possible officiating, and when two of your officials can't call penalties in the flow of play, it allows players to get away with too much. Improve the abilities of the on-ice officials and the game should improve along with it. It's not about increasing scoring or making the game more exciting, it's about the game's integrity.

Would the amount of penalties go up? In theory, it would. It could lead to more power plays and more scoring chances. It could also reduce the amount of stick work and obstruction that the game simply doesn't need.

Next time you see a hook or a hold that you think should be called and wasn't, remember this: Chances are somebody wearing stripes probably did see it. But if they don't have an orange armband, their arm has to stay down. And the game's officiating suffers as a result.

This is a move that needs to be made for the good of the game. And all it took was an uncalled, and uncalled for, move by Ryan Clowe for me to finally voice my opinion.

This FanPost was written by an OTF reader, and does not represent the views of the editorial staff. Got something you'd like to share? <a href="" target="new">Post your own</a>!

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