In ice hockey, an official is responsible for enforcing the rules and maintaining order. On-ice officials are present on the ice during the game, and traditionally wear a shirt with black and white vertical stripes. The National Hockey League (NHL) currently employs four on-ice officials in each game—two referees and two linesmen. Referees are identified by their red or orange armbands. They are responsible for the general supervision of the game, assess penalties, and conduct face-offs at the beginning of each period and after a goal is scored. When play is stopped for another reason, the face-offs are conducted by the linesmen. The linesmen are primarily responsible for violations involving the centre line and blue lines, such as icing and offside infractions.
All NHL on-ice officials are members of the National Hockey League Officials Association (NHLOA), a labour union founded in 1969. The NHLOA represents its members in matters dealing with working conditions of on-ice officials and acts as their collective bargaining agent.
Former NHL officials
In hearings before the Ontario Labor Relations Board, Warren contends that the league fired him at least in part because of his activist stance, an action that is illegal under Ontario law. According to Tom Curry, his lead counsel, Warren is seeking reinstatement but no monetary damages beyond lost salary.
Warren was entitled to a severance package of roughly $250,000 if he had accepted his dismissal.
The agreement between the league and its officials expires at the end of the season.
The hearing Thursday is one of a series on the Warren case to be heard by the board. Three senior referees who will retire at the end of the season — Kerry Fraser, Dan Marouelli and Bill McCreary — have been subpoenaed to testify at a later date. They are expected to support Warren.
At the hearing, Warren’s lawyers will finish cross-examining Stephen Walkom, the N.H.L.’s referee supervisor who dismissed Warren, and Terry Gregson, who took over the supervisory job this season when Walkom returned to on-ice work.
The hearings are expected to continue through the winter.
An N.H.L. spokesman said no league executive would comment on the case while it was still before the board.
Documents entered into evidence before the board in previous hearings showed that the league had given Warren 18 of 22 evaluations that met expectations in 2003-4, three that exceeded expectations and only one that failed to meet them.
Evaluations of Warren’s performance during the 2005-6 season include “very solid N.H.L. standard — definitely knows the difference between a penalty and a battle” ( at , April 8), and “solid judgment throughout” ( at , March 28).
After Warren became a union vice president in 2006, he received negative evaluations.
The board also saw e-mail messages from 2006 and 2007 between Walkom and , the N.H.L. vice president, in which they discussed firing Warren.
“Warren has to go,” Campbell wrote to Walkom in February 2007. “There must be a way to get rid of this guy. Is there a way we could track total minors called by referees this year?”
Walkom replied: “I think we have that data but it may work in his favor. That’s why I’m against data.”
Two N.H.L. referees have expressed differing views on whether Warren was a good official. In October, Paul Devorski, a 21-year veteran, said Warren was a “below-average skater” who “has no business being on N.H.L. ice.” But Fraser, a 30-year veteran, said Warren “was always in position,” had “good judgment” and was fired because “he was proactive as an executive on the union side.”
After those remarks appeared last month on a Canadian news Web site, the union barred its members from speaking on the issue.
Dave Newell, a longtime N.H.L. referee who served as president of the officials union in the 1980s and later became an assistant supervisor for the league, said his evaluations of Warren were “absolutely favorable.”
Newell, who was fired as an assistant supervisor by Walkom in 2006, said that Warren showed “impeccable judgment” on the ice. He said he believed that Warren was fired for his union work.
The hearings have also highlighted the differences between the N.H.L.’s methods for evaluating officials and the more stringent systems used by the , and Major League Baseball.
In those leagues, evaluators grade every call. In the N.B.A., every call in every game — as many as 70,000 a season — are videotaped and graded.
But through 2004-5, N.H.L. referees were evaluated in only about 20 to 25 games a season.
After Walkom became supervisor in 2005, five of seven assistant supervisors were subsequently fired and not replaced, which led to still fewer evaluations.
Today, N.H.L. officials are evaluated about five times a season. Some of them say the small number makes it easier for the league to fire referees and linesmen it does not want to retain.
Warren has long been an advocate for more objective criteria in referee evaluations, and for more evaluations in general.
Should Warren win reinstatement, it would, he said, be “fantastic to referee again.” He added that he would run again for a position on the union board.Continue reading the main story