Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Can you spare Andy a Dime?

This is not what the NHL needs at the moment! More negative press about the inner workings of the game. There’s been precious little feedback from the NHL head office about the damaging reports from North American media sources about irregularities between Andy Van Hellemond and the officials he supervised last year in the NHL.

Little was made of the announcement from NHL headquarters last Friday that the veteran official and most recent director of officiating was stepping down from his post. It was treated as just the passing of the torch in the league office, with no successor named at that time.

However, by the end of the weekend a different story began to emerge over the surprise departure of Van Hellemond. By Monday morning, numerous reports had come out regarding “loans” asked for by Van Hellemond of his subordinates during the NHL regular season. It made for a situation that must have made the current roster of NHL officials, a tad uneasy.

The Unasked questions were did those that chose not to “help out” find themselves blacklisted for the financially rewarding playoffs, would their personnel records be negatively affected by a decision not to provide a loan when requested? More importantly how much of this did the league office know about and what was their opinion on the situation? All in all the practice of requesting the loans seems to have been a bizarre situation, one which should have been addressed with a policy statement of some kind as soon as it became common knowledge.

With the revelations now coming to light, how many of those officials terminated by the NHL over the last four years, now have a possible legal argument for re-instatement. Is any decision on staffing rendered by Van Hellemond considered tainted now?

One such official Mark Faucette, is currently working an appeal of his dismissal to the NHL board. Will this awkward revelation have any impact on the handling of his appeal?

The integrity of the game surely must suffer from a scenario where the chief evaluator of officials is regularly requesting money from the same people he holds power over. It’s not quite a gambling style scandal, and various legal observers state that Van Hellemond did nothing wrong, but it’s certainly a damaging public relations situation that the NHL could have done without and will have to address.

With labour negotiations stalled and getting uglier by the day, the added baggage of a controversy over officials is not needed. The league office needs to address the situation quickly and decidedly; the image of a league in total disarray is not too far from bubbling over from the sports pages to the hard news and financial pages. The shareholders, in the name of franchise owners need to ask some hard questions of their front man Mr. Bettman.

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