Fraser: How officials are graded and chosen for the playoffs

Kerry Fraser
5/16/2013 3:05:08 PM
Decrease Text SizeIncrease Text Size
Text Size

Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry wants to answer your emails at!

Mr. Fraser,

I read somewhere that NHL referees have their own ''Playoffs'', in which the best from first round are selected to work on second round and so on. How the NHL chooses who will get playoff time?

Thanks for your answer,
Patrick Arseneau, Sherbrooke

The NHL officiating department, under the direction of former referee and colleague Terry Gregson, conducts an internal evaluation and rating system throughout the regular season and Stanley Cup playoffs. Terry's supervisory staff attend games during the season and provide computer-generated reports on each official's performance. His staff includes former NHL officials such as Bill McCreary, Don Koharski, Mick McGeough, Rob Shick and Kevin Collins, who supervise NHL games.

Areas of skating, positioning, penalty selection, communication and comportment, game control, team work and face-offs (linesmen) are graded. General comments would be included on the bottom of the form as to how the official performed throughout the game and if anything of consequence was observed, positive and/or negative.

The hockey operations department (situation room staff in Toronto) under the direction of Colin Campbell and Mike Murphy, records calls or non-calls that also flag an official's performance. Footage of documented plays is assembled for Gregson to review the following day.

Prior to the end of the regular season, a numerical ranking from top to bottom is assigned to each referee and linesman to determine playoff selection. An officiating manager/supervisor is assigned to each playoff series from either the officiating department or hockey operations (Kris King, Kay Whitmore) while Gregson floats from series to series.

The series supervisor conducts game-day meetings with the officiating crew and acts as a liaison for team management and any concerns they might feel they need to express. The game-day meeting should not only provide the officials with an update on the previous games but to maintain a level of consistency in the way the games are called throughout the series, right through and including Game 7, if necessary. Part of the supervisor's duties include evaluating the performance of each official that works in his series.

At the conclusion of each round, the deck is shuffled once again and the higher-rated officials move on. The officials are advised in a group e-mail as to whether they made the cut. If the referee or linesman's name appears in the e-mail list, then he knows he made the next round and assignments will be forthcoming. No name on the list means you can begin planning your vacation immediately. Once an official's season is over, he is given the opportunity for an exit meeting or year-end review. In some cases, a face-to-face meeting isn't optional.

Referees and linesmen are paired at the beginning of each playoff round. The first five games are assigned in each series utilizing this pairing system. If a sixth or seventh game is required, the pairings might be split up to utilize the higher ranked officials, depending upon how many series go the distance and how individual officials performed throughout the round.

In deciding games (and particularly Game 7's), I often found that players recognized the importance for them to remain disciplined and not take a bad penalty. That only worked if they knew, or at least thought, that the referee didn't leave his whistle in the dressing room and would call infractions that were committed! I couldn't buy into the statement, "Let 'em play" because what it really means is "Let 'em cheat!" If, and when, players take liberties and violate the rules they must be penalized for their actions, whether it is in Game 1 or Game 7 of a series.

An official can get on a good playoff run similar to a team that advances with a combination of good work and some luck. It is very unlikely, however that an official would jump two categories from their final regular season ranking in the playoffs.

There is much at stake aside from the pride of being selected to continue to work in the playoffs. Officials are paid a bonus for every round of the playoffs they are selected to work. Referees make $18,000 per round while linesmen receive $12,000.

Any rating system can be subjective in nature and to say politics don't play a part would be misstating the facts. Players, coaches, general managers and fans certainly get upset with the officials for what they deem to be poor performance levels. Certainly there is always room for improvement.

To put things in perspective, I had the good fortune to work the first round from the TSN studio with Paul Maurice, who coached in the KHL last season and GM Craig Button, who is no stranger to international competition and scouting. Both of them echoed my belief that the NHL officials are the best in the world at what they do! These two gentlemen have a much broader sense of appreciation for the officials, having seen and been subjected to the alternatives.

Kerry Fraser

Kerry Fraser

Kerry Fraser is an analyst for the NHL on TSN and That's Hockey 2Nite on TSN2. As one of the league's most recognizable senior referees, he's worked 1,904 NHL regular season games and 261 playoff games during his 37-year career.

Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry wants to answer your emails at!

You can also follow Kerry Fraser on Twitter at @kfraserthecall!

Follow Us!

There's a new Twitter feed that will make you a real insider! Follow to get updates on the latest blogs, best videos and more!

More about TSN on Twitter...

Cabbie on

New York-bred hip hop artist Action Bronson discusses his friendship with Kevin Love, his jumpshot, Mike Napoli's beard, obscure sports references and Derek Jeter's Brand Jordan commercial. More...

He has speed in his DNA, learn more about Olympic champion Donovan Bailey's nephew, Jaden and his success on the gridiron in the latest Powerade 24. More...

© 2017
All rights reserved.
Bell Media Television