Bryan Murray, the Washington Capitals' coach, is such a hospitable guy that he would like to invite the referee to dinner before each game. The other coach can come, too, and Murray's only condition before picking up the check would be a brief discussion of what to expect that night in the way of rules interpretations.
"I know the referees are busy--we're busy, too--but there ought to be a time when we can sit down and discuss interpretations, so you know what you should be teaching or encouraging, against what should be called," Murray said.
"There are a couple of things I see that I don't like. One involves interference calls. There is an inconsistency in that area and I don't know what to expect from one night to the next or even one period to the next. I think the referees should define what they're going to call and stick to it.
"The other thing is the way they absolutely refuse to call many penalties on one particular team, whether it be us or the opponent. If there have been four calls against one, there is no way the team with four will get another. It seems they try to keep the penalties close instead of calling what should be called."
General Manager Roger Crozier has some complaints about the officials, too, and he voiced them to John McCauley, the NHL's assistant director of officiating, before Sunday's game in Buffalo.
"I'm upset by the brash attitudes of some referees and linesmen," Crozier said. "They're on the defensive before anything happens. There is a general attitude that they're doing us a favor by officiating the game, when in actual fact we're employing them."
Both Murray and Crozier recognize the difficulties of officiating hockey games, particularly those encountered by the referee, who must follow the puck while the crowd wonders why he missed a slash 30 feet behind the play. But they object to sacred-cow status for the whistle blowers.
"As a player, you get criticism for what you do on the ice," Crozier said. "As long as it's not abusive, you have to live with it. It's part of the job. Why do the officials refuse to accept constructive criticism?"
Both Murray and Crozier must talk in generalities or face fines from the National Hockey League, which tolerates no Fifth Amendment rights on discussion of officials' merits. But individual incidents offer evidence of deep-rooted discontent.
In Minnesota Nov. 25, Murray shouted a one-word expletive after a belated offside call. Referee Ron Wicks promptly skated to the bench, pointing his finger at Murray.
"He came over and said, 'Is this your first game in the league?' " Murray recalled. "Later, in the hotel, he apologized, but I told him I wasn't interested in apologies, just good officiating."
During a 4-1 loss to the New York Islanders Dec. 17, Murray protested the Islanders' repeated interference violations to referee Ron Fournier.
"He told me, 'I can't call that, unless your guys fall down,' " Murray said. "I guess now I have to teach them to fall down."
In a 4-4 tie with the New York Rangers, both Mike Gartner and Gaetan Duchesne were pulled down in the last five minutes without penalty calls by referee Ron Hoggarth. Then, in Sunday's 3-2 loss in Buffalo, a less flagrant foul by Washington's Bobby Gould was whistled by referee Bryan Lewis with 4:04 remaining.