Washington Capitals General Manager David Poile indicated yesterday that a postgame meeting with National Hockey League officials in Buffalo Sunday night might have closed an incident that threatened disciplinary action for Coach Bryan Murray, after Murray became embroiled verbally and physically with linesman Ron Asselstine.
Poile and Murray met with Jim Gregory, NHL vice president of hockey operations, and John McCauley, NHL director of officiating, for a half hour after the Capitals' 6-5 loss to the Buffalo Sabres.
Afterward, all concerned declined to shed light on the discussion. But Gregory passed it off as "routine" and yesterday Poile said he did not expect the NHL to hold a hearing.
"There are two sides to every story," Poile said. "I absolutely cannot say anything about it, though. I have no comment whatever."
Murray was in a similar situation, saying: "I'm in a position where I can't say anything."
Criticism of officials has become a very sensitive issue with the NHL, because of a shortage of qualified people and the obvious difficulties involved in refereeing a hockey game.
Accordingly, the NHL Board of Governors mandated a somewhat vague gag rule calling for a fine of $1,000 to anyone publicly criticizing an official, with an additional fine of $5,000 to the team involved.
Whether Murray's comments to referee Bill McCreary fall under the provisions of the gag rule is questionable, but the money involved is sufficient for the principals not to take chances. Regardless, what transpired thereafter could have had serious repercussions without the calming effect of the postgame meeting.
Murray received a bench minor penalty late in the first period for protesting an interference call against Lou Franceschetti. When the period ended, he waited in the corridor that leads to both the Capitals' dressing room and the officials' room and asked McCreary to explain the reason for the penalty.
According to a witness, Asselstine intervened and he and Murray exchanged harsh words and shoves before linesman Bob Hodges separated them. Presumably, a physical confrontation with an official would subject Murray to a variety of disciplinary measures.
However, Gregory said that Murray had not received a gross misconduct penalty, which is normal for such incidents. Also, the fact that Gregory ordered McCreary, Asselstine and Hodges to stay in the officials' room until after the meeting with Poile and Murray leads to the belief that Asselstine may have been reprimanded for escalating what originally was nothing out of the ordinary.
Asselstine and Murray have had their problems in the past, usually because of the linesman's penchant for silencing a coach who is chastising the referee.
No NHL officials could be reached yesterday to confirm Poile's belief that the incident is closed, because it was a holiday -- Thanksgiving Day in Canada, Columbus Day in the United States. NHL President John Ziegler, who rules on off-ice discipline, was reported out of his office until Thursday.
Ziegler fined Murray $1,000 several years ago for postgame quarrels with referees Don Koharski and Ron Wicks, who had given him gross misconducts. Two years ago, he was ejected from the second game of the season at New Jersey for repeatedly yelling at referee Andy Van Hellemond.
Since that time, Murray has displayed restraint, although he probably never has coached a game without complaining about some act by an official.
The Capitals, idle until they entertain Hartford Friday, did not practice yesterday. Last night the team staged a party for six players -- Dave Christian, Kelly Miller, Larry Murphy, Michal Pivonka, Mike Ridley and Scott Stevens -- and the wives they married during the summer.