NHL Players Poll: Who is the best referee in the league?

Greg Wyshynski
NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 18: Brent Burns #88 of the San Jose Sharks argues a second period call with referee Kelly Sutherland #11 during the game against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on October 18, 2014 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
NEWARK, NJ - OCTOBER 18: Brent Burns #88 of the San Jose Sharks argues a second period call with referee Kelly Sutherland #11 during the game against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on October 18, 2014 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

(Ed. Note: While attending the NHL Players Media Tour in September, we polled 27 skaters and goalies about a few topics in the League. Their answers are anonymous to encourage candor.) 

In general, fans generally know who the worst referees in the NHL are. We groan when they’re announced, and then anticipate when – not if – they will blow a call.

So when we attended the NHL Players Media Tour last month, the third and final question in our brief survey of the stars in attendance was referee-centric.

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We figured we knew who the bad referees where … so, who are the good ones?

We asked 27 NHL players. What we discovered in asking this question was unexpected. Not in the referees they named. But in the referees they didn’t name. Because they don’t know their names.

Yes, that’s correct: 11 of the 27 players we asked didn’t know any referees’ names. They sorta knew faces, and perhaps if we had given them visual aids could name them. But they couldn’t pull the names without seeing the faces.

Please note this is different than simply saying “hey, they’re all good.” That was the second-place answer, despite the fact this poll was anonymous.

We mentioned this lack of specificity to Dion Phaneuf of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who did his scowl and said, “You should know their names. You really should know their names.”

So what about actual referees that were named?

Kelly Sutherland received three votes. “I like they guys you can talk to, but sometimes I get cranky too. Going through a game, when it’s intense, you can tell when a guy is centered and relaxed,” said one NHL veteran of Sutherland. 

In second place was Paul Devorski. “It doesn’t matter what you say to him, he’s going to laugh it off,” said one NHL forward.

Alas, Devorski retired after last season. It’s possible the guys didn’t hear about this. Although we had to side-eye the player who voted for Don Van Massenhoven, who retired in 2014.

Also getting support was Wes McCauley, with two votes. “You can tell the guys who used to play, because of the way that they act,” said one NHL veteran.

Dan O'Halloran and Steven Kozari also garnered votes.

You might notice that the votes only tally up to 26. That’s because one NHL player cast his for “Tony,” and then asked us to find out who Tony is. Tony Sericolo, we assume.

So what do NHL players look for in a good referee?

“One that you can have a conversation with,” said Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba. "Players will mess up. Sometimes we’re wrong, sometimes they’re wrong. But you can work it out without getting into a screaming match.”

And even then, only one of them will be screaming a name, apparently …

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