Darren Dreger just dropped a minor bomb on twitter a little bit ago:
Stephen Walkom is stepping down as NHL dir of officiating and will attempt an on-ice comeback.
I think that sound I heard was a large vein in my head exploding. I had to rush over to TSN to find out more:
The 46-year old recently informed the league of his decision after several months of contemplating the move.
Walkom will physically prove he can return and will participate in the NHL officials training camp which opens on Sept 7.
While this is still in the “Sources tell TSN” stage, this has the potential of being a big move. If there was a number two face of the post lockout “new” NHL, Walkom was it, defending his refs, setting policies, and creating the checks and balances systems to keep an eye on his officials that many people felt failed miserably. He was the public face of the new rules, and was applauded for cleaning up the game, and vilified for ruining it at the same time. Calling everything seemed like such a good idea at the time. Will it hold up with a change at the top? Will the owners and GMs take this opportunity to review what they have wrought?
In any situation of massive overhaul, someone is going to be the fall guy, or take blame that isn’t deserved, and I’m sure Walkom has his share. But while the defenders of Gary Bettman will quickly point out that he is just a puppet for the owners, it’s fairly obvious he has massive sway and influence. I’m sure Walkom was in the same boat. The post-lockout era so far has been defined in a large part by the rules he had to oversee, and the refs he was in charge of. Without the rule changes, we wouldn’t have the parades to the penalty box, the uptempo game, and consequently, the shortening of some NHL careers. Walkom was the man who tried to keep all this in line. Combine that with the salary cap, and you have fundamental changes to the game that couldn’t have happened separately.
And if you don’t think this will have any influence on the league, name the directors of officiating for the other three major sports. Don’t look it up. Tell me when the last time you say said director get interviewed on a national broadcast. If you can do it, you are a bigger sports fan than I can imagine.
Who will replace Walkom (should this report pan out?). Make me happy, TSN:
Sources say the league is currently searching for Walkom’s successor, but will likely start the 2009-2010 season without his replacement in place.
Well, that’s comforting.
Good luck on the ice, Walkom. I’m sure everyone will be happy to see you back.