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Jets bring in Devorski to help solve penalty problems

Retired NHL referee provides insight into limiting infractions that plague Winnipeg

by Scott Billeck / Correspondent

WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets brought in some help during training camp Friday to help solve their seemingly perennial penalty woes.

Retired referee Paul Devorski was on hand after coach Paul Maurice in July reached out to Stephen Walkom, the NHL senior vice president and director of officiating, for assistance.

The Jets were shorthanded 275 times, third-most in the NHL last season, and had the sixth-most penalty minutes (835). They had the 26th ranked penalty kill (77.5 percent) and failed to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons since returning to Winnipeg. 

"We wanted him to watch reps over and over," Maurice said. "Steve was all for it. I've known Paul for the last 20 years. He was great with the guys. It worked out. We [have] a really young team here. We've got to figure out a way to learn some new skills. We're thankful that he came in." 

Devorski, who retired in 2015 after a 26-year career as an official, studied the Jets during on-ice drills and pulled aside individual players to give them pointers.

Before practice, Devorski, who works with the NHL as director of officiating career development, joined the Jets for a meeting and gave an overview of what referees will be looking for this season.

"He talked to the players about what he looks at, what he sees," Maurice said. "We're really focused on a certain area of calls. The kind of tells a referee looks for. The players got a chance to ask questions. And then we had a pretty heavy day for battling today. We asked the players to drive that battle up, to get it as close (to game intensity).

"It's good to hear a man who called [hockey] for 1,594 games in the regular season. He can explain it differently and it made great sense. I think the Winnipeg Jets got a little better today."

Devorski spoke with the Jets about a new standard when it comes to enforcing penalties, including stricter enforcement on stick infractions such as a slashing, and a penalty for a faceoff violation. The Jets and Minnesota Wild combined for 17 penalties in a 3-2 shootout loss by Winnipeg on Monday.

Video: CAMP | Desire to be Disciplined

"They're using the first few games to maybe overdo it a little bit, so it gets harped on," Jets forward Blake Wheeler said Tuesday. "Coaches will be all over the players to maybe keep their sticks to themselves, and those little plays that are being called right now are going to be magnified during the regular season. I don't anticipate as much of the holding and those kind of penalties that were getting called every time. But I think the slashes on the stick are going to be pretty consistent throughout the season."

Maurice said Devorski would also visit the Wild and the Philadelphia Flyers. Jets players were grateful for the chance to pick the brain of a veteran referee.

"We just asked him questions and got his professional opinion on a bunch of things," center Mark Scheifele said. "He was very helpful with a lot of points. If you get a guy that's in touch with what the refs are thinking, it's going to help us. It keeps us conscious of our sticks, of our bodies, what we are doing, and I think it helps a lot."

Winnipeg has ranked in the top five in the NHL in penalties taken the past four seasons.

"I think we were about bottom of the League for penalties for the foreseeable past, so a lot of teams probably don't need to do it," Wheeler said. "It's an area we need to get better at, so we are looking to exhaust any resource we can to try and get better."

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