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Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Challenge to the NHL; Officiating Must Change by @ChicksDigHockey

The 2014 NHL playoffs have been a tangle of excitement and frustration. A two goal lead has been tenuous, stars have failed to shine and officiating has been too much of a factor.  On the one hand, it’s incredibly difficult to be skating on the ice, moving amongst the action and still see everything you need to. On the other hand, obviously blown calls have been impactful in a game-changing way. Some glaring examples were recalled by Daniel Friedman:

  • During Game 3 between the Lightning and Canadiens, the Bolts were robbed of a go-ahead goal because the on-ice referees ruled that Tampa forward Alex Killorn interfered with Habs’ net minder Carey Price. After a quick group huddle by the officials, the call was upheld.
  • The Minnesota Wild essentially lost Game 5 to the Colorado Avalanche because of poor officiating. Late in the third period, Minnesota led 3-2, but Colorado’s Andre Benoit got away with what should’ve resulted an interference penalty and then, moments later, a clearly offsides Paul Stastny was able to set up P.A. Parenteau for the game-tying-goal with 1:14 remaining.
  • Just 2:52 into Game 7 of that same series, Colorado’s Nick Holden scored to put his team ahead. There was just one problem: The Avs’ Jamie McGinn basically obliterated Wild goaltender Darcy Kuemper on the play, which should have been a clear case of goaltender interference. After a brief discussion, the referees determined it was a good goal.    

How have things gotten so bad? Many look back to the rule changes the came out of the 2005 lockout and point an accusing finger. Those changes were enacted to promote FEWER STOPPAGES and INCREASED "FLOW" thus leading to the fast but vastly more difficult to officiate game of today. Having the “War Room” in Toronto has made a difference in calls that can be reviewed but not all calls are eligible for review. The rules do not permit global review which perpetuates inconsistency and inaccuracy. 

They’re only human you say? True, but they’re life-long students who are paid to get it right. They are permitted to huddle together and discuss the call when video review is immediately available. Why is that ok when a goal is involved? Unacceptable. 

My favorite rule is the ‘Intent to Blow’ rule. Per the NHLrule book

78.5 Disallowed Goals – Apparent goals shall be disallowed by the Referee and the appropriate announcement made by the Public Address Announcer for the following reasons:

(xii)  When the Referee deems the play has been stopped, even if he had not physically had the opportunity to stop play by blowing his whistle.

Do you have any idea how many times I’ve read that and it still doesn't make sense. How do you gauge “intent to blow” on any intellectual level? If you want to make the game better, legislate things that are actually definable.  

Should every call be reviewed? No.

 Hockey needs speed but the officiating needs to be shored up somehow. Perhaps all goal review is done in Toronto but give the officials access to a monitor to do an on-ice review.  

 What constitutes a reviewable play needs to be analyzed and expanded upon. The issue of goaltender interference would be a great place to start. Our bodies are subject to the rules of physics. There’s a huge difference between a player who plows into the goalie and one who is propelled into the goalie intentionally by another player to draw a penalty. Just because the tender ends up with his ass in the back of the net, doesn’t mean he was interfered with by any intent. 

The system may not be broken but it’s severely bent. Changes have to be made and one of the more promising is the ‘Coach’s Challenge’. Over the last decade, the NFL has used a coach's challenge system that allows certain plays to be reviewed if a coach feels that a referee's call on the field was wrong. If the referee determines that the call made on the field was incorrect, and there's conclusive video evidence to support the decision through replay, then the call is overturned. Major League Baseball now allows each manager to have at least one challenge per game and would get an extra one if his initial challenge proves correct. Make a mistake with the first challenge and the manager is out of chances,
So many things would need to be worked out before a change as huge as that could be implemented in the NHL.

Nicholas Goss visited this very problem:
  • How long will a play be reviewed for, two minutes?
  • What is the punishment for an unsuccessful challenge (loss of timeout, minor penalty for delay of game)?
  • How many challenges do coaches get, and do they get an extra one for successful challenges?
  • When are challenges allowed? Should the final minutes of the third period and overtime have challenges?
  • Should challenges be allowed in the playoffs?
The best scenario for the NHL is to implement a coach's challenge system that doesn't allow coaches to challenge plays late in games just to give their team an additional rest. This is why these challenges should not be allowed in the final three minutes of a game, which would allow the game to flow better in the final couple minutes of regulation, which is often where the most excitement occurs each game.
In the course of researching this piece, I Tweeted the great Kerry Fraser and was surprised by his response: 
Ouch, Kerry Fraser! Clearly much discussion would need to ensue. 

The GMs need to get this started. The debate will no doubt be heated but change needs to come. Teams don’t want games decided by a blown call but neither do on-ice officials. These men take pride in what they do and ultimately want a fair game.


  1. I am in favor of coaches challenge. You only get one and if you get it right you get a 2nd, but no more than 2 a game. Definitely not in the last 3 min of a game. Disappointed by what Frasier said. How does it even constitute as a bench minor? It doesn't, and it would be stupid to punish a team that way. Now unless you purposely try to challenge a call past the 3 min left in regulation then I would be for a bench minor. Intent to delay of game.

  2. Bench minor for delay of game. One of the things that needs to be shored up in my opinion is the rules on incidental contact and goaltender interference. I'm under the impression that Carey Price has a tendency to abuse incidental contact to get goals disallowed? Can't stop it? Throw yourself into an opposing player.


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