BOCA RATON, Fla. — If you think video reviews are getting out of control and bogging down the flow of games, you’ve got a friend in Gary Bettman.
The NHL commissioner announced on the last day of the general managers’ meetings that the league’s situation room in Toronto — not on-ice officials — will soon have final say in all goalie interference challenges. It was perceived as a band-aid fix. Whether the call is being made by the referee on the ice or a group sitting in front of a TV monitor, you’re not going to get consistency with a rule that is subjective in nature.
All this does is give the illusion of consistency. And because of that, the next step in this process is to start penalizing coaches for challenging calls that don’t get overturned, which could come as early as next season.
Having the situation room make the call on goaltender interference, with the addition of a retired referee to that group, needs the approval of the NHLPA and the league’s board of governors. Bettman hopes the initiative can be pushed forward in time for the playoffs.
According to the NHL, offside challenges dropped from 118 last season to 68 this year through the same number of games after the league introduced penalties for challenges that proved wrong. On the other hand, goalie interference challenges rose slightly from 166 to 170 because there was nothing to deter them from questing a call.
“What this really tells you — and the place we’d like to get to — is coach’s challenge probably shouldn’t have been used 170 times,” Bettman said. “We’re really using it to correct a glaring error, not an argument over whether it could have been or might not have been. The answer should be if it’s a completely blown call, that’s when it should be used. And if you’re issuing the challenge in circumstances where it isn’t clear cut, you should expect you’re probably not going to get the determination that you want.”
Right now, the feeling out there is that no one knows what goalie interference is. The league said of the 170 challenges, there were only half a dozen or so where the situation room did not agree with the on-ice official. That’s a small number in the grand scheme of things. But the times when the call was wrong — such as the play where Vegas’ James Neal snapped his stick over Winnipeg goalie’s Connor Hellebuyck’s head on a goal that was allowed — the errors stuck out like a sore thumb.
There is no consistency. Each call seems to be decided by a coin flip. You can’t penalize coaches — much less head into the playoffs where a team’s season is literally on the line — if no one believes that the process is working correctly.
“Frustrating isn’t the right word,” Bettman said. “Yes, it’s only been a handful of calls. But I guess if I’m a coach and I issue a challenge and I’m wrong, I’m going to be unhappy about that even if the challenge shouldn’t have been made in the first instance. So I get it, but some of the attention it got was way in disproportion to how this is working.”
Will this bring the league closer to that eventual goal? We’ll see.
“If you have a smaller group of people making the decision, you should get more consistency out of it,” Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman said. “It will become clearer over time whether we like the calls or not. That goes for people in the league, media, fans. Because it’s the same guys over and over and over making the decisions, I would expect you’ll get more consistency to instead of two calls that are very, very similar resulting in opposite calls.”
“They’re important calls,” Los Angeles Kings GM Rob Blake said. “We’re not all going to agree on these calls, but at least we’ll probably be a little more consistent in how the calls are made.”
Maybe that’s true. Or maybe all this does is give the coaches a centralized place to point their collective fingers when a call doesn’t go their way. Either way, the league has no stomach for re-writing the rulebook in an attempt to make goalie interference calls more black-and-white.
“We had that with the foot in the crease rule,” Bettman said. “That doesn’t work. There are certain calls in the game — every call, really — that are judgement calls. Tripping is a judgement call. Whether or not there’s been interference can be a judgement call. If you’re looking for absolutes, you’re not following how the game has been officiated and how the game is played.”
Retired referee is key component
Adding a retired referee to the situation room for goaltender interference calls is important addition in the decision-making process, GMs say.
“I think it’s just that perspective,” Blake said. “Once you go to video, you take emotions out of it. But when you get an official with a background of what it feels like to be on the ice and make those calls in an instant, it probably flows with the consistency aspect we’re looking for.
“It is a judgment call at the end of the day. When you have an official doing a judgment call, you have all the different officials (there are 34 full-time referees) and they might not have had to make a call in a couple weeks. The situation room does this on a daily basis.”
Meanwhile, this doesn’t mean that the on-ice official won’t have a say in the matter.
“The officials on the ice are still going to be involved in the decision,” Bettman said. “Again, there will be another voice in the room, this one with a background in officiating. Ultimately, it’s a hockey operations call.”
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