When you sit down in the comfort of your own home and tune into an already-in-progress sporting event on television you expect a couple of things. For starters you expect to be entertained, enthralled, and emotionally invested. However, through the process of instant replay you can probably add confusion to the short list of expectations featured above.
How many times have you watched an NFL game and sarcastically joked with your friends or family “I guess I don’t know what pass interference is anymore”. Or in the NBA “I guess breathing on him is a foul now a days”. Well, begrudgingly I can now add the NHL to that less than fabled list, because I no longer know what is or is not a good goal anymore.
In the playoffs especially, the officials are there more as representations of the rule book, rather than the brute enforcers of the law. However, this may no longer be the case as the speed of the NHL playoffs and its bizarre relationship with the officiating have hit a fork in the road.
Prior to the 2015-16 season a brand new rule was implemented, allowing the head coach to challenge whether or not a goal should count. Now, there’s criteria that needs to be met, the goal has to have resulted in a questionably offside play by the attacking team, or a missed goalie interference call.
Albeit their mind was in the right place. When you consider time and time again questionable goals from years prior didn’t receive the attention they deserved.
Exhibit A: Blatant goal tender interference.
Exhibit B: Famously textbook offside play goes uncalled, for whatever reason.
Now it should be noted that both of these situations are examples where having the ability to challenge the play would have paid off in spades. This is not always the case. In fact sometimes perfectly good goals are wiped off the board for an infraction that had nothing to do with the end result of the play. I am, of course referencing offside calls. Nothing, and I truly mean nothing brings a perfectly good game to a sketching halt more than an unnecessarily lengthy review searching for the slightest inkling of an offside infraction.
Exhibit C: Goals being taken away well after the infraction only hurt the game.
Furthermore with the years of experience that comes with being an NHL official, one that is presumably well versed in the updates that come with the rule book. Wouldn’t you be able to come to the conclusion that JG Pageau undeniably covers the puck in the crease preventing a goal in over time of a playoff game? Need I remind you, that is in fact frowned upon and should have resulted in the very least as a delay of game penalty not to mention a penalty shot.
Apparently not, as neither of those calls came to fruition. This came after it was reviewed by the officials. Despite the lack of transparency one former official weighed in his take on the play.
On top of that, Noel Acciari whom appeared to have scored to end the game earlier in overtime. Later he sat dumbfounded when the goal was taken away due to a fluky goaltender interference call. The review process lasted around 5 minutes.
I’ll admit this as dramatic an example as there is. Loopholes in the rule book can be found in rare situations in sports. But one must wonder has putting every play under a microscope helped or hindered hockey?
While there was plenty of good that came with the inception of this new rule, its also caused its fair share of damage. Perhaps allowing a coach to possess too much power over the game. In return causing the officials to question their judgement and rely on the grace of instant replay far too heavily.
According to the NHL Public Relations twitter account on 4/30 we’ve had 19 games this playoffs that needed overtime to determine a winner through 50 games played. During the entirety of last seasons playoffs just 20 games needed overtime through 90 games played.
In a league whose major critique of themselves is a lack of offense, they appear to be doing a lot to maintain the status quo. Much attention needs to be diverted to this rule in the coming off season, to the benefit of the sport itself.
You cannot allow a questionably offside play, upwards of 30 seconds in the past rule out a perfectly good goal on the ice. Especially when the major concern of the league is finding a way to manufacture more offense.
The NHL dug themselves into this hole, it’s up to the to pull themselves back out again.