Well-rounded sports fans have grown used to the concept of video review. It exists in nearly every major sport in some form. The NHL has used replay for a number of years now centered in its "Situation Room" in Toronto to review whether disputed goals should count. While the system has its imperfections, few if any, want to turn back the clock and not have the ability to slow things down and have additional looks at a game that is played at such a blinding speed. You often wonder how the game got by for so many years without it.
This season, the NHL has taken things to a new level with what they call "expanded" video review. While very narrow in scope (for now), coaches will have the ability one time per game to utilize a "Coach's Challenge" for two specific scenarios:
- "Offside" play leading to a goal
- "Interference on the goalkeeper"
Sounds both simple and logical, right? But the devil is in the details. From NHL.com:
1. A team may only request a Coach's Challenge to review the following scenarios:
a) "Off-Side" Play Leading to a Goal. A play that results in a "GOAL" call on the ice where the defending team asserts that the play should have been stopped by reason of an "Off-Side" infraction by the attacking team.
b) Scoring Plays Involving Potential "Interference on the Goalkeeper"
(i) A play that results in a "GOAL" call on the ice where the defending team asserts that the goal should have been disallowed due to "Interference on the Goalkeeper," as described in Rules 69.1, 69.3 and 69.4; or
(ii) A play that results in a "NO GOAL" call on the ice despite the puck having entered the net, where the on-ice Officials have determined that the attacking team was guilty of "Interference on the Goalkeeper" but where the attacking team asserts: (i) there was no actual contact of any kind initiated by an attacking Player with the goalkeeper; or (ii) the attacking Player was pushed, shoved, or fouled by a defending Player causing the attacking Player to come into contact with the goalkeeper; or (iii) the attacking Player's positioning within the goal crease did not impair the goalkeeper's ability to defend his goal and, in fact, had no discernible impact on the play.
2. A team may only request a Coach's Challenge if they have their time-out available and the Coach's Challenge must be effectively initiated prior to the resumption of play.
3. If the Coach's Challenge does not result in the original call on the ice being overturned, the team exercising such challenge will forfeit its time-out.
4. If the Coach's Challenge does result in the call on the ice being overturned, the team successfully exercising such challenge will retain its time-out.
Keep in mind that weeks will likely go by in the Predators season this year with neither team electing to utilize it's challenge. But when they do? Oh boy, is it going to be crazy.
Goals are tough to score in this League. The difference between a goal counting and not counting can be gigantic. Therefore, referees on the ice want to have an additional tool to ensure they can get the call right. The vast majority of the time they do.
The NHL determined that last season there were less than 10 goals scored (that’s way under one percent of the total goals) that were incorrectly called. With this new system, they hope to cut that number down even more. Always remember - the hope of any review (especially in this new challenge system) is simply this: Let's make sure we avoid the egregious error that can cost a team a game. That will be important, because the tradeoff will be some major debates and undoubtedly some controversy. Let's take the categories one at a time.
Many Predators fans will remember a game early in the 48-game 2012-13 season in Colorado where this rule would have come in handy. In a game the Preds eventually lost 6-5, Avs forward Matt Duchene scored a breakaway goal early in the second period that was so obviously offside everybody on the ice paused for a full second (even Duchene himself) before finishing the play (see it here). It gave Colorado a key goal and a 3-1 lead. The NHL informed the Predators after the game that the call was incorrect. A small consolation.
During the 2015-16 season, a play like that can now be challenged and overturned. However, not all offside plays are that obvious. There can be some that are very hard to tell based on camera angles. Remember: If it's inconclusive, the call on the ice stands.
Another notable factor is this: If the play is offside, it is reviewable for the entire stretch of time that the puck stays in the offensive zone even if the puck changes possession and the play goes on for a long period of time afterward (up until the next stoppage in play). There was much discussion on how long to extend the window for review after the play initially went offside.
To use the Duchene goal as an example, let's say Chris Mason had made the save on the breakaway and play continued. Craig Smith takes the rebound and tries to clear it off the glass, but it's knocked down by the Avs and kept in the offensive zone by P.A Parenteau. Parenteau skates in and scores for Colorado. The Predators could still challenge the call and the goal would be disallowed, because (due to the offsides) the entire sequence should never have happened.
Imagine what would happen if the NFL made pass interference reviewable. The debates would be endless. For that reason, the NFL has stayed away from that area. But because goals are so precious in the NHL, the league has decided to give the coaches the ability to challenge a controversial goal. The referees now have the ability during the challenge to go to the scorer's table and check to see if there was an obvious mistake made.
Let's go back to Colorado. Back in April, the Predators were in a tight race for the Central Division title and were looking for a key road win. Ryan Ellis had just tied the game early in the 3rd period, and right after that Nashville scored what appeared to be a huge, go-ahead goal just seconds later. It was wiped away due to goalie interference. (Watch the play here).
Bring back (bitter) memories? That’s the type of mistake that can easily be corrected with this new challenge system. But they won't always be that clear-cut. For every play like Paul Gaustad's, there will be four to five that will be very debatable. A panel of 10 experts could be split on which way they would call it upon review after seeing all of the available angles. It's now up to the ref who made the call (and only him) to decide after looking at a small hi-def monitor to determine if a different call should be made. Again the rule of thumb: If it's debatable, the call on the ice is probably going to stand. Coaches must be aware of this as they determine whether to use their challenge. With all of the nuances of what is or is not deemed interference, coupled with super slo-mo technology, let the debating begin.
Strategy and logistics:
Finally, here are a few things coaches must consider as they go into the season with this new challenge system and some questions they must answer:
1. You have to have your one (and only) timeout available to initiate a challenge (note: you retain your timeout if you win the challenge). Will a coach be more hesitant to burn his timeout early in a game if momentum is going against him? Or if his team has iced the puck and has a tired unit out on the ice that could desperately use some rest? (Another note: if the game is in the final minute of regulation or at any point in OT, the challenge will be initiated from the "Situation Room" in Toronto - so the coach does not need to challenge during that stretch).
2. It will be up to each team to come up with a system of communication with the bench to determine whether or not to challenge a call. A coach obviously doesn't have TV monitors on the bench. Somebody who does (like the video coach or someone else) has to alert the coach. When a goal is scored, there is often not enough time to look at all of the available replays to determine if the play is worth challenging. Once the puck is dropped at center ice, the window to review is closed. This team system of communication must be highly efficient. At home it should be relatively easy, but the setup for the road team can vary from building to building. Will this cause logistical problems? Will there be allegations of Belichick-esque type sabotage made of some sort? Will there be stall tactics employed by a team to try to get a few extra looks at the monitor? Will the referee give them those few extra seconds? Will the crowd (and therefore the coach) be allowed to see the replays right away on the scoreboard so he can have a first hand look? Will it be a little quicker look (on the scoreboard) for the home team?
There will be growing pains with this new challenge system. Hopefully by the end of the year the NHL will think they are better off having it than not, and the system will evolve for the better as they work out the kinks. My prediction is this: The number of goals the NHL says would have been overturned last year (less than 10) will be significantly increased with this system. I could be wrong, but I do know this: regardless, this will create a ton of debate. Buckle your seatbelt.