NHL referees Mike Leggo and Ian Walsh, and linesman Greg Devorski (Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)
A badly botched call Wednesday is the straw that broke the camel's back when it comes to increased video replay and/or a coach's challenge in the NHL.
The phrase “the straw that broke the camel’s back” is tossed around too often, but when it comes to expanded video review in the NHL, the goalie interference call assessed to Detroit’s Luke Glendening Wednesday night certainly qualifies. Thankfully, the spectacular botch job didn’t decide the game’s outcome, but the fact a call this bad could be agreed on between two referees should be deeply disconcerting to league officials and every team in the league.
The reality is the game’s speed makes it tougher than ever to assess the action, and when one of the referees goes down to injury as can occur, it makes expanded replay even more vital. And imagine what would happen if a similarly awful penalty/rescinded goal materialized in the final game of the regular season and the result of that game meant the difference between a team making or missing the playoffs. Imagine if a call like that went down during the playoffs – say, in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final – and there were no option for the officials to skate over to the penalty box area, check a video monitor for a few brief minutes and make sure they got the call right. Fans and media of the team on the wrong end of such a predicament would go apoplectic, and rightfully so; any league unwilling to utilize technology readily available to assure the integrity of its game is a league painfully out of touch with what fans demand in return for their investments of time, money and emotion.
If it ever got to that point, the NHL would need to hold an IPO to raise its stock to laughing status.
When the increased video replay debate/coach’s challenge debate has arisen in the NHL’s corridors of power in recent years, there’s been a hesitancy from some to embrace it because it allegedly would slow down games. But what’s the purpose of an NHL game – to be played as quickly as possible, or to be played as fairly as possible? We all know the answer. No real fan would begrudge the league for adding five or eight or ten extra minutes to a game because of increased video replay scrutiny. If it means avoiding humiliating results like this one, there’s no doubt it’s worthwhile.
It’s not even as if the on-ice officials disapprove of having increased video review as a professional safety net. They understand better than anyone mistakes are part of the job and wrong calls happen more often than they’d prefer. If you give them the opportunity to quickly study footage before making their final judgment, you give them all the available tools to do their job to the best of their ability. And if you gave an NHL coach one challenge to use each game, and limited the options in which he could use it (so as to remove the potential for coaches to use a challenge as a part of their game tactics), you’d be taking a grown-up approach to video replay as virtually every other professional sports league has done: the NFL and Major League Baseball both have coach’s challenges, and the NBA has done more to embrace video replay in the past few years. There really is no good reason for the NHL not to follow suit.
The NHL has slightly expanded its scope for video replay, but not nearly enough. What happened Wednesday in Washington was atrocious, but the good news is it doesn’t ever have to happen again. All the NHL needs to do to avoid it is step forward into the 21st century and apply the technology that’s out there, practically begging the league to let it clear up these potential headaches for it.
The referees, players and the game itself will be grateful.