(Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
Just because the NHL now has a coach's challenge and video review doesn't mean there aren't still going to be some controversial calls made. But the league is getting it right now more than ever.
All right, picture this: It’s Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final and Team A scores the overtime winner about 20 seconds after gaining the zone. Team B uses a coach’s challenge, saying a forward from Team A was offside by a fraction of an inch on the zone entry. After a seven-minute delay to determine the right call, there is no conclusive evidence that the Team A forward was offside, and the goal stands and Team A finally gets to celebrate the Stanley Cup amid a mountain of controversy.
It could happen. And that would be terrible, but it beats ignoring the call entirely the way it was before coaches were allowed to challenge offsides on goals. To a lesser extent, that’s exactly what happened on Saturday when the Winnipeg Jets beat the Washington Capitals in overtime on this play:
Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz said after the game that it was clear to him the Blake Wheeler’s skate was in the air when Jacob Trouba gained the zone more than 20 seconds prior to Mark Scheifele's goal and it should have been ruled offside. Then he added: “You can’t have a play like that on a six-inch tablet. You better put it on a big screen.”
It’s easy to sympathize with Trotz because there are people who will look at that replay multiple times and agree with him. But the decision was not made in a vacuum, which was why it took seven minutes to make it. The way the offside challenge works is that the officials make the call, in consultation with the hockey operations office in Toronto and had anyone in that office thought Wheeler was truly offside, they would have let the officials know.
Here’s what happened. The guys in hockey operations viewed the first two angles they had of the goal, and deemed it was inconclusive as to whether Wheeler was offside or not. As the replays from different angles started to come to them, they passed them on to the officials.
“We watched this to the ‘nth’ degree because it was a game-winner,” said NHL’s senior vice-president, hockey operations. “We could not be 100 percent sure Wheeler’s toe was not on the ice.”
So there you have it. The fact is the NHL goes to great lengths to get these calls right every time. The officials are not watching replays from a $400 iPad here. They’re using an Atomos Shogun K4 monitor, the top of the line and one that has a picture superior to an HD television set. For the last minute of a game and overtime, there are two staff members watching for any plays that might be flagged. And they’re being backed up by others who are watching the goal from every angle on some of the best equipment money can buy. And even with all that technology, there are going to still be times where things are not 100 percent black and white.
But if you get to the point where the hockey operations guys are saying, “Well, we’re not sure, but it looks like offside, so call it offside,” well then you’ve basically sabotaged the entire process.
The point is, there will be calls like this one that are still going to be controversial. Some of them are going to take a long time to figure out and yes, a team that scores in overtime might have to wait around on the ice for 10 minutes to find out what the final call is. And from some people’s perspective, they might even still be wrong. But the fact of the matter is that far more calls are going to be right and that wasn’t the case before.
OUTDOORS IN 2017? With Buffalo organizers planning to hold an outdoor game as part of the festivities for the 2018 World Junior Championship, there are no plans at the moment to do the same thing when Toronto and Montreal host the tournament the year before.
Hockey Canada president Tom Renney said the possibility of an outdoor game, which would have been held in the round-robin portion of the tournament in Toronto, has not been discussed once. “We have a lot of other boxes to check off than an outdoor game,” Renney said.
But not that’s not the same as saying, “No, there will definitely not be an outdoor game in Toronto as part of the 2017 World Juniors,” and Renney acknowledged that, “anything can happen,” but I take Renney at his word when he says the outdoor game is not on the radar.
Which is a good thing. This is the World Junior Championship, not one of 82 regular season NHL games. The stakes are way too high to be adding a sideshow to all the other pressure the teenagers playing in this tournament face. And if some NHL team’s top prospect ends up getting seriously injured because of bad ice/weather conditions, you can bet that will be the last you ever see of an outdoor game at the WJC.
By the way, Hockey Canada remains totally committed to holding the non-Canada round-robin games and the playoff games in Montreal, despite unimpressive attendance figures in 2015.
AT LEAST HE GOT HIS MONEY'S WORTH: When Brandon Prust was asked for his thoughts about being fined $5,000 for spearing Brad Marchand in the privates over the weekend, he responded by saying, “Best money I ever spent.”
Well now, isn’t that wonderful. Prust is basically thumbing his nose at the NHL, saying in effect, “If you want to fine me 0.2 percent of my yearly salary and I get to stab one of the league’s most hated players in the junk, well, I’ll take that punishment anytime.”
Jabbing the tip of your stick into any part of an opponent’s body should be a suspension. But it’s merely a fine that amounts to a pittance, so players such as Prust get away with it with basically a slap on the wrist. And isn’t Prust supposed to be one of those guys who’s supposed to keep it safe out there for everyone? Once again, one of the league’s tough guys perpetrates a crime that is supposed to be curtailed by tough guys.