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Nothing short of puck sensors would have prevented Calgary non-goal controversy

Ken Campbell
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Calgary fan reaction (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images) Author: The Hockey News

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Nothing short of puck sensors would have prevented Calgary non-goal controversy

Ken Campbell
By:

The Calgary Flames saved the NHL from a couple of days of controversy and conspiracy theories by tying the score and winning in overtime in Game 3, but the reality is the league made the right call in not overturning the non-goal call late in the game.

The fact that we’re not discussing the Calgary Flames non-goal ad nauseam in Game 3 this morning is a good thing, and good on the Flames and coach Bob Hartley for showing a ton of composure and poise by responding with the tying and winning goals to make it all a moot point.

A thank-you card from the NHL to the Flames should be on its way. Instead of discussing a disputed goal, everyone who is not interested in politics in Calgary is talking about how their resilient group of youngsters has done it again.

But even if the Flames had not tied the score and won it in overtime, the NHL absolutely made the correct call in not allowing Sam Bennett’s disputed goal to stand. There are times when, despite all efforts to get it right, there simply is not a black-and-white, right or wrong answer. This is one of those cases.

And there is no rule change, no coach’s challenge, no further camera technology available that would have changed the decision from last night. In fact there is only one thing that would have resulted in a Flames goal and one thing that would have made the call 100 percent correct.

The only thing that would have resulted in a Flames goal would have been if referee Kerry Sutherland had signaled a goal on the ice. Then the situation would have been completely reversed. With no conclusive evidence that the puck did not cross the line, the NHL’s war room would have allowed the call on the ice to stand.

The only way it would have been 100 percent conclusive is if the league were ever to go with sensors inside the puck, which is expensive and laborious, not to mention that it might create some unpredictability in the physics of the puck. “When you start having chips and sensors,” said Mike Murphy, the NHL’s senior vice-president of hockey operations, who made the ultimate call on the non-goal, “you’re liable to disrupt the performance of the puck, which is a big factor.”

If you watch the video, you see that Sutherland actually does not signal “no goal” on the play. He actually doesn’t signal anything and allows play to continue as though Frederik Andersen made a save on the play. It’s important to note that no call on the ice is tantamount to no goal. So, again, the league had to have conclusive proof the puck crossed the line in order to reverse the non-call on the ice.

Even a coach’s challenge, which has been discussed widely and will likely be implemented next season, would not have helped in this case. Because if Hartley had been in a position to challenge the non-call, it again would have gone back to video review and in the absence of conclusive evidence of a goal, it would have been ruled no goal.

The fact is the league looked at the play from every angle possible, including from cameras mounted inside the goalposts that the broadcasters are not privy to seeing. The league also has the overhead view and all the network feeds to work with, so there was no shortage of angles.

But which is the right one? Well, Murphy said the one the league relies on most often and places the most value upon is the overhead view and there was nothing he saw in that view that told him the puck had completely crossed the line. He also said the cameras in the posts were inconclusive. “We were hoping the in-post would help us,” Murphy said. “But it didn’t in this case.”

So unless the league wants to get into the technology of putting sensors in pucks, perhaps we’re all just going to have to live with inconclusive results sometimes. And remember, 99.9 percent certainty is not total certainty. As my colleague Jason Kay pointed out in his blog today, one view can appear no-brainer conclusive, while another can throw all kinds of doubt into the equation.

“It’s a little like horse racing,” Murphy said. “The only way you can tell whether your horse won the race is to be right on the finish line. If you’re a bit ahead or a bit behind, the angle might be completely different.”

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Nothing short of puck sensors would have prevented Calgary non-goal controversy