NHL’s all or nothing approach needs to stop (Trending Topics)

Ryan Lambert

It's going to come as no surprise at all, to anyone who's paid even the slightest bit of attention, that the National Hockey League is not perfect. The number of ways in which it is not perfect are myriad.

Therefore, to rely upon the kind of logic the League regularly uses: To list them all would be too time-consuming and therefore pointless.

The latest and perhaps most bizarre example of this comes to us this week from Darren Dreger, who reported on the league's progress toward trying to get every goal call right. This all came about as a result of an incident in Tuesday night's game between Ottawa and Philadelphia, in which Kyle Turris appeared to score a late go-ahead goal despite the fact that Nicklas Grossmann blocked the shot with both skates.

Video review seemed to show that Grossmann's feet were behind the goal line, and that the puck had definitively crossed, but the call on the ice having been no-goal, immediately. The fact that an overhead view revealed nothing more than the top of Grossmann's helmet, it was decided there was not sufficient evidence to overturn the original call despite the fact that it was, again, clearly a good goal. The Sens gave up two quick ones in the immediate aftermath and lost 5-2.

This was a situation in which the referee involved — Paul Devorski, whose angle when he waved off the goal would have required him to see through Grossmann at the time the puck crossed the line — likely knew that he had punted it, but Toronto saw no way it could overturn the call on the ice. It's difficult to say that such a decision in and of itself cost the Sens two points, but it certainly took a game that would have been 3-2 with 10:35 or so left and dramatically altered the proceedings.

Obviously the NHL has been pursuing a way to better ensure that its goal reviews are as correct as they possibly can be, because they're supposed to help officials absolutely and positively get it right. Dreger noted that the NHL has examined all kinds of systems, including those utilized in tennis, sensors in pucks, goalpost cameras, and tracking software.

All have been ruled not good enough because they were did not meet two qualifications: being “worth the cost” and able to “guarantee perfection.”

Let's say the League's goal review system, as it is now, gets 98 percent of calls correct, meaning that for two of every 100 reviews, the call is incorrect and thus costs a team a goal. Perhaps not all would be as crucial as the Turris goal was supposed to have been, but goals are so generally rare in the course of a hockey game (last year there was a goal a little more than every 11:15 of game time or so) that the ability of officials both on the ice and in the “war room” in Toronto to get such a call right or wrong is vital to a team's ability to win.

The League's ability to get it slightly more correct, guaranteed, for the rest of time is apparently not worth a few million dollars — a small fraction of the NHL's expected revenues in any given season, which COO John Collins recently indicated could be as high as $4 billion in the near future. The way teams throw around money on some of the more terrible players in this league, surely the owners could find something between the couch cushions and kick in a few hundred grand for a system that might one day save their asses in the playoffs. Murray Edwards might have benefited from such technology in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final, if I'm not mistaken.

But because the new systems do not guarantee 100 percent accuracy, the NHL says, “Not for us.” Improving from that imagined 98 to 99 percent wouldn't be good enough, because it's all or nothing. That's actually a stance the League has had for a very long time now on a number of subjects.

When even FIFA — FIFA for the love of god! —is instituting goal-line technology, and the NHL isn't, that's a major indicator that things in the NHL are being run quite poorly.

You also heard the same argument about mandatory visors, just for example. “They don't prevent all eye injuries.” And it's true, they don't. But they prevent more than no visors, right? Not everything needs to be this black-or-white-only with the league. Part of that, obviously, was the machismo involved in not playing with a visor, and you still have meathead idiots like Krys Barch talking about how you're not a real man if you play with one. But the fact of the matter is that if even one fewer guy goes through what Marc Staal just did, then the decision to mandate them was a win.

Same goes for the mandating Kevlar socks saving even one guy from getting cut with a skate. Oh yeah, those socks are a little bit uncomfortable at first, so those, too, shouldn't be for everyone. Makes plenty of sense.

Along somewhat similar lines, the reason it was always so reluctant to institute hybrid icing, which could theoretically save the odd player from having one of his ankles broken and his career threatened (the example here is and always will be Kurtis Foster), is that it was afraid that its already plainly imperfect subjective system would become more subjective. It was, therefore, willing to risk a serious injury to a player because they didn't want to get something as inconsequential as a few dozen extra icing calls a year incorrect.

Now, of course, a lot of people around the League are actually pretty upset that this brand new system which has just been implemented to prevent injuries hasn't been 100 percent perfect, and that icing is up extremely marginally (to 8.49 per game from last year's 8.4, an extra nine icings every 100 games).

Said Justin Bourne, who interviewed head of officials Stephen Walkom on the subject: “The hope is that linesman get it sorted out and it doesn’t become a topic at any point. The reality is that if they don’t, it’s not inconceivable that the league could pull the plug on it, and revert back to the old rule.”

Isn't that brilliant? If it doesn't work, it's gone, even if it guarantees fewer injuries, which was the original point. That makes plenty of sense. The NHL's intractability is legendary, and now we know the reason.

Why try for self-improvement? It knows it can't be perfect, so it's content to wallow in its many imperfections.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.