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Video reviews for diving? Inside NHL Competition Committee’s landmark replay decision

Greg Wyshynski
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While the ‘grandfathering’ of mandatory visors received the most attention after the NHL Competition Committee’s recent meeting, there was another recommendation that was just as momentous and, potentially, game-changing:

Using video review on four-minute penalties for high-sticking.

“There have been enough mistakes made where sometimes it’s a player’s teammate’s stick that hits him, and you see it clearly on replay,” said Mathieu Schneider, special assistant to the executive director for the NHLPA.

Dial it back for a second: What the NHLPA recommended here was, for the first time in NHL history, video reviews of penalties, and specifically of infractions that don’t involve a goal being scored or waved off.

It could be the start of more widespread use of video reviews on controversial calls in the NHL. In fact, the players on the competition committee wanted an expanded scope right away: high-sticking penalties weren’t their first option for instant replay verifications.

The main concern for the general managers in their meeting was whether video reviews would slow the game down. Schneider said the technology is there to ensure they won’t.

“[The NHL doesn’t] anticipate it being an issue. I imagine that when you’re watching the game, before the puck is dropped, you get a clear view of what actually happened from the viewer’s standpoint,” he said.

Technology no longer a hindrance, when the topic of video review of penalties came up at their meeting last week, the committee’s first notion was to review two-minute penalties that may have been whistled due to a dive or embellishment.

That’s right: Those moments when a player’s head snaps back from a phantom high stick or when he falls like a rag doll in order to draw a penalty. If there’s any doubt about whether a referee was made to look like a fool, video review could correct it.

“You never want to be at the end of a call where it’s the wrong call. It’s so difficult for the referees to call it on the ice,” said Schneider.

“Some of them are very obvious. But there’s a lot of gray area on dives and embellishments.”

In the end, that helped determine what the NHLPA Competition Committee would ultimately recommend for video reviews. Diving was nuanced, subjective and could be a drag on the speed of the game; high-sticking fouls are much more black-and-white, can be reviewed with haste and already had the support of the NHL GMs for use of video replay verification.

“Pretty much all the high-sticking calls you can review kind of quickly. That was the thinking,” said Schneider.

Hence, if this works, then other penalties and infractions might be under review.

Like goaltender interference? There’s been an outcry for some type of check and balance in goalies drawing calls or referees taking goals off the board for miniscule contact. Some have lobbied for a coaches’ challenge to be used to review them.

Schneider sad there wasn’t widespread support for those plays to be reviewed, at least not at the moment.

“I think that’s more of a subjective call. At times, goalies – I don’t want throw daggers here – but with diving and embellishment, it’s not as cut and dry as a stick hitting someone in the face,” he said.

Schneider said the NHLPA will work in other ways to cut down on diving and embellishment. Specifically, he and Brendan Shanahan will present examples of embellishment to the NHLPA board and try to pinpoint exactly what the players want to eliminate from the NHL.

What he hopes is that it opens up a dialogue about diving in the NHL, and it’s many nuances. For example: “If there’s a penalty on a play, and a guy embellishes even further, should that put a guy on the list?” he asked.

Ah, yes: The list.

Please recall the desire by the NHL to circulate a list of divers around the League as a way to publicly shaming those who allegedly embellish.

Schneider said it’s happened before: After the 2005 lockout, he said a list circulated when he was a member of the Detroit Red Wings.

Like he was then, Schneider is wary of a “divers' list” now.

He uses Erik Cole of the Dallas Stars as an example: Cole was going to be placed in the divers list by former discipline czar Colin Campbell when they found out that Cole wasn’t embellishing on a play they were scrutinizing: He actually had a broken neck. Later, when Cole was again the focus of an embellishment charger, he called Shanahan personally to plead that he simply had lost an edge on the play.

“We have to examine it a little bit further,” said Schneider. “Disciplining it becomes extremely challenging and difficult.”

So is whistling it during a game. Which is why the competition committee flirted with the idea of reviewing dives. But the time’s not right for that; although the time to review penalties through play has arrived:

“I think it’s the first step, dippin’ the toe in the water, to go to video review,” said Schneider.

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