Do NHL coaches actually like the new coach’s challenge?

Puck Daddy
FILE- In this Feb. 5, 2015, file photo, Anaheim Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau, rear; Rickard Rakell (67), of Sweden; and Rene Bourque (14) yell for a penalty call in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Nashville Predators in Nashville, Tenn. When the Ducks clinched Boudreau's first trip to the Western Conference finals, the affable coach allowed himself "five minutes of joy" to celebrate the death of his old reputation. His spectacular regular-season success will no longer be overshadowed by his teams' Stanley Cup playoff failures (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)
FILE- In this Feb. 5, 2015, file photo, Anaheim Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau, rear; Rickard Rakell (67), of Sweden; and Rene Bourque (14) yell for a penalty call in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Nashville Predators in Nashville, Tenn. When the Ducks clinched Boudreau's first trip to the Western Conference finals, the affable coach allowed himself "five minutes of joy" to celebrate the death of his old reputation. His spectacular regular-season success will no longer be overshadowed by his teams' Stanley Cup playoff failures (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

Bruce Boudreau said if he wants to use his Coach’s Challenge next season, he won’t require a flag to toss on the ice. 

“I’ll just be yelling ‘Get the [expletive] over here!’” said the Anaheim Ducks coach.

Boudreau and his peers aren’t yet sure if they’ll need a flag or a flare gun. They aren’t sure who determines if a play needs to be reviewed. And they aren’t sure how this revolutionary innovation for the NHL – coaches asking referees to reconsider goal-scoring plays by double-checking their own work on a video replay – is going to play out.

“I’m excited for the idea. I don’t know how much it’s going to be used. And you gotta be pretty damn sure that they won’t overturn it,” Boudreau said.

The NHL Board of Governors approved a Coach’s Challenge for the 2015-16 season for specific plays that result in a goal being scored:

1. A play in which a goal is scored but the defending team insists it should have been whistled dead because of an off-side call that was missed. 

2. A play that results in a goal call on the ice, but the defending team believes there was interference with its goalie that allowed the puck to cross the line.

3. A play that results in a “no goal” call on the ice despite the puck having gone over the line because the referee determined that the attacking team was guilty of goalie interference. The attacking team can challenge the play if they think (a) there was no actual contact initiated by the attacking player or (b) that the attacking player was pushed or shoved by a defending player into the goalie or (c) that the attacking player’s positioning in the goal didn’t impair the goalie’s ability to make a save.

A team can request a Coach’s Challenge if they have a time out and as long as it’s asked for before play begins again. If the challenge fails, the team forfeits its time out. If the challenge works, the team keeps its time out.

Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice admits he was skeptical about the rule’s adoption.

“I wasn’t a proponent for it originally,” he said. “But Gary Bettman explained to us that the Coach’s Challenge will be there to fix around eight goalie interference calls we had last year that clearly were.”

Maurice said his apprehension was over the fact that many goal controversies come on plays that have different interpretations. This rule, he said, seeks to correct several cut-and-dry calls.

“It’s not attempting to fix the gray area. We watched video [examples] and we couldn’t get a unanimous vote on it. So I like the idea that they fixed the clearly mistaken calls. Those are the ones that haunt you for months,” he said.

Buffalo Sabres coach Dan Bylsma does think there's a bit of subjectivity at play in reviewing the goal calls. “We’re talking about using it for a discretionary call, not a rules call. But you’re talking about very few plays that result in a goal or a no-goal situation," he said. 

Bylsma thinks that along with adding another check-and-balance to the officiating in the game, the Coach’s Challenge adds another layer of strategy for fans to enjoy.

“From a fans’ perspective, I feel like it’s going to be interesting. As a football fan, there’s drama in waiting to see if the coach is going to throw the flag or not going to throw the flag for a challenge. Whether they should or shouldn’t. When do you use it?” he said.

But the strategy that fans might enjoy comes with a significant conundrum for coaches.

"Do you use the challenge in the first period when you might need it in the third?” he wondered.

Then there’s figuring out how this whole thing works. The NHL hasn’t informed the coaches how they’ll signal that they want a challenge. And the coaches haven’t quite figured out how they’ll know, with certainty, that a challenge needs to be made.

“If you’re going to give up your timeout, you’re not going to just do it randomly. You’re going to have to be sure. Our referees are very, very good at what they do,” said Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz.

“There will be a lot more pressure on the video coaches to make that call, so they’re going to have to be sure and they don’t necessarily make that type of decision.”

That’s part of the catch: Having people on staff who can determine, quickly, if a play should be reviewed.

“For the last couple weeks, we’ve talked about what it means. What feeds are we going to get? How quickly can we get them? Who’s going to look at them?,” said Byslma. “It really comes down to knowing the rule to make the call, and sometimes when your video coach is watching the game for you, he’s no better than the referee.”

Trotz believes that NHL teams will want to have monitors at the benches to give head coaches a chance to review instant replays and determine if a challenge should be issued.

“I’m sure teams are probably going to use technology on the bench for the head coach to make that call quickly,” he said. “I think most coaches will want to be able to share [that ability] with their video coach.”

Overall, the coaches are excited to have this mechanism to keep goals off the board that shouldn’t have counted and, in some situations, putting a goal on the board that a phantom interference goal might have prevented.

They don’t believe the Coach’s Challenge will be used all that often during the season – maybe less than a dozen times, according to their estimates – but getting it right even one time can make all the difference.

“You look at our last week of the season. There was a lot of excitement and happiness. But in our last week, take two points away from us in any of those games because of a call like that …” Maurice said, shrugging.

“You don’t sleep on those for months. And you never forgive the guy who made the call. You feel like the whole world is trying to cheat you.”

Starting this season, perhaps coaches can sleep better after seemingly blown calls.

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