NHL offside coach’s challenges must die

Greg Wyshynski
NHL offside coach’s challenges must die
NHL offside coach’s challenges must die

Those NHL coach’s challenges for blown offside calls on scoring plays? 

Kill them.

End them. As soon as possible.

Sometimes it takes a while before one sees the error of their ways, and such is the case with NHL rules changes. It took the Brett Hull incident in 1999 … um, we mean “a desire to regain some of the time and spontaneity lost to review” to end that insipid video review process for skates in the crease. It took a decade before the NHL did something to reduce those inane exhibitions of anti-hockey known as shootouts by applying 3-on-3 overtime as the antidote.

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But in the case of the offside coach’s challenge, it’s only taken one season to see what a mistake it’s been.

It’s a mistake to overturn goals on offside plays that hardly affect their outcome, or when a dozen other missed calls on a play aren’t subject for review. It’s a mistake to scrutinize human error on plays that last a millisecond; and it’s a mistake to delete dynamic scoring plays from memory at a time when goal scoring is so tenuous that we’re talking about shrinking goalies and widening nets.

Let’s take it back to the start: For the first time, the NHL decided to allow coach’s challenges for the 2015-16 season, with NHL bench bosses anteing up a timeout in exchange for the chance to confirm or deny the legality of a goal.

Reviewing goalie interference was an obvious move, given how much is missed by the naked eye on plays that directly affect a goal from being scored. (Save that emphasis for later.)

Reviewing blown offside calls probably wouldn’t have been considered were it not for a 2013 game in which Matt Duchene scored a goal for the Colorado Avalanche that was a country mile offside.

Duchene
Duchene

Now, no one would want that goal to stand. It should have required the linesman to immediately be shipped off for lasik surgery. It was embarrassing. It was egregious.

Great word, that one: “egregious.”

It’s actually become synonymous for the types of offside plays the NHL hoped would be eliminated with the coach’s challenge.

"You want to use video replay to get egregious plays, not close calls where it's 50-50. [Coaches] can live with some of the close plays that happen in our sport. It's what make our sport so great. It travels so fast,” said Mike Murphy, NHL vice president of hockey operations, last October. "The reason we instituted it was so that we could get the egregious calls particularly right, ones that everybody alive sees and says, 'This is the wrong call, it's a screw-up.'"

Or as Stan Bowman said, “The whole point of the coach’s challenge was to get rid of those [calls] that were egregious.”

Goalie interference? Egregious, no question. The physical jostling of a goaltender before a puck crosses the line, or confirmation that the jostling didn’t affect the play, is something video review should and does scrutinize. It’s something that directly affects a goal being scored.

Offside calls, by and large? Not egregious.

The Jori Lehtera offside in Game 2 of the St. Louis Blues’ series against the Chicago Blackhawks is a play that wasn’t caught by the naked eye, and probably wasn’t the 500 or so times it went undetected in the regular season.

NHL
NHL

They say hockey is a game of inches, and this was, what, four or five at most above the blue line?

The point isn’t whether the play was offside (and it was). The point is whether this is a myopic, desperate technicality (and it is) rather than an “egregious” flouting of the rulebook or blown call, which was the impetus for the offside coach’s challenge.

On the “myopic technicality” evidence pile, please toss Sunday night’s wiped-out Aaron Ekblad goal against the Islanders.

On that play, the goal was disallowed on video review after Jonathan Huberdeau appeared not to have control of the puck as he entered the zone before it did. But after he entered the zone, it was another 10 seconds before the goal was scored! In that time, the Islanders could have:

1. Had Travis Hamonic take the puck from Huberdeau.

2. Had either John Tavares or Frans Nielsen support Hamonic and prevent Huberdeau’s pass.

3. Had Tavares or Kyle Okposo take the puck away from Sasha Barkov instead of both whiffing on stick checks.

4. Had Calvin de Haan take on Barkov, physically altering the play rather than sliding out of position and watching Barkov dance by him.

5. Had any of the four Islanders standing to Thomas Greiss’s right mark Ekblad.

6. Had Greiss in better position to make a save attempt on Ekblad’s admittedly great shot, rather than shrugging as it went by.

Again, all of this happened after the Huberdeau offside, which put the puck in the attacking zone but hardly directly led to the goal. Yet the goal was taken down, turning a 3-0 lead back into a 2-0 lead, and eventually setting up an Islanders’ rally for the win.

“That was probably the turning point in the game. As stupid as it sounds,” said defenseman Thomas Hickey, who scored the OT winner.

Stupid is as stupid does … and the offside coach’s challenge is stupid.

There were 99 of them in the regular season, 88 initiated by the coaches and 11 more from the War Room in Toronto. Of those, 62 were upheld. Which means that 37 of them changed a goal to a “no goal,” i.e. 37 percent of all challenges.

Thirty-seven goals discounted because of human error that, frequently, did little to impact the play.

(The comparison to the goalie interference challenges is stark: Of the 168 goalie inference challenges, 28 were switched to “no goal,” a paltry 16.6 percent. And here we see the difference between linesmen reviewing a black-and-white call and referees reviewing their own subjective work.)

The battle cry from those who want to see the offside coach’s challenge continue is that it’s paramount to get the calls “right” when they affect a goal.

So then why not review a pick play, or any other interference? Why not review a missing tripping call? Or a high-stick? We view these calls as subjective because referees call them at their discretion, but in fact they’re written in the rule back as starkly as an offside call. A missed call that leads to a goal is a missed call that leads to a goal.

But there’s no outcry to review these blown calls because we’ve come to expect that on literally every play in the NHL there’s something illegal happening. And we accept that in many cases, calls aren’t made because the on-ice officials aren’t all-seeing automatons programmed to catch every infraction.

Referees miss stuff. Then they make up for it. Rise and repeat.

Offside, too, are missed every game. It’s a fast game. There’s human error. Reviewing an offside play is akin to reviewing an umpire’s strike zone:

via Larry Brown Sports
via Larry Brown Sports

We can draw a box, identify what constitutes a strike out and have video review confirm or deny an umpire’s call. Or we can admit that 100 MPH fastballs are difficult for the human eye to track to within inches, and that the batter had several other chances to avoid the strike out in his at-bat.

A play at the plate, of course, directly leads to a run counting or not counting, much like a goalie interference call. And that’s why they’re tolerated, while a strike zone review would be laughed out of the stadium. 

When the coach’s challenge was instituted, I was a “get it right” guy. We had the technology – well, outside of those silly Nintendo DS’s they use to review footage – so why not get use it to confirm the legality of scoring plays.

I still feel that way about goalie interference coach’s challenges, which lead directly to goals and whose chaos can benefit from an instant replay parsing.

I no longer feel that way about the offside coach’s challenges, which now feel narrow rather than egregious, petty rather than important and, above all else, completely unnecessary in a league fraught with human error and starved for offensive artistry.

Kill the NHL coach’s challenge for offside. Kill it with fire. 

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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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