'Unbelievable overreaction': Burke

Nicholas J. Cotsonika
Yahoo! Sports

TORONTO – At least one general manager won’t support the idea of a coach’s challenge on goal-related plays Tuesday at the NHL’s GM meeting in Toronto.

That would be Brian Burke, whose Toronto Maple Leafs benefitted from some blatant goaltender interference Oct. 26, when forward Colton Orr(notes) smacked into goaltender Scott Clemmensen(notes) while scoring the winning goal in a 3-1 victory over the Florida Panthers. The goal led to this proposal by Panthers GM Dale Tallon.

Yes, Orr should have been called for goaltender interference. Yes, the goal shouldn’t have counted. Burke readily concedes that. But he points out that the Leafs didn’t complain after a goal by forward Kris Versteeg(notes) was disallowed for a high stick Oct. 18 in a 2-1 overtime loss to the New York Islanders. Stuff happens. That’s life.

“I think this is just an unbelievable overreaction,” Burke said. “Why aren’t we raising the same fuss about Kris Versteeg’s goal? The league admitted to us it was a blown call. We’re not asking for a rule change. So I don’t get it. Dale Tallon’s my friend. I really like him. But this thing’s acquired a life of its own and called all of our officiating into question on one play. I don’t get it.”

My initial reaction: While the GMs shouldn’t overreact to one play, there is no reason why one play can’t be the launching point for an important discussion about the expanded use of instant replay.

It isn’t that the officials are poor. As Burke said: “We have the best officials in the world, and they get it right 98 percent of the time or 99 percent of the time. … If people think they’ve got an officiating problem, they should come with me and go to Europe and some of the college hockey and some of the places where they don’t have great officials. We’re blessed with the guys we have. I don’t want to take this game out of their hands.”

The point is that as good as the officials are, they still could use some help. Hockey officials are in a unique position – on skates, on ice, directly involved in the chaos. They always have been. But now the league is tighter than ever and the game is faster than ever, which means calls are more crucial and more difficult to make. If the technology is better than ever, too, why not use it?

“Baseball could do the same thing, and they’ve resisted it,” Burke said. “Why? A guy steals second, and there’s a close play. Are we going to give the baseball manager a challenge? Is he going to throw a red flag? And who’s going to decide it? Some of those calls are too close to call. The umpire makes the call. They’re the best in the world. We live with human error in officiating, just like we live with human error with our players.”

“Here’s my problem with it,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “When I call that challenge, I’m basically embarrassing the referee. ‘You didn’t get it right, and I’m going to show you that you got it wrong.’ I may win the challenge but pay for it the rest of the night.”

Here’s my problem with that: Consider the blown call at first base that cost Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game last season. Had the call been overturned by a replay, it would have been a simple way to right a wrong, and the most relieved person in the stadium might have been the umpire who blew the call, Jim Joyce.

NFL officials don’t control football games as intimately as NHL officials control hockey games, so evening the score isn’t as much of an issue in that league, perhaps. But coach’s challenges have become an accepted part of the NFL – probably because it’s up to the referee himself to watch the replay and make the decision himself. The reviews cause delays, but they’re worth it.

The NHL already uses instant replay, with the hockey operations department in Toronto ruling whether pucks have crossed the goal line. That is one of the few black-and-white calls in the game. Most of the rest are subjective, and you’re treading into sticky territory when you make subjective calls reviewable. Pass interference is not reviewable in the NFL, for example.

But why couldn’t a referee take the time to look at a replay on certain subjective calls – say, those that involve a potential goal or maybe even an apparent head shot? Why couldn’t officiating crews at least huddle more than they do?

“Oftentimes you’ll yell at the back official, and he’ll say, ‘That’s not my call,’ ” Wilson said. “That usually means, ‘You’re right, but that wasn’t my call.’ I think we should be more worried about getting the right calls. But again, I think our officiating’s great, and I’m afraid of the toe-in-the-crease rule again.”

No one wants to go back to those days, when the NHL tried to take a judgment call out of the game and just made things worse. Goaltender interference, for instance, must be better defined, but it can’t be defined as simply touching the goaltender. You have to keep some common sense in the equation.

“At some point, we’ll be disallowing every goal, unless it’s a 2-on-1 and a clean shot in the net. That’s what I’m afraid of,” Wilson said. “Am I going to throw that red flag on one goal a game? Because I can, and I’ll probably win. I don’t know personally if that’s what we should be doing. It’s hard enough to score in our league right now.”

But while obvious challenge is to set the boundaries and procedures for a coach’s challenge or the expanded use of instant replay, that doesn’t mean the challenge can’t be overcome. Even Burke is willing to discuss it under a little different circumstance.

“If someone is going to talk about a modification where you’ve got some limited replay ability in the playoffs,” Burke said, “I would have some time for that.”

Let’s take some time for this, too.

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