Eliminate the Grey Area: Change the NHL Review Landscape

Referees can’t always get the call right. A tally one night could be a disallowed goal the next (or so it seems). However, the coach’s challenge was supposed to end this issue.

Things don’t always work out the way they should.

On Thursday, Oct. 19, in the St. Louis Blues’ 4-3 victory against the Colorado Avalanche, a coach’s challenge changed the complexion of a game (as it usually does). With about two and a half minutes remaining in the third period, it appeared Mikko Rantanen scored to tie the game at four goals apiece and usher in a brand new game, as announcers like to say. However, even in the fast pace of the play, one could deduct that Sven Andrighetto was clearly offside.

It was easier to assume this would result in a disallowed goal than predicting Nikita Kucherov would score for his team on any given night. Sure enough, Blues head coach Mike Yeo challenged the play, the officials reviewed and the goal was overturned.

Easy enough, right? Wrong. Watch the play closely.

The following morning, the NHL admitted the officials were incorrect in their final call. The goal should have counted, because Andrighetto gathered the puck in the offensive zone (albeit, illegally), skated back into the neutral zone, then re-entered the offensive zone legally. Because the officials reviewed the first entry and not the entry that directly led to the goal, the review was incorrectly called in favor of the Blues’ challenge.

The NHL’s rule book clearly states that the play should not have been reviewable:

Rule 78.7, Note 1:

Goals will only be reviewed for a potential “Off-side” infraction if: (a) the puck does not come out of the attacking zone again; or (b) all members of the attacking team do not clear the attacking zone again, between the time of the “Off-side” play and the time the goal is scored.

Judging by this rule, there is no debate; the play should not have been eligible for review. Therefore, the Avalanche should have gone on to tie the game and the Blues should have been assessed a two-minute minor penalty for reviewing a play that should have been counted as a goal. Instead, the Blues held on to win the game in regulation, 4-3.

Although the review was admittedly a mistake, was the spirit of the coach’s challenge not upheld? After all, the Avalanche were far offside and, in the end, the play was technically called correctly. Andrighetto was offside on the play and the linesmen just plain missed it. It was a blown call that actually wasn’t a blown call in the grand scheme of the 60 minutes played between the two teams.

In the era of reviews, replays and challenges in professional sports, what’s the right answer to correct this issue to stymie it from occurring again?

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Redefine the Review Process

Thanks largely to the NFL and its long-standing review process, the onus to review plays falls on the opposing coaching staff who collectively feel their team was wronged. If a wide receiver makes a miraculous catch but the ball seems to bobble in his hands, its the head coach’s job to consult with his video coaches and determine whether a review is in order. Major League Baseball and the NHL have followed suit in this process.

Forget what you know about reviews and go back to the basics of the game. Think about midget- and bantam-level sports; who is 100 percent responsible for ensuring the play is called as fairly and accurately as humanly possible?

The officials and the league that employs them.

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Put the onus back on the NHL officiating department. If review is absolutely needed in a sport where human error often rears its ugly head, the NHL should be the only acting party if a play is deemed illegal. Take the coaches completely out of it.

Think of it this way: if the officials caught their error and agreed that Andrighetto was onside for the scoring play, the Blues would have been assessed a two-minute penalty for an incorrect coach’s challenge. Yes, Yeo was basically incorrect, but Andrighetto was offside just before the goal was scored. Should the Blues really be punished for the linesmen missing an obvious offside play?

Define a Time Limit

If the NHL were to follow my advice, there would have to be some rules in place. This starts with a time limit.

One of the most frustrating nuances with the coach’s challenge is when a ticky-tack offside call is made 25 seconds before the goal was scored (and, oftentimes, that span saw multiple failed attempts by the defending team to clear the puck). This type of goal reversal lends into rewarding a team for shotty defensive play that leads directly to a goal.

What is needed is a review clock. Five seconds, for example, before a goal is scored, the play is completely reviewed by the NHL’s situation room in Toronto.

For example, if an attacking player illegally breaks into the offensive zone 15 seconds before his team scores a goal, the play is not reviewable since everything within the allotted time before the goal is scored is deemed legal. However, if a player crosses the blue line illegally just three seconds before the goal is scored, the NHL situation room reviews the play and it results in a disallowed goal.

This would also be the standard for goaltender interference — if a skater interferes with the goaltender within the allotted time limit from when the goal is scored, the goal is eligible for review. If the NHL feels it necessary, this can be a blanket rule for all plays directly in front of an allowed goal. This includes pucks hitting the back netting and play continuing or goals being scored with a broken stick.

disallowed goal
An infamous moment in which a disallowed goal was determined after a lengthy review

Institute a Second Time Limit

Yes, a second time limit should be added. This one applies to the review itself.

Rather than hold the game up for an exorbitant amount of time for a review, the NHL should consider a time limit in which officials or the situation room can review a play. This will cut out the nitpicking of slight offsides calls, which has plagued the flow of live games since the inception of the coach’s challenge.

Make it Black and White; Good Goal or Disallowed Goal

There’s one thing we can all agree on (even if you don’t agree with the proposal you just read); clarity is key. Right now, every play is scrutinized. If a team breaks in to the offensive zone and it’s a close call for offsides, you almost hope a goal isn’t scored because you don’t want the pain of sitting through a coach’s challenge. You want this game to flow naturally, allowing teams to be punished with a goal against when they fail to clear the puck. You also want creative offensive teams to be rewarded for hard work and beautifully designed plays. Who cares if one player had his back leg off the playing surface when entering the zone 45 seconds ago? It’s an unavoidable moment for officials with the speed of today’s game.

Holding the league accountable for missed offsides and wacky plays just before a goal is scored should be the priority. Sure, by NHL rules, the Avalanche tied the game on Oct. 19. But by pure hockey basics, the play should not occur in the first place.

Restructuring the review system is the only answer.

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Tags : colorado avalancheMike YeoMikko RantanenPierre LeBrunst. louis bluesSven Andrighetto
Jeff Ponder

The author Jeff Ponder

Jeff brings a wealth of hockey retail experience to xHockeyProducts, as well as a vast knowledge of marketing and content development. Jeff is also a former hockey reporter for various media outlets in the St. Louis area and has attended numerous NHL Entry Drafts. He has played hockey since the age of 10.

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