On Feb. 18, 2013, Matt Duchene, then of the Colorado Avalanche, scored a goal despite being roughly a mile offside. It was an egregious miss by the linesmen and it put the Avs ahead 3-1 in a game against the Nashville Predators that they would go on to win 6-5 in overtime.
It was a nothing game in a disastrous season for both teams, but it became a talking point, so much so that by the start of the 2014-15 season, there was a coach’s challenge in place for offside plays that led to goals and goaltender interference. By the time it was instituted for the start of that season, 19 months had elapsed since the Duchene goal.
Nineteen months. You’d have thought in that time that someone at some level might have said something like, “Hey, it’s all well and good that we’re going to send these plays to video review, but what if an offside that has nothing to do with the play ends up overturning a crucial goal in an important Game 7?” And lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened Wednesday night in San Jose when Colin Wilson’s goal for the Avalanche that would have tied the game 2-2 was called back because Gabriel Landeskog went back to the bench too slowly and stood while the door was being opened when the Avs gained the zone.
Because the moment the NHL agreed to allow coaches to challenge offside plays, if there were a true sense of vision and leadership, someone would have seen the unintended consequences that would result. And here’s why. After watching the play that led to the overturned call, a lot of people were talking about the spirit of the rule. Seriously? Does anyone think that the spirit of the rule has any relevance here? No, what people should have realized at the time was that the letter of the rule would always, always take precedence.
So now the game is in a spot where a blown major penalty that leads to four power-play goals in a crucial game can’t be reviewed, but a play where a guy’s DNA is on the wrong side of the blueline can be. And the same fans and players for the Avalanche who think this is the dumbest rule in the history of hockey would have been thrilled if it had gone the other way and led to them winning Game 7.
How the league could not have foreseen something like this boggles the mind. There’s an enormous amount on the line for everyone involved and if a coach can get a crucial goal called back in an important game, he’s going to make that challenge. Every. Single. Time. You don’t think Sharks coach Peter DeBoer knew deep down that Landeskog had absolutely nothing do with the events leading to Wilson’s goal and that the hockey purist in him truly believed that Colorado scored a perfectly legitimate goal? Of course he did. But this is Game 7 of a playoff series in a year when the race has never been more wide open. By winning that game, the Sharks put themselves one step closer to winning their first-ever Stanley Cup. Hockey purity be damned.
(Even Joe Pavelski, who was injured on the Cody Eakin crosscheck that led to San Jose resurrecting themselves from the dead in Game 7 against Vegas acknowledged that Eakin should not have received a major penalty. “Am I glad they called it that way?” he asked. “Heck, yeah.”)
It’s more than a little ironic that the Sharks are in the Western Conference final largely because the NHL doesn’t have enough video review (on the Eakin crosscheck) and too much video review (on the called-back Avalanche goal). And now the league is forced to go back to the drawing board.
Chances are the league is actually going to increase video review to avoid the Eakin crosscheck debacle again. And how can you do that and dial back offside calls that are being applied by the letter of the rulebook? Because that’s what this league does. Rather than do something tangible about the crosschecking epidemic that has infected the league, it will instead react in a knee-jerk way and make changes without regard for the consequences. Much the way it did a few years back when a nothing goal in a nothing game led to a change that likely changed the complexion of the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs.
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