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Coaches will still be able to challenge offsides, but they'd better be right about it

GMs hope to reduce the number of offside challenges and slashes by penalizing failed challenges and blatant use of the stick more seriously.

CHICAGO – For those of you who pine for the good old days when everyone lived with the occasional blown offside call, well, the NHL has some good news and some bad news for you.

First, the bad news. There is absolutely no appetite to remove the coach’s challenges that occur when a player’s DNA was over the blueline 90 seconds before a goal was scored. But the good news is that if the GMs have their way, there will be a lot fewer of those challenges in the future, perhaps as early as next season.

That’s because the GMs have recommended the NHL be a lot more punitive when it comes to failed challenges. As it stands now, if a coach challenges an offside and is wrong, his team loses its timeout. The GMs are recommending that coaches who are wrong have their teams slapped with a two-minute minor for delay of game. The recommendation still has to go through the league’s competition committee and the board of governors, but there’s little reason why sanity shouldn’t prevail here.

Then why not simply revoke the coach’s challenge for offsides? Well, because the league still wants to get these calls right as often as possible, even when they’re minutely close and have no real impact on the goal that’s scored. So it figures this is a solid compromise.

“If you’re going to make the challenge, you’d better be sure,” said executive vice-president and director of hockey operations Colin Campbell. “There was no traction to change (the ability to challenge offsides). The traction was, if you’re going to challenge, you’d better be sure. The guys who are going to shudder are the video coaches.”

Last season, the first in which coaches could challenge goals they felt were offside, there were a total of 117 challenges, 78 of which were upheld and 39 of which were overturned and the goal was taken away. In the playoffs, there were eight further challenges. Five of those were upheld and three of them resulted in goals being taken away, including the goal P.K. Subban scored in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup final that would have put the Nashville Predators ahead 1-0 and, if it had stood, might have changed the complexion of the series. Even with this new wrinkle, that goal still would have been called back because, as it turned out, the Penguins got it right.

“The Subban goal, the offside really had nothing to do with the goal,” Campbell said. “It was a minute-and-a-half later.”

Campbell said the league looked at all the challenges and broke them down into how many goals were scored after five, eight and 10 seconds and beyond 10 seconds and about two-thirds of the challenges came on goals that were scored more than five seconds after the play in questions.

It’s interesting that the league insists on calling offside by the book, but still seems to want to give latitude for slashing. Most people agree that slashing and crosschecking have reached epidemic proportions of late and that nobody really has any real idea when the infraction is going to be called and when it’s not. Campbell said the league broke down the number of slashes in four playoff games, the Memorial Cup final and the NCAA championship game and found a low of 60 slashes and a high of 110 in those games. He said there’s a real desire among the GMs to clamp down on that, but they have yet to reach consensus on how stringent it should be.

How about something this radical? If a player uses his stick for anything but handling the puck or trying to take it away from an opponent, it’s a penalty? Yes, this would cause a conga line to the penalty box, but that’s exactly how the league managed to reduce hooking more than a decade ago.

“We showed them 10, we showed them fast motion and slow motion and we asked their input on that play, penalty or not penalty?” Campbell said. “And we didn’t get a feel of the room. There is some appetite to reducing slashing to the hands. You need to explain it to the players, the referees and the coaches of what is allowed and what’s not allowed. My gut feel on this is if you slash any place around the hands, it should be a penalty.”

Campbell said that Anaheim Ducks GM Bob Murray brought up a good point, saying that he thinks one reason players are slashing the hands is that the sticks break so easily now that they don’t want to risk getting a slashing penalty for breaking a stick. “We didn’t even think of that,” Campbell said.



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