Phil Kessel picked up an outlet pass from Maple Leafs teammate Dion Phaneuf last Wednesday and sped down right wing into the Bruins zone. Near the faceoff dot, he snapped a shot past Tuukka Rask for the game’s first goal, the eventual game winner. Immediately Bruins center Patrice Bergeron and some teammates protested that Phaneuf’s clearing play had bounced off the glove of Toronto’s Roman Polak who was seated on the bench, and the play should have been killed, the goal disallowed.
During the next TV timeout, Boston coaches and players protested to the refs and, from his spot between the benches, the NBC Sports Network’s Pierre McGuire heard them and conveyed that to the US TV audience. Before the period had ended, NBC had shown the replay three more times as McGuire and his partner Mike Emrick batted around the topic of the NHL finally adopting a Coach's Challenge.
McGuire has been advocating a Coach's Challenge and expanding video review for around eight years on his various radio and TV platforms and he’s had plenty of opportunities lately. During three consecutive NBC “Wednesday Night Rivalry” telecasts, his crew witnessed plays that might one day be candidates, like this one a week earlier…
…and this one a week before that…
…that had Detroit coach Mike Babcock ask McGuire if Caps goalie Braden Holtby fell on his own, or had been tripped.
When the league’s GM’s meet on Tuesday, the Coach's Challenge is supposedly an agenda item again, as it has been periodically since Florida GM Dale Tallon proposed it 2010.
But predicting what might happen is a fool’s errand. In the winter of 2013, it seemed the managers favored implementing a challenge but nothing came of it. Six months later, the GMs actually approved expanding video review to be sure all four-minute high sticking penalties were correctly called. Mysteriously, NHL Hockey Ops never implemented it.
Once upon a time, the NHL’s video remedies to get the call right was the sports industry standard. Now, they’ve fallen behind, the league having resisted any expansion, including the Coach's Challenge. After last March’s manager’s meeting, Coyotes GM Don Maloney summarized a few of the reasons why. "We all have sat there through goals being reviewed and how long it takes," Maloney said. "We're really concerned about taking the game away from the on-ice officials and taking it up to big brother and having the game regulated from above, and nobody wants that, including big brother."
Still, the subject refused to die. Three months later, the NHL-NHLPA Competition Committee recommended adopting the challenge and now something seems to be cooking. NHL Hockey Ops has been collecting video on various problematic calls like those above for the GMs to review on Tuesday. They will supposedly try to gain a consensus on the plays they’d allow to be challenged, leading to a more complete proposal at their March meeting.
Some GMs only want to include what are considered “boundary calls,” such as a goal being scored when the puck should have been ruled out of play or when the scoring team was offside, and perhaps to determine if a defender shot the puck over the glass in his own zone or it was deflected. For them, judgment calls -- such as goalie interference – are off limits.
However, there’s no certainty or clarity on any of this. When asked in June about the Coach's Challenge, a puzzled VP of Hockey Ops Colin Campbell mused about how offsides might be challenged: Should a review be allowed if a goal is not scored? If a goal is scored, what happens if the defending team has played the puck after the missed offsides? Should there be a time limit after the offsides? And so on.
Admittedly, none of this is easy and the GMs face a formidable task, one they’ve resisted for too long.
The funny thing is, while the managers have hesitated, the league’s coaches – who will actually do the challenging -- are likely all for it. After that blown goalie interference call against Detroit in October, Babcock acknowledged, “I’m not in charge of this stuff and I don’t know how to do it.” But he recalled his team benefiting from this blown call last season against the Kings, one that would have been overturned through a challenge.
“By the time we got all the screwing around over with, we could have gotten it right,” Babcock said. “I think the league just wants to get it right.”
Hopefully, he’s right.