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NHL GMs created the goaltender interference mess and now it's up to them to fix it

The expansion of video review to include goaltender interference has been a headache for all involved, and now it's up to NHL GMs to find a way to untangle a mess for which they're largely responsible.

What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is a textbook case of unintended consequences. When the NHL’s 30 GMs meet over the next three days in Boca Raton – the Carolina Hurricane’s chair will be vacant – they’ll try to figure out something that will untangle the mess that has become goaltender interference. The irony here is that 21 of them were part of the group that asked the league to expand video review to include coach’s challenges for goals scored on plays that involved possible goaltender interference and offside.

And now what we have is a complete mess. Nobody seems to know what does and doesn’t constitute goaltender interference anymore and confusion reigns. What is a perfectly legal goal one night is deemed goalie interference the next. Sometimes the goal is wiped out, other times there’s a penalty that goes with it. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to it and players, coaches and fans are frustrated and bewildered. My esteemed colleague, Rob Tychkowski of Postmedia in Edmonton perhaps put it best when he sent out the following tweet the other night: “San Jose challenges for goalie interference, so some vodka chugging monkeys in Toronto will make a ruling soon.”

So the same GMs that got us into this mess in the first place are going to have to try to get us out of it now. It won’t be easy. Most of them say they’re looking for clarification on what constitutes goalie interference. If that’s what they want, all they have to do is look at the rulebook. Rule 69, which covers interference on the goalkeeper, takes up almost three full pages. The rule is not the problem. The interpretation of it is and that’s subjective. So what can you possibly do about that?

“They’re judgment calls,” said New Jersey Devils GM Ray Shero. “You don’t agree with a trip, you don’t agree with a hook. Really, what’s the difference? The only clear thing is high-sticking when a guy gets cut and there’s blood or puck over the glass. We have that right because it’s black-and-white. If we could put hooking to video review do you think we wouldn’t be talking about that?”

What the NHL has to come to grips with here is the notion that anytime – and I mean anytime – you give coaches in this game more power and more resources, the entertainment value and spontaneity suffers. Coaches were the ones who are largely responsible for dragging the game into the mud because they don’t have a skin in the game when it comes to excitement. There was an old joke that Dave King’s dream game was a 0-0 game with nobody watching. These guys are paid to win games and they’ll use any means they have to do it.

A coach’s challenge for video reviews was instituted in time for the 2015-16 season, but it had been discussed for years prior to that. It’s probably safe to say the GMs didn’t intend for it to turn out this way, which is where the unintended consequences come in. “We did it the same way for 100 years,” Shero said. “I say all the time a guy gets to the red line and hammers it in and the guy scores off the forecheck. What if the guy never got to the red line and it’s icing? Do we want to review that?”

There has been talk of taking the decision out of the officials’ hands and putting it into the purview of the same people in the war room in Toronto, which is another problem. First, the referees don’t want to give that up. Second, it might provide some sort of consistency, maybe. But it wouldn’t remove the core problem, which is that it’s a subjective call and opinions on whether it’s right or not are going to vary wildly.

Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland, one of the game’s most progressive thinkers, is one of those people who believes the decision should be taken out of the referees’ hands. But he also thinks one way of at least reducing the goaltender interference challenges would be to put them in line with the offside challenges when it comes to punitive measures. “Should we, much like offside, if you challenge a goal, challenge all you want, but if you’re wrong, you get a two-minute delay of game penalty,” Holland said. “We want goals. We don’t want 50-50 goals called. Does that make for fewer challenges? And then you go to the war room where there’s a group of people who do this for a living. If you said to me, ‘What would you do?’ That’s what I would do.”

There will be other matters discussed, but video review, particularly for goaltender interference, will be the most significant. And somehow, these guys are going to have to try to figure out a way to get themselves out of a jam that is entirely of their own making.

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