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Playoffs have exposed NHL video review rules as a farce and the league faces a major crossroads

Game 3 of the Western Conference final was determined by an Erik Karlsson goal set up by a clear-as-day hand pass. This isn't the first gaffe officials have made this post-season, leading many to believe it's time for change in the NHL's video review process.

We can pretty much come to agreement on the fact that, as wildly inconsistent as the NHL can be in applying its own rules and operating on logic, the hockey gods usually do a pretty good job of evening things up, right?

So here’s how this is going to go down. The San Jose Sharks, powered by their controversial win in Game 3 of the Western Conference final, which followed their controversial win in Game 7 of the second round, which followed their controversial win in Game 7 of the first round, will advance to the Stanley Cup final. They’ll battle hammer and tong with (who are we kidding, here?) the Boston Bruins for six games, with Game 7 going into overtime. Then, at the most crucial point of the Sharks’ season, all four officials on the ice will egregiously miss a call that can’t be reviewed, the Bruins will score and the Sharks will learn how the rest of the world has lived in these playoffs.

We jest. Only a little, though. If there is one thing that the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs have proven, it’s that video review in the NHL is badly, badly broken and the officiating might be worse. But when you see a league that has all the technology in the world at its disposal that can account for human error and refuses to use it – unless, of course, a player’s DNA is on the wrong side of the blueline – it’s enough to make a person want to stop watching.

It will be very interesting to see how the board of governors handles this file over the summer. Vegas Golden Knights’ owner Bill Foley will be screaming for more video review and Colorado Avalanche governor Josh Kroenke will likely be advocating for less. The St. Louis Blues will wonder how a player can make a hand pass in the offensive zone and get away with it in overtime. The NHL is at a crossroads with video review and it’s up to Gary Bettman and his board to show some leadership on this.

In the wake of the Erik Karlsson overtime goal Wednesday night, there was no shortage of opinion on social media about what should be done, from giving coaches two challenges per game on anything to making every single goal in the playoffs automatically reviewed by the league. It may sound simplistic, but how about this? Either dispense with video review entirely and live with the human errors that come with it or review everything.

Neither option is without its pitfalls. With the former, it means we all have to live with mistakes made by human beings, knowing full well that they are going to be made in big games. In overtime of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final in 1980, the linesmen missed a clear offside that led to Bob Nystrom’s overtime goal. At the time, there was video that clearly showed a blown call, but we all had to live with it, the same way we lived with Wayne Gretzky not being kicked out for high-sticking Doug Gilmour in 1993 and Brett Hull having his foot in the crease in 1999.

The latter will get all the calls right, but it will add time to the games. Even worse, it will blunt the enthusiasm for almost every goal that is scored. Fans will be conditioned to cheer for goals only after they’ve received the seal of approval from a bunch of guys who are looking at TV monitors in Toronto, or by the referees on an iPad. Having games last a little longer seems to be a small price to pay for getting the calls right. In recent years the league has done a very good job of increasing the pace of games, with a good number of them being completed in under 2 ½ hours. Even the most vexing video reviews shouldn’t take much more than five minutes to complete. The rewards for doing so seem to overwhelmingly outweigh the risks of not. People will occasionally squawk about the length of video reviews, but nobody will ever complain about the league getting the call right. If it elects to do anything but comprehensive video review, it risks continuing to embarrass itself.

The funny thing is that there’s a chance the league might have actually got this one right. If the puck did glance off Jay Bouwmeester’s shin pad, which might have been the case, it could have been determined that it was a live puck and the Sharks would have been able to touch it with impunity. Extensive video review might have led the league to that conclusion and everyone, even the Blues, would have understood. However, Rule 79.5 states that play will stop if a hand pass propels the puck directly to a teammate or allows the offending team to gain an advantage that results in possession. The rule includes that play will be blown dead if such a pass is completed "either directly or deflected off any player or official."

But we didn't get such a review or clarification. Instead, you had series supervisor Kay Whitmore explaining after the game that there was nothing anyone could do but watch replays and second-guess the officials. “As the rules currently stand,” Whitmore told a pool reporter, “the play is non-reviewable.”

As the rules currently stand. Interesting choice of words. It was almost as though Whitmore was saying what a lot of people were screaming in the aftermath of this debacle. Things have to change.

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