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It’s time for the NHL to stop interference and offside reviews

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It’s time for the NHL to stop interference and offside reviews

The symmetry was almost perfect.

In the history of the NHL’s foray into the world of replay review, there are two moments that stand out as crucial landmarks, the key signposts that pointed us toward where we wound up. The most recent came in 2013, when Colorado center Matt Duchene scored a goal despite being roughly a mile offside.

The play is, to this day, widely misunderstood. The linesman didn’t somehow miss the fact that Duchene was offside; rather, he thought that the Nashville Predators had directed the puck back into their own zone, which would negate an offside call. But the optics were terrible. Everything about the play looked wrong, up to and including Duchene’s muted celebration. He knew he’d gotten away with one, as did everyone watching. And, eventually, the confusion and frustration of such an obvious missed call coalesced around a seemingly easy solution: Why don’t we have replay review for these plays?

And now we do, and it’s awful, but hold that thought. Because for the other key moment, we have to go back even further. Now it’s the 1999 Stanley Cup Final, and we’re in triple overtime of Game 6. With the Buffalo Sabres fighting to extend the series, the Dallas Stars’ Brett Hull collects a rebound and scores the Cup winner.

Hull’s skate is clearly in the crease, and for just about all of the previous four years, that had meant an easy no-goal call, thanks to a cut-and-dried rule that

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. But this time, there’s no pause for a review, no announcement from the officials. Hull scores, the celebration is on, and next thing you know, Gary Bettman is out there with the Stanley Cup while fans around the world watched replays and tried to figure out how a goal we were sure had been waved off 100 times before was now allowed to count.

This play is misunderstood, too, although most of that falls on the NHL. There’s an interpretation of the 1990s crease rule that allows for players to be in the crease if they have possession of the puck, which Hull kind of, sort of does. There was reportedly a memo about exactly this sort of play that had gone out a few weeks before Hull’s goal, although nobody thought to mention it to the fans. But none of that really matters, because the apparent lack of any formal review would be the last straw for a rule that clearly wasn’t working. The NHL ditched the crease rule that summer, one of the very few examples from Bettman’s era of the league admitting a mistake and taking action to correct it.

The symmetry is almost perfect. A little too perfect, really. Because now, all these years later, we’ve got another replay debate involving the Dallas Stars. Once again, it’s about a player in the crease. Once again, it’s from Game 6, in overtime, of a series the Stars are trying to close out, just like that infamous 1999 goal.

And who’s in the middle of it all? Our old friend Matt Duchene.

Here’s the play in question, if you somehow missed it. It’s Friday night, or early Saturday morning depending on where you are. We’re midway through the first overtime, and Mason Marchment appears to score what would be the series winner. But the referee on the ice waves it off immediately and emphatically, and (to his credit) even explains why to the audience: Contact in the blue paint, no goal.

And then we all watched the replay and … oof.

That’s Duchene in front, number 95. He skates right up to the Colorado crease, but stops just short, or maybe not. He’s screening Colorado goaltender Alexandar Georgiev and then there’s some contact with defenseman Cale Makar, pushing Duchene a little closer. At some point, there’s very light contact with Georgiev, who ends up out of position and unable to stop Marchment’s incoming shot.

Is that goalie interference? You know the drill by now — nobody knows, none of us understand the rule, they’re flipping coins, etc. You also know that it’s not true, and that the rulebook isn’t all that complicated, and that with just a few minutes of actually learning the rule,

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, but at this point, people seem to love putting on a show of feigned ignorance.

In this case, it all comes down to whether Duchene is in the crease or not, and it’s close. Based on the replays we see, he doesn’t seem to be. Maybe he is once Makar arrives to make contact, but that would be a case of the defending team forcing the attacking team into the crease. To my eyes, this goal looks like it should count,

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. But the call on the ice is no goal, and the league has been deferring to that with what seems like increasing frequency this season, which is what the rulebook says we should do. So we’re in that dreaded 10 percent, where we’re not really sure. And there’s a series on the line.

Eventually, the word comes down. The call on the ice stands. No goal. And it’s fair to say that most fans watching didn’t seem to agree. One of the things that happens when you go around like some sort of self-anointed expert writing guides to controversial rules is that fans like to send you their thoughts when those calls happen. My unscientific survey says that you think the league got the call wrong, in very large (although certainly not unanimous) numbers. The vast majority of you thought the Stars got robbed.

The best thing you can say about that call is that it didn’t end up mattering, because Duchene himself scored in double overtime to end the series. Puck don’t lie, and all that. That was a tough result for the Avalanche, but probably a lucky one for the league, which ended up with a controversial no-goal, but not a no-goal that will live in infamy.

No harm done, right? Well … maybe.

In the big picture, the right team won and we can all move on. But we shouldn’t do that. Because this is pretty clearly the game giving us a message. Come on, it’s Matt Duchene, in Game 6 overtime of a Dallas Stars playoff clincher? The hockey gods couldn’t be any more obvious here. They’re practically putting a big flashing neon sign on the ice, and that sign says “Fix replay.”

So let’s do that. Let’s fix the replay system, in the best and simplest way that we could: By getting rid of it.

That’s it. That’s the answer, folks. Yes, there are other ways we could do this, ways that would be vast improvements on the current mess of a system. I’ve pitched a few of those ideas myself. But why settle for being a little bit better when we can fix this once and for all?

Dump it. Trash it. No more replay review, for interference or offside. It’s time to do what the league did in 1999, and read the writing on the wall. This time, we’ve even got a chance to do it before the inevitable disaster that will ruin a Stanley Cup Final.

The goaltender interference rule isn’t as complicated as you think, but it’s a terrible fit for replay review because almost all of the various contingencies are subjective. Was contact incidental? Did it prevent the goalie from playing his position? Did he have time to recover and reset? All of that falls into a gray area of an official’s opinion. Yet we still stop the game for extended reviews under the pretext of “getting it right,” searching and scanning for the one freeze frame that will get everyone to agree. We never, ever find it. Instead, we end up with a decision that nobody agrees on. One fan base thinks it’s obvious in their direction, the other thinks it’s obvious for them, and everyone else shrugs and isn’t completely sure, no matter how many angles we get.

If your system is in place because you have to get it right and nobody thinks you do, then your system is broken. Get rid of it.

Then there’s offside, a play that’s at least theoretically objective. You’re over the line, or you’re not, and unless it’s one of those outlier plays where we have to argue about possession, we should be able to find that one freeze frame that lets us all agree. And we do! Occasionally. But most times, we don’t. The angle isn’t quite right, or the footage isn’t quite clear enough, or it ends up being too close to call. And through it all, there’s a good chance that the entry we’re reviewing happened well before the goal, maybe with a few changes of possessions in between. What are we doing here?

We put the system in place to catch a repeat of that initial Duchene miss, and over a decade later, we haven’t had a single one. Instead, we’ve got video coaches watching every zone entry, looking for get-out-of-jail-free cards. We’ve got linesmen who are pretty clearly letting close plays go, because they know that replay is lurking. We’ve had guys changing lines, completely out of the play, getting caught on

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And through it all, a generation of fans have been taught not to get too excited about a goal, because you never know when that random replay is going to take it off the board. A league starved for offense has taught its audience that some goals have to be stricken from the record, just because. Every exciting moment is followed by a shot of a listless coach staring down at an iPad. Countless games ground to a halt. Excitement sapped out of buildings.

All in the name of just getting it right, which nobody thinks we’re actually doing.

Everybody’s **** all the time. Literally every fan base thinks the Toronto situation room is biased against them personally. Everyone pretends they don’t understand interference. Nobody can squint hard enough to know which blue-line pixel we’re supposed to be fixating on. We’re all yelling at each other, constantly. The league’s own broadcasters are

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. It’s all become a contest to see who can be the angriest, all the time, at the loudest volume. It’s exhausting.

Nobody thinks this is working. But we’re convinced we have to keep doing it, because what if we go back and something gets missed?

Well, what if it did? You old-timer fans out there: How many missed offside calls do you remember being **** about, back in the day? Sure, Leon Stickle, which was in 1980. How many others? What about goalie interference? Was that a play you spent a lot of time thinking about back in the pre-replay days?

Not really. Instead, we all understood that sometimes there would be a close call, and sometimes it would go against your team, and that was life as a sports fan. That’s not to say we didn’t get ****, or complain, or spend

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. But we understood that it was how sports worked, and we didn’t expect the entire game to grind to a halt a few times a night so that we could find one frame of footage to obsess over, all while getting most of the calls right but some of them wrong, because that’s sports.

I’m not saying we ditch replay entirely. There are elements of the game in which it works perfectly, exactly the way it’s intended. Keep it for figuring out if time had expired before a goal, absolutely. Use it for determining if a puck crossed the line, as long as you understand that sometimes you just won’t be sure. Keep using it for kicked-in goals, if you insist, although that won’t work all the time, either.

But offside reviews that come down to a millimeter? No. And goalie interference calls that are almost entirely subjective? Absolutely not. Because right now, we’re not getting it right, at least not the way we were promised. We’re arguing more, not less. And we’re not making anyone feel better about NHL officiating. We don’t need to do this anymore.

I know it. You know it. And the hockey gods know it, too, which is why they hit us between the eyes with a decidedly over-the-top message on Friday night. This time, they were even kind enough to do it in a way that didn’t cost a team a series or create a controversy that we’ll remember years from now. Next time, we might not be so lucky.

Duchene got us into this mess. Maybe he can be the one to save us, too. Scrap replay review, accept that there will be calls that don’t go your team’s way, and live with it. As we found out in 1999, that option isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot better than the inevitable alternative.

(Photo of referee Dan O’Rouke: Claus Andersen / Getty Images)

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Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche, NHL
#time #NHL #stop #interference #offside #reviews

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