Full disclosure at the top: Everyone here, whether you’re writing this stupid blog or reading it, finds the happenings last night in St. Louis utterly hilarious and maybe even life-affirming. I cannot wait until the Blues meltdown the next two games and lose this in five games, maybe to the tune of a combined score of like 11-2. I will almost certainly think of these days during the next bout of mediocre sex. Good, now that’s out of the way.
So right, there’s going to be a lot of teeth-gnashing about what to expand replay review to and what not. It seems simple to add this instance to the list of things that can be reviewed, but it isn’t. And it’s a prime example of why you don’t react to things in the moment or try to correct one mistake, no matter how egregious.
Because what will be the standards for reviewing a hand-pass? Right now it’s if it goes straight into the net. The easy answer is to amend it to “directly leads to a goal” but what is that? Say Binnington makes the save on Karlsson but Meier or Nyquist pots the rebound? Can you go back that far? What if the puck circles back out to the blue line and the goal is scored 20 seconds later? It’s still a hand pass, and because of it the play kept going, but did it lead directly? What’s the definition there?
Would you restrict it to if it’s the primary or secondary assist, as Meier ended up being? That could take place out in the neutral zone. And the answer you’ll find is that there is no answer, at least not until some officiating AI is created that can see everything and instantly call everything.
Unless you’re in a blind rage from last night (and we’re laughing at you if you are because it’s what we do), it’s pretty easy to see how that got missed. The ref closest to it was moving from around the net, had at least Robert Thomas and possibly Nyquist in his way. It was an instant, and there’s every reason to believe he was blocked off. The other ref would have had multiple bodies in his way, and the only linesman who would have been looking might have had the same problem. And that deep in the zone, it’s not really his call. This is just where the challenge of how fast hockey moves is insurmountable right now.
This is where the challenge system is stupid, and it seems pretty fair to say just have a replay official who can call down when something screwy happens and tell the refs what went down. But again, how far back does that go? Common sense tells you what leads directly to a goal and what doesn’t, and we went through this with offsides reviews, but you try telling some coach or team that gets a bad call in a playoff game about common sense. Everyone is going to want a hard line or two, and I don’t know if they’re possible.
Hockey’s greatest fear, and I wrote about this with soccer too, is that every goal will be met with a “Did it count?” feeling. You get it in football now, where after every catch we wonder if it actually happened or not. And because hockey is a goal-sport, the one thing the NHL doesn’t want to do is erode the explosion and excitement of a goal being scored. That’s why we’re all here after all, what all of our enjoyments is predicated on. Losing that and really what is your fan experience? Certainly greatly diminished.
But like I said in that earlier post, this is just the unfortunate part of being in the middle of the process. One day, there will be an instant check on offsides and other calls, and we won’t need to take a pause to find out. I don’t know how that comes about, but it probably will. Same for other infractions leading to goals. But in the meantime, how do we help the refs get more of these calls right?
One idea the NHL explored a while ago, and then never went anywhere with, was moving a ref off the ice. They sort of had this platform above the penalty boxes. It sounded ridiculous, it looked a little silly, but the more I think about it the more sense it makes. If you ever watch the refs during a game, it’s a little startling how much time they have to spend moving around players and also avoid getting a puck in the teeth. They do a remarkable job of it, but there is a lot of time when the ref isn’t watching the play but maneuvering himself out of the way of play (Hilda…I have invented a maneuver!). The two-ref system was supposed to solve this, but the other reft is outside the zone and that might not help all that much when the puck is in the corners.
So why not move the refs out of the field of play? NBA refs stand out of bounds. Four of the seven football refs do, and the other three are way off where they aren’t really affected by play. Hockey is unique in that there is no out of bounds, but would the ref have seen that hand pass if he didn’t have to worry about moving himself out of the way of the action while still officiating the action? All he’d have to worry about is watching the play.
It never got past their developmental camp, and perhaps owners and the like would be worried about some of their highest priced tickets having a referee platform in the way. It doesn’t have to be above the glass, but raised enough above to see everything. It would also have the added benefit of opening up some more space in the offensive zone. The trouble there is that no one would be able to get around to the net for scrambles there to see if the puck went in or not. It’s whack-a-mole.
It’s not going to happen, and because of this we might just have to live with this in-between world. I think soccer is on the right track, with a separate official watching the game on TV can calling down if he thinks something was missed or gotten wrong. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s probably better than the one we have.
But there are no definite answers. Just as there were no definitive answers without replay at all. These are the same debates we had then with just different elements. Those aren’t going away.