In the never-ending quest to make the game better, the NHL/NHLPA competition committee recommended a handful of changes to the existing rulebook earlier this week. While these changes still have to be approved by NHL's Board of Governors and the NHLPA's Executive Board, the recommendation carries a large amount of weight.
The most interesting, unless you really care about faceoffs, involves the potential use of a coach's challenge video replay system for offside and goaltender interference calls.
Expanded Video Review: Coach's Challenge - The Committee recommends that a Coach's Challenge be adopted for expanded video review for goals that may have resulted from (1) goaltender interference and (2) offside plays. The video review process and all decisions on goals where goaltender interference may have occurred will be the responsibility of the Referees at ice level, in consultation with the NHL's Situation Room in Toronto; similarly, goals that may have resulted from an offside play will be reviewed and determined by the on-ice officials, in consultation with the NHL's Situation Room in Toronto. In order for a coach to make a challenge, the team must have its timeout available.
There's a lot to unpack here, and critically there's very little detail given. How far back will they go in deciding if a missed offside play should nullify a goal (and would that criteria be overridden if the scored-upon team had a chance to clear the puck and chose not to)? What standards will they use to judge goalie interference in retrospect - a set of "fresh eyes" with no regard to the call on the ice, or the existing conclusive evidence to overturn standard?
If this system is in place in the NHL next season, there are still these and more questions to sort out. But as your resident rule's nerd, I'm a little baffled as to how they plan to apply any sort of reviewable, objective standards to the goaltender interference rule as it is written.
What is the problem with reviewing goalie interference without further changes? Simply put, the rule itself is so convoluted, multi-faceted and based in subjective definitions that nearly every controversial play can be legitimately defended as both a penalty and not.
I've covered lots of aspects of this rule in the past, generally when the Stars have gotten the benefit of the doubt. There are numerous ins and outs, so much so that a six-page, seven-part table in the appendix of the rule book itself is needed to go through most situations, and those scenarios rest on phrases like "reasonable effort," "affect the goaltender's ability" and "other than incidental."
Basically, the rule is a judgement call with not clear defining standard, and everything but the most egregious of violations or clear incidents of no effect could legitimately be defended as both call and no-call worthy.
Now, reviews will absolutely help from one aspect - where there was clearly penalty-level goaltender interference that was missed during live play by the referees. Dallas Stars fans are quite familiar with this type of miss.
This is something that should be caught on a replay and is entirely justifiable from an overturn of the original call on the ice standpoint. There is clearly "other than incidental" contact from Justin Abdelkader that prevents Kari Lehtonen from clearing his net. With the arm extension from Abdelkader, even the most ardent Red Wings fan couldn't argue this is simply a player falling naturally after a shove with no option to escape.
But the interference plays that drive people crazy are, by and large, much less black-and-white. Take this crowding call the Stars had go in their favor against the Vancouver Canucks in 2013:
I wasted a bunch of virtual ink explaining how this goal was legitimately, if fortuitously, disallowed under the crowding provisions in the rule, which stipulate not only can the interference contact be initiated by the goaltender if he is in his crease, but that he does not have to actually be able to make the save - his ability to attempt a save just has to be hampered.
Lehtonen is in his crease and initiates contact with Sedin to establish position. Sedin vacates basically immediately, but the goal is scored at the same time. The contact arguably impaired Lehtonen's ability to defend his goal, as both his glove and stick were tied up with Sedin for a crucial moment. Therefore, it's non-penalty goalie interference and a waive off is the appropriate call.
The gray area comes in how much did the contact with Sedin hamper Lehtonen's ability to defend his goal, and you're never going to get sets of neutral fans, let alone sets of invested fans, to agree on something like that. It's a very hard call to make real time, and NHL referees are very inconsistent about how they apply it.
Like most controversial goalie interference calls, this comes down to several intersecting judgement calls. Where is the line between of contact intended to establish legitimate position versus contact initiated to draw a possible penalty? How much tangling with a stick or glove is enough to hamper an ability to defend a goal?
Another similar judgement-call incident happened last season, when the Nashville Predators had a goal called back after Craig Smith, in the referee's eyes, took too long to untangle from Lehtonen after being cross-checked into the goalie by Jason Demers.
Once again, it came down to something you can't prove either way via replay.
What this call hinges on is the very subjective definition of "reasonable effort." What is a reasonable effort to require Smith to make after he is shoved by Demers? There's no concrete answer to that anywhere in the rulebook, which is why reviewing plays like this wouldn't help matters at all.
Replay doesn't answer that question or any of those listed above except in the most obvious of cases.
That isn't to say replay will necessarily be bad. If the NHL stays with the standard of conclusive evidence needed to overturn the original call or completely rewrites the goalie interference rule to clarify objective standards (the former being far, far more likely than the latter), this change will only serve to catch those totally egregious non-calls such as the Abdelkader one shown above. In and of itself, that is a fine goal.
But what it won't do, barring that complete rule re-write, is eliminate or even significantly cut down on the controversy associated with most borderline goalie interference calls. If that's the end game for this recommendation, simply adding replay as an option won't be nearly enough.