It’s Time to Improve Situation Room Review Explanations

The NHL’s farcically brief descriptions give no real insight into why a play was overturned or allowed to stand.

Dallas Stars fans know about the witch curse that suddenly takes over whenever the team goes to play the Colorado Avalanche in Denver.

Sometimes (perhaps far too frequently) it takes the form of five unanswered goals against. Sometimes it takes the form of a 40+ shot-attempt advantage in a loss. And sometimes it takes the form of eyebrow-raising decisions by the NHL's video review team, as it did Saturday evening.

Here is the official explanation of the Avalanche's first-period goal, which rattled around in the Stars crease for a disturbingly long time before being knocked in:

At 9:21 of the first period in the Stars/Avalanche game, the Situation Room initiated a video review to further examine a play at the Dallas net. The original call on the ice was "no goal" and a penalty shot for Colorado, but video review determined that the puck legally crossed the Dallas goal line before Patrik Nemeth covered the puck with his hand. Good goal Colorado.

That's all nice and true. However, it also completely ignores the elephant of the room as to how the puck got in the net in the first place, which was either batted/directed in or deflected in by Joe Colborne's glove. That's a crucial distinction there, as the former is illegal and results in a no-goal every time while the latter is legal, both by rule 67.4.

Without the explanation as to the situation room's take on that piece of the puzzle, the review is necessarily incomplete. How a puck entered the net is absolutely reviewable and part of the situation room's responsibility (kicked in pucks are reviewed all the time, after all), and to not acknowledge the question at hand leaves it open as to whether it was even properly looked at.

But this leads to a larger issue at hand - while the situation room does release official reasons for its decisions, these reasons are surface at best and do not give any further context as to why a play was allowed or disallowed. Given that, the decisions are almost useless in a larger context to help players, coaches and, yes, fans understand the rules of the game as they are being applied.

Take this play from the Arizona Coyotes season opener, where the Philadelphia Flyers reasonably felt their goalie may have been interfered with. The video shows a very gray area play where a Coyotes player takes himself into the goalie but has a defender at his back, and there is a loose puck but it's unclear who is making a play for it, or when the contact occurs compared to where the puck actually is. Breaking down the precise things that leave this play on one side of the gray area would be immensely useful.

But that's not how the situation room handles it. On a play with a ton of talking points, with arguments on both sides and things teams could learn about and train their players to do or not do, the only explanation is this:

After reviewing all available replays and consulting with NHL Hockey Operations staff, the Referee confirmed no goaltender interference infractions occurred before the puck crossed the goal line.

Gee thanks, Hockey Ops. That makes the entire situation so much clearer. I'm sure there will never be complaints again about the very easy-to-understand standards you are setting.

Everyone knows there are standards behind the rules that the referees are trained on. The question of what makes a distinct kicking motion is a classic example, but the gray areas of goalie interference or the distinction between directing and deflecting are others. When the NHL refuses to divulge these standards, they leave everyone to make their best interpretations but never actually offer any clarifying guidance so that the issue is less contentious in the future.

So why doesn't the NHL do it? Given that the department is run by Colin Campbell, the most good ol' of good ol' boys in the system, we will likely never know. But without addressing it, it leaves the league open to suggestions of favoritism - not establishing hard criteria makes it easier to overturn a goal by Steve Ott while the exact same play byConnor McDavid would be allowed to stand.

While I have no doubt the NHL would do this in certain circumstances, I think the actual reason is probably simpler - the NHL knows it has a problem with inconsistency and has no interest in fixing it. It knows there is no possible way that several dozen referees and a dozen hockey ops staffers who make the decisions on such gray area calls will come to the same consensus every time. And because the process to change rules, even to flesh them out, involves several layers of accountability and discussion, it's just easier to live with an inconsistent status quo than try to make meaningful improvements.

The only way to officially endorse that inconsistency is to offer as little explanation as possible. The "because I said so" press releases offer no further explanation because there isn't one to be had - the judgement is based on the whim of whatever individuals happen to be working the game rather than actual standards and procedures that are applicable across every game that night, let alone every game that season.

Of course, that's simply my conjecture. The NHL's hockey ops department is notoriously tight lipped (much more so than the Department of Player Safety, who I have had my qualms with but at least releases detailed explanations of most disciplinary action they pursue), and since they are run by Campbell, there is no reason to expect them to be any more accountable in the future.

If it were up to me, the department would take one of two steps. First, they could actually give detailed explanations for their rulings so that players, coaches and fans could better understand why certain things were called as such. Second, they could dispense with the charade altogether and simply let the referee's dialogue suffice, thereby acknowledging there is inherent inconsistency in how they apply things like goalie interference or deflect versus direct.

Until then, we are left with the questions of did the league even review every part of a player in question, because if we take them at their words, they leave tremendous doubt about that fact.