Upon further review, when it comes to goalie interference in the NHL, it’s painfully obvious we are in need of further review. That’s not breaking news. But we are also in need of subtle change.
When NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his general managers meet in Florida starting Monday, there is going to be a refresher course for the managers, to share with their coaches and players, about what constitutes goalie inference because at the moment there is simply too much confusion.
Now, some of that confusion may be more sour grapes over the outcome a call, but almost every night there seems to be more genuine confusion about a lot of calls, and the standards feel like they are moving target from game-to-game.
So, on the eve of the playoffs, there simply has to be clarification of what constitutes goalie interference and what doesn’t – knowing it will never, ever be a black and white call – and that is what director of officiating Stephen Walkom, a few of his off-ice supervisors, and referee Dan O’Halloran will give the GMs.
But that should just be the first step for what happens next week, not the last. Understanding the standards is only one part of an imperfect solution to the problem. If inconsistency with the calls on the ice, and ultimately with video review, is the other big problem, and it is, then there is a simple change the NHL can and should make for the start of the playoffs. It would involve taking the video review decision away from the on-ice officials and giving it to a very small handful of “experts” in the hockey operations department in the situation room in Toronto.
Do the math. If you have 16 referees in the post-season interpreting what is goalie interference and what isn’t, there is a greater chance for a lack of consistency, just as you have with any infraction. On any given night, what might be a call in one game, might not be a call in another. And it could change again the next night. That’s not a criticism of the officials. There is a human element involved; different referees see plays differently. It’s about interpretation and subjectivity.
If you reduce the number of eyeballs making the final call there is the potential to increase the consistency. Is it a perfect solution? No. Is it an improvement? Possibly. Is it worth a try? Yes.
From the beginning, for most GMs, the feeling was goalie interference review challenges belonged on the ice, keeping it with the referees, who made the initial call, have a feel for the game and the moment, who understand and can see perhaps more clearly how players react in the heat of the moment and the tone and tempo of a game.
It made perfect sense. It still does in a way, but maybe only during the regular season.
But with so many different referees, maintaining consistency from game-to-game is a significant concern.
While the referees do get assistance from the hockey ops department during the review, the final decision is still made on the ice and there are some officials more reluctant than others to change their calls. And, again, the more people there are making those calls, the greater the chance for interpretations to differ from game-to-game, official-to-official.
At the end of the day, because there are eye balls involved and the calls are subjective, the NHL is never going to make every team happy. But if there can be more consistency, then there would seem to be the opportunity for a better overall outcome.
Now, it’s been said that because of the many layers that exist in the NHL, making any kind of change to the system at this time of year would be impossible, but this change is very doable because it involves changing the review protocol, not changing any rules.
And it’s worth making the change to the review procedure for the playoffs because the stakes are higher, the stage is bigger, and it’s all about getting the call right – as often as possible.