DALLAS – Whenever a NHL coach spins the roulette wheel with a challenge on goaltender interference, Ken Hitchcock is just as uncertain as his colleagues about how it’s going to turn out.
But at least he’s found a silver lining to decisions that tend to feel like a coin flip for those initiating the video review.
"I’m making money on some of the bets," Hitchcock said Thursday. "It’s working good."
How it’s working depends heavily on personal experience. They’re not something Mike Babcock currently has much time for after seeing close calls go against his Toronto Maple Leafs in consecutive games – a goal taken away from Auston Matthews on Monday and one upheld against them Wednesday despite Frederik Andersen seemingly being interfered with.
If you see some inconsistency between those two calls, it’s easily explained: The referee on the ice is responsible for making a ruling after watching various replays on a tablet while speaking to the league’s hockey operations department in Toronto over headset.
Not every official is going to see things exactly the same way. Subjectivity is part of the process, as is a little bit of grey, especially when it comes to making the tough decisions.
"Yeah, I don’t [see how that could be avoided]," Babcock this week. "How’s that? I don’t know. How would you know?"
There is some frustration from the fact that video review isn’t always producing an indisputable call. Remember that this is a league with razor-thin margins, and jam-packed playoff races, and there have already been 102 challenges for goaltender interference through 745 games.
That’s one for every 7.3 games played.
Hitchcock’s Dallas Stars had an Antoine Roussel goal overturned last week in Columbus when it was determined Alexander Radulov bumped Joonas Korpisalo while driving to the net. It was the kind of play he believes every coach in the league is demanding his players make every night.
"Now we’re in a little bit of the danger zone, so that’s the part that bothers me," said Hitchcock. "I get that you’ve got to allow the guy to make a save, but a guy is willing to play with courage and determination and get to the net with the puck – right there – and he’s willing to pay that price, there should be a reward for paying that price. And sometimes there is a collision.
"And sometimes you do get into the goalie, where there’s a rebound that comes there, but if you’re going to bring the puck into a really competitive area, a tough area, an area that’s very uncomfortable for the guy with the puck, there should be a reward for that."
Of the two plays that went against Toronto, the overturned Matthews goal was the most difficult to understand.
He appeared to do everything in his power to avoid making contact with Jonathan Bernier and only had a slight brush with the blocker of the Colorado Avalanche goalie after the puck was already behind him. Matthews was simply reaching to tap it in to an empty net.
"It would have been nice to kind of get the benefit of the doubt just because I don’t think I really interfered with him too much," said Matthews, who had another goal overturned against Arizona earlier this season. "I mean, I can’t score if I’m not in that position right there."
There was certainly more contact on Andersen when Nick Schmaltz tied Wednesday’s game up in Chicago. His teammate, Artem Anisimov, had a knee on the back of the Leafs goaltender – although Anisimov had been steered in that direction by Toronto defenceman Roman Polak.
In the heat of the moment, that was of little consolation on the visitor’s bench.
Where this might ultimately end up is with the NHL contemplating a rule similar to what’s used in international hockey – where the play is blown dead if a player spends a second in the crease without the puck being there.
That reduces the chance for contact.
The reality of the coach’s challenge is that coaches themselves don’t seem overly satisfied with how it is being applied to goaltender interference reviews, and the players aren’t entirely sure where the line is being drawn.
"Well just don’t touch the goalie," said Stars captain Jamie Benn, when asked about his approach. "That’s probably your best way of not getting a call turned back. But it’s a tough decision for the league and the officials. The game’s fast and it happens quick, so they’re trying to do their best as well.
"You’ve just got to put yourself in a good situation."