BOCA RATON, Fla. – This is about politics as much as it is the rules of hockey.
Fostering a better understanding of how goaltender interference calls are made using video review is the primary objective as the NHL’s general managers gather for three days of meetings at the Boca Beach Club.
Complaints have been commonplace this season. They’ve largely come from the coaches tasked with handling the “coach’s challenge” decisions on plays where a goalie gets bumped before he’s scored on.
It’s created unrest across the league, with the NHL’s hockey operations department growing frustrated because of the criticism while coaches and GMs continue struggling to get a handle on the standard being enforced. There’s a growing chorus of those who’d like to see the calls standardized with a former referee or other qualified official rendering the final decisions from the video room, rather than having individual officials making the calls off a small tablet screen in the penalty box. But some of the key people involved don’t support that step.
The league has been working through this issue all season. There was a last-minute meeting aimed at clearing the air during the all-star weekend in January and more recently the NHL has started sending out a report explaining the decision-making behind each ruling to GMs and head coaches.
Still, there is a lot of grey involved in the subjective goaltender interference calls made off video replay. Pittsburgh’s Mike Sullivan and Toronto’s Mike Babcock are among the coaches who have spoken out after controversial rulings in the last few weeks.
They’re not alone, either.
“It’s confusing, at times,” Montreal Canadiens coach Claude Julien said Saturday. “You’re seeing something and you think it’s the same and the next time around it’s a different answer. For some reason there’s something that they’ve seen that (is) different. I think at the end of the day it’s probably about making sure we all understand what the criteria are. You know, not just referees but coaches and general managers and the league itself. If we can get on the same page, it’s going to make a big difference. Right now I don’t think we’re all clear and I’m not sure we’re all on the same page with that.
“So I think they’ve got an opportunity at the GMs meetings to maybe rectify that.”
Some of the issue might come down to optics. There are those who work in NHL front offices who believe more calls are being made correctly because of video review, but that’s been overshadowed by the focus on the controversial ones.
As everyone gets in one room here, there is a clear need to get on the same page.
The GMs will also discuss some potential changes to how offsides are interpreted on video review.
They talked last year about allowing players with a skate in the air to be considered onside and will revisit that topic again. Momentum is growing. They’re also going to debate the merits of instituting a more liberal interpretation of possession when a player is entering the offensive zone – a potential change that would see fewer goals overturned.
Other topics for discussion include:
The league will soon be expanding again and there are general managers who would like to see the size of the playoff tournament grow as well.
While not formally part of the agenda, the post-season format is likely to be broached this week. The NHL has qualified 16 teams for the playoffs annually since it was a 21-team league and, with Seattle set to become the 32nd franchise within the next few years, there’s been a growing amount of talk about creating wild-card or play-in games to get more teams involved each spring.
It’s an idea Gary Bettman has repeatedly poured cold water on publicly, but there are those who believe that the commissioner is mindful of creating a weaker bargaining position when it comes to future negotiations with the NHLPA by not coming out in support of extra playoff games.
The 2017-18 season began with three notable initiatives: A tougher standard on slashing penalties, renewed focus on violations in the faceoff circle, and a mandate to ensure players properly covered their eyes with visors.
There were a ton of penalties early. It’s slowed since.
A progress update will be provided to GMs on each count.
One interesting development on the visor front is that a handful of players with the option not to use them at all have since been granted dispensation to wear them in a manner not allowed by their younger colleagues. That list includes Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall, Arizona’s Niklas Hjalmarsson and Toronto’s Leo Komarov.
There is a belief in some corners that power plays aren’t created equal. That there might be a better way to have the punishment fit the crime.
The GMs will kick around the possibility of introducing one-minute PPs for overtime, and on non-aggression penalties like puck over the glass and faceoff violations in regulation.
The agenda also includes a proposal to have all faceoffs during a power play start in the offensive zone. This could potentially include those coming off a goal scored during a 5-on-3 advantage or the occasions when a period starts in the middle of a man advantage.
Long-term injured reserve
There is due to be a discussion on how LTIR was handled in the cases of Marian Hossa, Joffrey Lupul and Nikita Soshnikov this season.
This could be an interesting one. Hossa and Lupul were each brought in for independent medicals by the NHL in October after questions were raised about the team-run physicals they failed at the start of training camp.
In the case of Soshnikov, some questioned why the Toronto Maple Leafs were allowed to keep him on LTIR last month after he had a strong showing in the American Hockey League during a conditioning loan. Eventually, the Leafs traded the Russian winger to St. Louis rather than making a roster move to activate him.
NHL Alumni Association
The NHL Alumni Association has quietly been mobilizing since Glenn Healy took over as executive director last year and on Wednesday morning he’ll become the first leader of that organization ever to make a presentation to the GMs.
It’s a sign of progress for the players who helped build the league. The alumni are going to have a more prominent role in future NHL events/initiatives, and already share a new sense of cooperation with the league.