It was a spring that gave everyone pause. In the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs, too many games ended with the primary topic being a missed call, a wrong call, or a whistle that should have gone, but did not.
The topic on morning radio was all too often a bad call, not a great goal or fabulous save.
The substandard officiating was so overt, in fact, that a league which usually changes its rule book at a snail’s pace went to work on its laws at Thursday’s general manager’s meeting at the draft in Vancouver. And all changes will be in effect when the puck drops in October.
When they were done on Thursday in Vancouver, and commissioner Gary Bettman explained the changes that would be invoked for the 2019-20 season, you could tick off the calls that had happened in the 2019 playoffs that were rectified by the GMs on Thursday.
Perhaps the most egregious call in the 2019 post-season was when referees Eric Furlatt and Dan O’Halloran tagged Vegas centre Cody Eakin with a five-minute major for an awkward hit that left San Jose’s Joe Pavelski bleeding from the head. The call turned out to be bogus, and the Sharks would score four goals on the power play, erasing a 3-0 Vegas lead and eventually winning the series on an overtime goal.
So one of the changes announced on Thursday was just that: from now on, referees will be “required to perform an on-ice video review for all major (non-fighting) and match penalties. The official can downgrade his call to a minor, if video evidence shows the referee that he perhaps overreacted to the call.
That seems fair, doesn’t it? And it does not require a challenge from one of the coaches, something Bettman would rather cull from the game.
Challenges, as we have learned, become an act of desperation late in a one-goal game. Coaches have nothing to lose, and the game is slowed down because of it.
On Thursday the GMs eliminated the number of challenges a coach can make, but they will now come with escalating consequences if the challenge is unsuccessful. The first unsuccessful challenge of any type results in a minor penalty against the challenging team (no more losing their timeout). Each successive unsuccessful challenge will result in a double-minor.
As such, the GMs made the goalie interference challenge just like offside. Where it used to be that a failed goaltender interference call cost a team their timeout, now it will mean a two-minute minor that is assessed immediately after the goal in question.
It’s funny: we all wanted video review, and by extension, coach’s challenges. But now that they’ve been around for a while, and we’ve all grown tired of waiting three minutes to see that a player’s skate blade was a quarter-inch above the blue-line, the push is coming from the other direction — against challenges and extensive reviews.
The GMs did expand the video review process by one category however, allowing challenges of missed stoppages of play in offensive zone leading to a goal. Remember in Round 2 when Boston scored a goal in Columbus, after the puck had bounced off the netting? That can be challenged now.
But the “missed stoppage” rule only includes black and white calls: hand passes, puck in netting, etc. A missed penalty does not qualify, but that hand pass by San Jose’s Timo Meier that ended up on Erik Karlsson’s stick for an OT winner in the Western Conference Final against St. Louis? Yes, that will be reviewable from now on.
Other video review changes include:
• For high-sticking, the official who called it can make sure the stick did not, in fact, belong to the injured player’s teammate, or a different player than the one who was originally penalized. The on-ice official will have the final call.
• When it comes to the “puck over glass” rule, the reasons it remains non-reviewable is that there are a differing number of cameras from broadcast to broadcast, making the chances of calling it too inconsistent. Also, the GMs are hesitant to broach the area of using video review to spot minor penalties, thinking it could be a Pandora’s box.
Aside from video review, the GMs made several recommendations:
• Even if the team getting a man advantage ices the puck, it will have faceoff in the offensive zone.
• If a player loses his helmet he will have to go back to the bench or put his helmet back on properly. The only exception is if he is involved in an immediate play on the puck. A minor penalty will be assessed for not complying.
• A puck shot on goal from outside the red line: if the goalie freezes the puck, the defending team is now allowed a line change.
• If a goalie knocks off the net on breakaway, an automatic goal is awarded.
• When a player knocks the net off its moorings “accidentally/on purpose” that team will not be allowed a line change. The offensive team will be able to pick circle for faceoff.