Morrison: Let the officials handle the calls

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The idea of coaching challenges is gaining traction. But video review already works. And with a few tweaks, it can be better.

Like John Tortorella’s blood pressure, it is a question that is sure to flare up countless times in a season: Is it time for the NHL to institute a coach’s challenge?

The answer is no.

It was in a game at the quarter-pole of the season that Tortorella and his Canucks had a goal called back over a questionable goaltender interference call, which had the coach steaming and put the question squarely back on the table. There is a very good possibility that after NHL GMs convene for meetings in Florida next March, they will emerge with the recommendation to implement some form of a coach’s challenge for next season. But they don’t need to go down that road.

Everyone in the sport wants to get calls right as often as possible, accepting that you also don’t want to lose the human element to hockey and you don’t want to eliminate a referee’s ability to manage the game. There is also a growing body of opinion that because the game has become so fast, because the ice has become so crowded, and because the NHL has the technology in place, video replay should be used more often to get more calls right. No argument there.

But the NHL shouldn’t give the option to challenge an official’s ruling. As we’ve seen with so many of the rule changes in recent years, every action has a reaction—taking out the red line and cutting back on obstruction and interference have all sped up the game incredibly, resulting in more thundering hits and catastrophic injuries. And so there would be a reaction if you were to allow coaches even one challenge per game. Under what circumstances should it be allowed? How would it impact the flow of a game? Could it become a stall tactic, like an extra time out? What if the challenge is proven wrong—should there be a penalty? There is so much to consider and so much that could potentially go wrong.

The NHL already does an excellent job with video reviews. Before the league takes that big step, perhaps it makes more sense to simply expand the current system.

Allow the NHL’s hockey operations people in Toronto to review goaltender interference calls made or missed when a goal is scored. Allow them to wind back the play and see if a player was offside when a goal is scored. They don’t need to start reviewing every penalty, and they wisely backed off this season from reviewing four-minute high-sticking calls because of various potential repercussions.

Hockey ops already looks at every goal scored, so why not simply expand the situations that can be reviewed to determine whether a goal is good or not? It doesn’t have to be a referee who asks for it, or a coach; it simply becomes part of the process.

At the most recent GM meetings, the concepts of expanded video review and a coach’s challenge both gained considerable traction, though there was no unanimous agreement. But since Florida GM Dale Tallon first tabled the idea a couple seasons ago—no doubt as a result of more teams getting burned by missed calls on the ice—interest has grown, as has the desire to get things right.

Everyone agrees with making the right calls, but it’s important to first get the system to make them right, and for now that doesn’t require a coach’s challenge. You don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel. Sometimes you just have to pump up the tires.

This story originally appeared in Sportsnet magazine. Subscribe here.

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