Monday, March 12, 2018

Weekend wrap: There's no fixing interference reviews

The NHL played some games this weekend, so needless to say we’re all angry about goaltender-interference reviews.

That’s been a recurring theme through most of the second half (as opposed to the first half, when we were all angry about offside reviews). The latest chapter came on Saturday in Toronto, when a controversial interference call may have cost the Penguins the game. With the Leafs leading 3–0, Brian Dumoulin appeared to cut the lead to 3–1. But referee Dan O’Halloran ruled that Dumoulin had interfered with Frederik Andersen and awarded a minor penalty, wiping out the goal and sending the Leafs to the power play. Toronto scored to make it 4–0, then held on to take a 5–2 final.

Saturday’s controversy didn’t actually involve a review, which is part of the problem. If a referee simply waves off a goal, the play can be challenged, but if a penalty is issued then there’s no review allowed. So the Penguins were out of luck, even as replays showed that the contact was minimal and that Dumoulin may have been directed into the crease by Ron Hainsey. Would a review have resulted in the call being overturned? Probably not, but we didn’t get a chance to find out.

It’s the latest flare-up in the never-ending interference debate, and having this one come on a Hockey Night in Canada game between two high-profile teams ensured that everyone would be weighing in. It comes just a few days after another controversy that also featured the Leafs, when a Sabres goal following what appeared to be far more blatant interference on Andersen was allowed to stand on Monday.

That had Mike Babcock ominously warning that when it came to interference, the league “better get it solved” before the playoffs. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan largely echoed that sentiment on Saturday. Everyone seems to agree that this is a mess, and that the league needs to fix it.

Except for one problem: They can’t. There is no fix, because these calls are largely subjective. You can tweak the rules and interpretations and where the line is drawn as much as you want, but you’re never going to get anywhere close to a situation where everyone is on the same page.

Instead, it’s becoming clear that the league made a major mistake by making goaltender interference subject to replay review in the first place. There’s a reason why pro sports leagues have traditionally limited replay review to calls that should be black and white, and leave the judgment calls to the officials in real time. We’re seeing it now.

You could make the case that both of this week’s Maple Leafs calls were correct based on the rulebook. The Buffalo goal came on contact just outside the crease, while Dumoulin’s lighter nudge was clearly in the blue paint, so the rules for the two plays work differently. Years ago, fans may have simply shrugged off the two calls as the sort of grey-area decisions that can go either way in a specific game but tend to even out over the course of a season. But not anymore, because by subjecting interference calls to review in the name of “getting it right,” the NHL raised the bar. Now, fans expect a level of consistency that we don’t see on any other judgment calls. When a referee makes a subjective call we don’t like for holding, or roughing, or cross-checking, we complain a little here and there and then get on with our lives. But with interference, we’ve been trained to break every play down frame-by-frame, searching for an obvious answer that just isn’t there.

You want to solve this? Get rid of interference review entirely and jut let the referees do their job. Will there still be controversial calls? Of course. Will there be calls that are outright wrong? Sure, sometimes. That’s life in pro sports. We used to be able to live with it. Now we have a system that’s slow and confusing, and nobody is the slightest bit happier about the calls it’s churning out. So get rid of it. Ride out the season, pray to the hockey gods that we don’t see a playoff series ruined by one of these things, and then scrap the review altogether in the off-season.

Instead, the NHL has apparently decided to respond to the problem by telling everyone to stop complaining. Good luck with that, guys.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they’re headed towards Stanley Cup–favourite status.

5. Vegas Golden Knights (44-19-5, +46 true goals differential*): Vegas flu advisory; after tonight’s game in Philadelphia, they’re home for eight of the next 10.

4. Boston Bruins (43-16-8, +53): Brad Marchand missed yesterday’s game with an injury, but escaped any supplemental discipline for his collision with Anthony Duclair.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet

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