Monday, June 10, 2019

Five hard questions the NHL needs to ask before they expand replay review

Expanded replay review is coming to the NHL, in some form. The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported over the weekend that league leadership has already met to come up with a proposal for expanded review and will present it to the competition committee on Tuesday, with the GMs getting a look next week.

LeBrun reports that the recommendation will not include judgment penalty reviews, at least this time around. That will be disappointing to some fans, especially in the wake of controversial moments like Cody Eakin’s major and Tyler Bozak’s uncalled trip. But it would likely include a review of plays like Timo Meier’s hand pass, among other scenarios that aren’t covered by the current rules.

I’m with pretty much everyone else in believing that the NHL has a crisis on its hands. The officials have become the story of the playoffs and that’s never a good thing. I think the Eakin call was a bad one, as I said at the time. I think the hand pass was an obvious miss. And I think Bozak should have been given two for tripping on Thursday. Three big missed calls, which is three too many.

But now what?

You already know what I think about replay review for penalties. I’ve made my case that it would be a disaster, and I’ll keep banging that drum if only because in a few years when we do have it and everybody hates it, I won’t have to hear about how nobody could have seen this coming. And I think there’s a good chance that any sort of expanded review will be a mess too because it’s being implemented by the same minds that came up with the current offside and goalie interference reviews. Are you happy with how those have worked? Not many of us seem to be.

But here’s the key point: I don’t want expanded replay review to be a mess. I’d have no issue with a well-implemented replay system that makes the game better. I don’t want this league to screw up yet again. I don’t want us to all be sitting around in a few years, screaming at each other over freeze-frames of plays we barely even notice today.

For now, I’m accepting reality by conceding that I’m probably going to lose this argument and that significantly expanded review is almost certainly coming in some form. And yes, that will likely include penalties at some point, even if it’s not this year. The question now is whether it can be done in a way that doesn’t prove my warnings right. I’m not optimistic, but I don’t think the task is impossible.

But the first step is that we have to stop pretending this is easy. Stop saying “just get it right,” as if that hasn’t occurred to the league or its officials. We all told ourselves that offside review was going to be easy, but it hasn’t been – and that’s for a call that in theory should be black-and-white. We figured we were just going to catch the Matt Duchene plays and nobody could object to that. Instead, we took a play that nobody had a serious problem with since Leon Stickle in 1980 and turned it into something we all fight about every few days. And we did all of that without catching even one single Duchene-style play along the way. We now have teams with employees whose job it is to watch every zone entry for potential offsides, all for the purpose of taking perfectly good goals off the board because of a fraction of an inch that nobody even noticed in real-time. If we’d seen what was coming, nobody would have been in favor of this four years ago.

Why did the offside review system we got end up being so different than what we expected? Because we didn’t really think it through about how it would work. We saw a missed call or two, we wanted to fix it and we figured that replay review would be easy. We were all wrong. Let’s learn some hard lessons from that.

Sure, complain about this year’s playoff officiating. If your team is one of the ones who got screwed by those ridiculous calls, you have every right. Scream at the sky, stomp your feet, type in all caps. Get it all out of your system. And then let’s start asking some tough questions about what we’re actually going to do.

Here are five to get us started.

What should be the standard for changing a call?

There are two basic schools of thought here. The first is that replay is there to catch the obvious errors. Mistakes happen, officials get screened and we need a failsafe for the really big misses that are obvious to everyone except the guy with the whistle. In theory, that means replays should be rare and short because it takes one look to see that yep, Timo Meier committed a hand pass. You don’t even need the slow-mo part most times and certainly not the frame-by-frame breakdowns. Often, one look at real speed is all you need.

It goes without saying that the NHL doesn’t do it this way because reviews aren’t rare and they’re certainly not short. The league has gone with the other philosophy, which says that once you’ve triggered a review, you might as well try to make the best call you can. After all, you’ve already stopped the whole game, you’ve got all these fancy cameras and multiple angles and everyone is standing around. Might as well take the time to really figure out what happened. If that means that you only end up being 60 percent sure that you got it wrong, well, that can still be a call worth changing.

Neither of these approaches is necessarily right or wrong, but you have to pick one. And you have to communicate it clearly to fans. Today, the NHL lives in a weird middle ground where the rules say that the call on the ice is supposed to stand unless the evidence is overwhelming, but the reviews clearly aren’t called that way. (Did you ever see a view of the Gabriel Landeskog offside that showed with 100 percent clarity that his skate wasn’t touching the line? Me neither.)

Pick a lane, and communicate it clearly every time you have a review. No more middle ground.

One more thing. If your standard is that we’ll only change the calls that are obviously wrong, prepare to be surprised by what people think is obvious. That Bozak trip? Not a penalty to everyone’s eyes. Lots of people thought the Cody Eakin major was absolutely the right call. Few penalty calls are ever really obvious to everyone watching. Stuff like hand passes and pucks into the netting should be better, but even there we can run into grey areas or views that might seem inconclusive.

Again, this isn’t a reason not to try. But it is a reason to stop pretending that any of this is going to be simple, or that you’ll make everyone happy with the results.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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