Tuesday, June 11, 2019

How I’d fix the NHL’s replay review system

I’ve spent a big chunk of the last few months writing about replay review. It’s been unavoidable, because the officiating has become the dominant story of the 2019 postseason, and there’s a growing cry for the league to do something. For many, that something is more replay review, for everything from hand passes to majors and match penalties to (most recently) even tripping minors.

I don’t necessarily agree, at least with some of the more extreme proposals. I’ve laid out my case for why I think replay review for penalties would be a disaster. I’ve outlined the five hard questions the league needs to ask before they go any further down the replay path. I’ve tweeted about it. Lord, so many tweets.

So I’ve made my point. Some would say I’ve beaten it into the ground. But here’s the thing: One of my pet peeves in life is people who complain about everyone else’s ideas without ever saying what they’d do instead, and I’m getting dangerously close to that territory. Anyone can stand on the sidelines and say “this is broken.” At some point, you should be willing to offer up some ideas for how to fix it.

This feels like the right time to do that, since we’re told Gary Bettman will present his plan to the competition committee today. Maybe my ideas are better. Maybe they’re worse. Maybe they’re exactly the same, and Bettman will tweet the Spiderman pointing meme at me and I’ll transform into a corncob.

The point is, I’ve done enough complaining. It’s time to be part of the solution. So here’s my 10-point plan for expanding and also shrinking but mostly fixing replay review. Read it over. Pick it apart. Agree with it, or don’t. Tell me why it is in fact me who has been the idiot all along. Fair’s fair. Here we go.

Step 1: Expanded review for black-and-white calls

We’ll start with the change we can probably get almost everyone to agree on. We’ll expand replay review to include hand passes, like that Timo Meier overtime miss. Today, those can only be reviewed if the puck is batted directly into the net. Now, we’ll be reviewing them anywhere along a play that leads to a goal.

We’ll also add pucks that are directed with a high-stick, which is the same category of play. And while we’re at it, we can include the review of pucks that hit the netting, which we learned this postseason is already on the books but in an extremely limited way. That gets expanded here.

The review would come from the league war room, which is already responsible for automatically reviewing just about everything goal-related, like kicking motions and pucks crossing the line. It’s a little bit of extra work that will occasionally add a few seconds of extra time before we can face off and get back to playing, but it will be worth it.

That all feels like common sense. Those additional reviews would be rare, but they’d be important, and we should be able to do them in a way that avoids any controversy.

Of course, careful readers will notice that there’s one detail we have to nail down first …

Step 2: Define what “leading to a goal” means

This was one of my tough questions from this post. What does it mean for a play to lead to a goal, and where do you draw the line? Is it based on a certain number of seconds? Distance from the net? The puck staying in the zone? Some touchy-feely “we’ll know it when we see it” sense of intuition?

Not in our new system. For us, a play leads to a goal if the defending team never regains possession. If they touch and control the puck at any point after the missed infraction, then we don’t worry about it. You had your chance to make a play, you can’t blame the miss anymore.

In other words, our message here to the players is straightforward: Keep playing hockey. If there’s a glove pass or the puck hits the netting or whatever else, don’t stop and wave your arms around like a tattling first-grader. Keep playing. If the miss causes a goal, we’ll take care of it with replay. Otherwise, keep doing your job. A missed call earlier in the shift doesn’t give you a magical do-over on everything else that happens afterward.

Admittedly, we’re introducing a sliver of subjectivity here, because possession can be dicey. But we already have a relatively common play where officials need to make this kind of judgment: Delayed penalties. We’ll use the same definition here.

Note that simply making contact with the puck isn’t possession, so Meier’s hand pass still falls under this expanded review even though the puck deflected off Jay Bouwmeester’s leg. Our expanded rule would also have waved off the Blue Jackets’ goal in Boston, because the Bruins never got the puck back after it hit the netting. But this play from a few years ago where over a minute of game time and multiple possessions go by while Jack Edwards has a meltdown? Get out of here. Keep playing hockey.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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