Saturday, October 30, 2010

Does the NHL Need a Coach's Challenge?

colton orr leafs smash
Last Tuesday night the Leafs defeated the Panthers 3-1. What’s significant about this isn’t that the Leafs won (because they’ve actually been doing that with surprising regularity early in the season); rather it’s the manner in which they won that created a minor controversy.

Toronto tough-guy Colton Orr scored the game’s winning goal by blatantly interfering with the Panther’s goalie and deflecting a shot off his skate into the open net. Not only did the goal stand, but Orr wasn’t assessed a penalty on the play. Somehow the referees missed the call, which is surprising considering Orr could have driven a truck through the crease and looked less conspicuous.

The Panthers were justifiably furious with the referees over the blown call and after the game Panthers GM Dale Tallon said he was considering proposing a coach’s challenge rule at a November GM’s meeting. TSN conducted a poll of coaches and found that at least 14 would be in favour of introducing such a rule, indicating that there is at least some interest around the league.

To be properly introduced a coaches challenge rule would need to have serious limits. A coach’s challenge would certainly have to be restricted to one per game; otherwise frequent trips to the review booth would halt any flow to the game. This isn’t a problem for football because the game is already fragmented, but hockey is a dynamic game that can advance for long periods of time without a whistle.

Challenges would also have to come with deterrents, like how any challenge in football can result in a loss of timeout if there is not enough evidence to overturn a play. Likewise, if a coach in hockey issues a challenge and does not overturn the reviewed play they would have to forfeit at least a timeout, or possibly incur a two-minute penalty.

Any proposed challenge in hockey would also have to be limited to plays involving goals or non-goals, otherwise the possibilities for challenges becomes too large and has the potential to slow the game down. Letting coaches challenge missed penalties that don’t result in goals would be excessive. And if you let coaches challenge penalties do you let them challenge off-sides and icing as well? The emotional Leafs fan inside of me would love if Wayne Gretzky’s famous high-stick non-call in the 1993 Conference Final was reviewed, thus altering history, but, in reality, reviewing these plays is unreasonable.

Even after setting these parameters for a potential coach’s challenge it still seems unnecessary. For the most part, referees review any controversial goal anyways. The Orr situation is an isolated incident that doesn’t happen very often.

Ultimately, human error is a part of sports (until the rise of the machines). Hockey is so fast and many plays are uncertain (especially when we consider the ambiguous nature of blindside hits). Often, even when replayed in slow-motion, a play can still be questionable. Most of the time referees do an excellent job and are able to reasonably limit their errors, especially now that there are two of them per game. If that fails, the video review currently in place is an excellent control for when a referee misses a call.

Introducing a coach's challenge is excessive.


Anonymous said...

What about Hull's foot in the crease non-call that won the Stars the cup? Blatant miscalls that directly contribute to a win/loss might be rare, but they clearly can happen in the biggest situations. Don't you think implementing a coach's challenge is worth avoiding this type of thing?

Geoff said...

I don't think the coach's challenge would happen in hockey, unless there is another incident to trigger its consideration. I'm sure most of the league didn't give a second thought to Orr's goal/offensive lineman maneuver, but since it involved the Leafs it was over-analyzed in Canada and made into a much bigger deal.

If there was another such incident, in the Stanley Cup finals perhaps, then I could see some further discussion, but with the league focusing so much on speeding up the game, a coach's challenge would probably not be a likely addition anytime soon.

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