BOCA RATON, Fla. — What was scheduled to be a one-hour discussion lasted more than three hours as the NHL’s general managers tried in vain to fix the ongoing problem with goalie interference reviews.
By the end of the day, the only consensus was that there was none.
What one general manager thought was interference, another GM believed to be embellishment. Some wanted goalies to be tougher, while others wanted officials to crack down on the Corey Perrys and Ryan Keslers of the league who make their living on the outer edges of the crease. About the only thing anyone could agreed on was that there is no one-size-fits-all definition for goalie interference — just differing degrees of grey.
“It’s never going to be 100 per cent,” Toronto Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello said. “Whenever you have judgment, there’s going to be discrepancies and there’s going to be different opinions.”
That was sort of the whole point in Monday’s exercise.
Faced with criticism over a season of controversial calls, the NHL decided against advocating for change during Day 1 of these GM meetings. Instead, they put the 31 general managers on the hot seat by showing them a compilation of 14 past reviews and asked them to make their own calls.
Turns out they were no better at finding a consensus than the referees are.
“We looked at clips as general managers and we cannot agree on all of them,” Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin said. “Some of them, I’m looking and I’m like, ‘It could go either way.’ We have replays, different angles, and these referees have to make a call right away and then we start to blame them. I don’t think it’s fair.
“If you look at 31 coaches, they’re never going to agree on all of them. They have skin in the game.”
When the league played those same reviews for members of the media on Monday afternoon, the results were the same.
I was one of reporters who believed Auston Matthews’ disallowed goal against Colorado in January should have counted — while he made contact with goaltender Jonathan Bernier’s stick, it was while battling for the puck. But half my peers disagreed. I also happened to think James Neal’s slash on Connor Hellebuyck’s mask in February — Neal’s stick snapped in half on the play — should have not have been a goal. Again, the room was split, with half believing that the slash didn’t affect Hellebuyck’s ability to stop the puck.
“They’re not all easy and when it’s a judgement call and you apply video review to it, there’s varying opinions and varying degrees of difference,” Kris King, the NHL’s senior vice-president of hockey operations, said. “And I think that’s what we found out this morning.”
It was a way of not only illustrating that each play is as different as a Sidney Crosby backhand, but also that each person’s opinion is just as different. This is not a black-and-white determination of whether a puck crossed the line. It’s looking at a play and trying to figure out if there was contact and if so whether it impeded a goalie’s ability to stop the puck, with competitive athletes who are not always playing by the rules.
“Everything goes to the net now — pucks and players,” Colin Campbell, the league’s executive vice-president and director of hockey operations, said. “And secondly, goaltenders know that and we feel to a point there’s embellishment now. We even think it’s coached by the goaltender coaches.”
So what’s the solution? Well, there really isn’t one unless the league decides to adopt the International Ice Hockey Federation’s rule and make the crease completely off-limits, which the NHL doesn’t seem to have an appetite for. Under the current rule, mistakes are going to be made. More than that, there are going to be the kind of iffy plays that no two coaches can agree on.
And yet, while video replay is far from perfect, it is also not broken.
Of the 170 goaltender interference challenges this season, the league admitted there were about nine or so where the crew working in the video room in Toronto disagreed with the on-ice official’s final decision. At the same time, league officials were quick to point out there were 51 overturned calls. That essentially means video review corrected an initial wrong right 51 times.
If that sounds like a spin job, it’s sort of meant to be. The NHL knows goalie interference is not going away. If anything, it’s going to rear its ugly head once the playoffs begin and the games truly start to matter and fans’ passion ramps up.
“We’d love to be at 100 per cent, but it’s very difficult with judgement plays,” said Stephen Walkom, vice president and director of officiating. “Almost everybody out there gets it. But if it goes against you — as a coach or a manager or as a player — you’re not going to say, ‘Boy oh boy, those guys did a nice job on that goal that counted against us.’ Nobody’s going to say that.”
• Email: [email protected] | Twitter: @Michael_Traikos