Jim Kelley
Thursday May 15th, 2008

One of the things that come from being around for a long time, maybe too long a time, is a long memory about things people are always telling you to forget.

My friends, and a great many acquaintances who are not friends, have told me for the better part of nearly a decade to forget about the 1999 No-Goal debacle: the non-call that let Brett Hull and the Dallas Stars skate out of Buffalo with the Stanley Cup. Hull, with his foot clearly in the crease, was credited with what may forever be the most controversial goal in Stanley Cup history.

Believe me; I've tried to forget about that chaotic night. The problem is that the NHL keeps making calls -- or in Hull's a case, a non-call -- that make you wonder whether they are ever going to get things right.

The most recent case in point came on Wednesday evening at 7:34 of the second period when Detroit forward Tomas Holmstrom took a position just outside Dallas goaltender Marty Turco's crease. Holmstrom does what he does as well as any forward in the game; he positioned himself to screen Turco, aiding and abetting an apparent goal by Pavel Datsyuk.

Now, Holmstrom has a reputation for overdoing this kind of thing, but in this instance he never touched Turco and was not in the crease. It was a complete reversal from a similar play less than a minute earlier when Holmstrom backed in on the netminder to the point where anyone could have, and should have, expected a call of goaltender interference. It never came.

Regards the no-goal play that followed, one could make the argument that Holmstrom may have prevented Turco from freely moving out beyond his crease to play the shot. That argument would be weak if not totally laughable given what's gone on in the playoffs so far this spring, especially how the officiating team of Kelly Sutherland and Dan O'Halloran called the previous play.

The result: Datsyuk's apparent goal didn't count. Detroit didn't get the oft-important first tally, one that may have caused the Stars, down 3-0 in the series without holding a lead at any point, to give up hope. The Wings didn't get the goal that wasn't reviewed because, well, Sutherland said it never happened.

Is this any way to run a championship series?

Now, don't misunderstand. I get the fact that no one is perfect and the game happens at a pace that is perhaps too fast for any one or even two officials to completely monitor. I truly believe there is no more difficult game to officiate than an NHL contest, especially when one team is trying to close out its opponent and the opponent, on home ice no less, is doing everything humanly possible to avoid defeat. Things happen faster in hockey than anything you'll ever see on a baseball diamond, football field or basketball court. But that's not an excuse not to try harder to get it right.

The old saw in the NHL is that these things happen and, over the course of a game or a series, bad calls, like bad breaks, will even out. The problem is that's not true, especially when a controversial call or non-call comes in a second or third overtime, or when one team is facing elimination and the other is lining up to receive the Cup. Not much time for an "evening out" in situations like that, either by the course of play or the oft-used but never acknowledged "make-up" call.

It wasn't quit at that point for the Red Wings on Wednesday, but so what? If the object is to get it right, why can't the NHL find ways to make that happen? Wouldn't it make sense to have not only goals reviewed, but plays that appear to result in goals? Wouldn't it make sense for Sutherland to consult with O'Halloran or linesmen Derek Amell and Jay Sharrers to see if one or more of them had a better view or might have been in position to overrule his instantaneous call?

Or how about a red flag like NFL coaches use? Don't you think Wings coach Mike Babcock wouldn't have loved to toss the beanbag out and ask for a ruling from on high?

"Kelly is a good referee," Babcock said after the game. "He just blew the call. That's life."

That's life in the NHL, but why?

Why is it that the league can take five to eight minutes to examine every angle on a puck that may have been sent to the back of the net with "a distinct kicking motion" and still have an audience of a million-plus wondering if they all saw the same thing, but it can't take a moment to review a play where the referee seemed to be in the wrong place and perhaps made the wrong call on a player who appears to be in the crease?

It might take a little more time, but more time than it takes to put out the fires of controversy that follow? And would it really take any more time than it took to resolve that controversial high-stick goal in the Montreal-Philadelphia series? That took the hockey equivalent of ages and was never resolved to everyone's satisfaction.

If the idea is to get it right, shouldn't the NHL review not just the goals that on-ice officials say are goals, but ones they insist are not? The equipment (an overhead camera) is in place in every arena and the call on goaltender interference is a great deal easier to make than determining intent on a redirected puck or the exact angle of a stick that might be above the shoulder or above or below the crossbar.

Replay doesn't solve everything in sports, but refusing to use it in obvious cases of need doesn't do anyone any good, either.

One would think the NHL would have remembered that after Hull's no-goal.

The NHL is expected to move slowly in the case of Anaheim Ducks owner Henry Samueli. He, like Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, has been accused of fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission, a government agency charged with overseeing matters of stocks, bonds and the like.

An accusation is not a conviction (something the NHL has a great deal of experience with, given the many infamous team owners of far past and more recent eras). Essentially, Samueli is accused in a civil complaint of backdating stock options. He has stepped down from being in charge of Broadcom.Corp, the company that is involved in the options mess, but he's been allowed to stay on with the Ducks.

That's not to say the league will look the other way if Samueli is charged with any criminal wrongdoing. The league seized control of the Sabres after owner John Rigas was charged with bank and wire fraud in dealings that led to the collapse of Adelphia Communications. It also took over the Los Angeles Kings after owner Bruce McNall, who also happened to be Chairman of the NHL Board of Governors, was found to be a crook.

In that regard, the NHL owner conviction list is a rather lengthy one and, unfortunately, the league is an old hand at dealing with these kinds of situations.

If the Spokane Chiefs play in the finals of the Memorial Cup, hockey's junior championship in Canada, look for Baseball Hall of Famer George Brett to be among the crowd. George and his brother Bobby co-own the team.

Bobby is more the hands-on operator, but George has more than a financial interest. The two men purchased the club back in 1990. Their Chiefs won the Cup in 1991 and hosted the championship in 1998 when the club, coached by current Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, finished third.

The Bretts and Babcock are very close. Bobby Brett handled Babcock's contract negotiations when he broke into the NHL with the then-Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and is doing it again now that Babcock's deal with the Wings is coming to an end.

Don't look for Babcock to leave the Wings after this season. Whether they win or lose in the playoffs, he and GM Ken Holland have a solid relationship. The contract talks will deal with money, nothing else.

Two of the names you don't hear bandied about much for one of the NHL coaching vacancies are Dave King and Doug MacLean. Both are good coaches but seem to be on the "yesterday's news" list.. The irony is that King was MacLean's first coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Both were eventually fired (King by MacLean; MacLean by Jackets ownership) and both seem to be having a hard time getting noticed again.

King recently returned from a gig in Germany and has had success in both North America and Europe, but he's at home in Phoenix waiting for a call. MacLean guided the Florida Panthers to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final, an achievement, given the team's talent level at that time, of outstanding proportions, but he's working the analyst gig for a sports channel in Canada.

In a league that's always looking for the next new thing, King and MacLean are two of many qualified people who should be getting another shot.

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