By Stu Hackel
The NHL's video review procedures have taken a few hits this season and the latest will sting a bit as it may have sealed the end of the Flames' playoff hopes. They're not happy about it in Calgary, and with postseason spots at stake and each goal meaning so much, the seemingly annual grousing about the review system has arrived.
But in this case, the system functioned exactly as it should, even if it appears to some that it failed and the league got the call wrong.
With just over five minutes left in the second period on Wednesday night in Calgary and the Flames trailing 2-1, Tom Kostopoulos skated in on the Ducks' goal and shoveled a backhander into the crease. A wild scramble ensued. The puck popped up in the air and blooped to the other side of the crease. Matt Stajan, standing just to the side of the net, nudged it toward the goal with his shoulder, almost like a soccer player heading the ball, and it landed in the crease where Tim Jackman took a swipe at it with his stick.
Anaheim goalie Ray Emery dove with his catching glove extended to deflect the puck upwards toward the goal post, which it seemed to have hit before bouncing down and away from the goal line. It appeared to land on Emery's blocker as he was falling backwards into the net. At that point, the controversy began.
The Flames celebrated, convinced the puck had landed on Emery, who carried it into the net and tied the score. The referee, Gord Dwyer, was right at the back of the net and had as clear a view as anyone, but he lost sight of the puck and did not signal that the goal had been scored. This one was going upstairs.
The review was lengthy and provided time for announcers on both telecasts, TSN and Fox Sports West, a chance to look at the play repeatedly, follow the flight of the puck and inflate the pictures. The TSN crew was certain it could see the puck, through the mesh on top of the net, resting on Emery's arm.
Each crew commented that it had detected the glove of Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf move over Emery's arm, in the area of the blocker, and speculated that he may have gloved the puck and slyly moved it out of the net, although Ducks announcer Brian Hayward reasoned that Getzlaf was actually trying to grab Emery by the shoulder and keep him from falling with the puck backward into the net.
During the review, TSN's cameras showed the Flames' management team with worried looks on its faces and announcer Ray Ferraro remarked, "When you're part of the team in review you can make yourself believe just about anything when you're watching it. Our look seems like it would fall Calgary's way."
The replay officials in the building and in Toronto saw all the angles of the play from both telecasts, and when the ruling came down, they apparently could not track the flight of the puck after it hit the crossbar. The view that convinced TSN's crew that the puck was in could be questioned because the sleeve of Emery's sweater has black on it in the area where the puck was purported to be resting. With no conclusive evidence to overrule the call on the ice, the goal was not awarded.
The play resumed and the Ducks scored the eventual game-winner before the second period ended -- on Lubomir Visnovsky's slap shot through a screen. Then in the intermission, Getzlaf was a guest on TSN's telecast:
Getzlaf denied any wrongdoing (sending Twittering fans into a rage and causing "Getzlaf" to trend for a while; most of those tweets were not particularly complimentary).
Then the TSN panel of James Duthie, Aaron Ward, Darren Dreger and Bob McKenzie (the video at the top) had at it and made some interesting points that they've raised before. The most salient one is that if common sense dictates that the puck was in the net -- even if it can't be clearly seen on replays -- the goal should be allowed.
In this case, the panelists believed, if you lose sight of the puck but can see where it was, and see Getzlaf's hand entering the picture and then surmise that he used some prestidigitation to whisk it out of the net, the goal should be allowed. Everyone knows it's in, you just can't see it, they say. So allow it.
The same "common sense" situation has arisen before this season. It probably happens once a month, when the procedure may not get the call right because the review can't reveal the puck at a critical instant that allows the NHL to overturn the decision on the ice. There was the game in January, when the Coyotes' Martin Hanzal was credited with this goal...
... because replay officials could not see the moment at which the puck connected with his stick. The on-ice ruling that the stick was below the crossbar was upheld because the best angle only showed that contact was obscured by Radim Vrbata, who had skated in front of the camera. Common sense indicated that Hanzal's stick was too high when contact was made because the Kings' defender, Matt Greene, is 6-foot-3 and he swipes at the puck with his hand at shoulder level, which has to be more than four feet above the ice surface. But that's considered an extraneous fact and wasn't part of the review's calculations.
In February, the Blue Jackets' Derek McKenzie was denied a goal in Nashville on this play:
The ruling on the ice was no goal, and replay could not determine that the puck had crossed the line because the apron of the netting obscured any view. It sure seems as if the Predators' Colin Wilson is fishing the puck out of the net, and common sense dictates that it was in. But what Wilson is doing with his stick doesn't conclusively demonstrate that the puck completely crossed the line, so this, too is an extraneous fact.
Every goal is reviewed, but there are around 400 reviews each season where the call on the ice is questioned and subject to being overturned. Perhaps one a month is of this very questionable variety. And at every GMs meeting, including the one earlier this month, the managers are asked if they are in favor of having the review officials guess on a goal/no-goal decision if they can't actually see the critical moment. And the response is always no. The aim is always to get the call right, but you have to be able to prove it's right, not assume it is.
The problem with the "common sense" approach is this: The NHL doesn't want to be in the position of defending a call based on assumptions, and it probably shouldn't be. What could the league say to Predators' GM David Poile and coach Barry Trotz who would argue, "Where does the video show the puck in the net? Show it to me." Or the Ducks' Bob Murray and Randy Carlyle. If you can't see the puck, there's simply no hard evidence in these cases that the call should be changed, even though it sure looks like it should be.
The puck entirely crossing the line has always been the definition of a goal, and so the criteria for determining them through video review becomes the same as the referees use: The on-ice officials must actually see the puck entirely cross the line, even though there are limitations posed by impediments to their view, like bodies, the goal frame, and netting.
There will, of course, be cries for putting some sort of computer chip in the puck and sensors on the goal line and frame but, as Pierre McGuire mentioned on Thursday morning on Ottawa Radio Team 1200 (audio) technology has not yet advance to the point where the NHL can do that without compromising the integrity of the way the puck moves, not to mention how much each one would cost if it had some sort chip. It's not as if the system hasn't taken advantage of the advances in technology over the 20 years it has been in effect. It has kept pace with the game's increasing speed, using HD TV signals, digital technology and better camera angles, which have all worked to make the system more accurate, even if it's not perfect.
Duthie is right: the burden of proof for determining a goal is quite high. You've got to know it's in for certain. The level of proof will probably will stay that way.