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NHL coach's challenge rule may prove to be blessing and curse

The NHL's proposed coach's challenge will challenge coaches, too.

Get ready for a flurry of yellow flags: the NHL is on the verge of getting a coach’s challenge.

The long-awaited/longer-debated tool was the chief recommendation to emerge from the NHL/NHLPA competition committee meeting in New York City on Thursday. From the joint statement issued by the NHLPA and the NHL:

The Committee recommends that a Coach’s Challenge be adopted for expanded video review for goals that may have resulted from (1) goaltender interference and (2) offside plays. The video review process and all decisions on goals where goaltender interference may have occurred will be the responsibility of the Referees at ice level, in consultation with the NHL’s Situation Room in Toronto; similarly, goals that may have resulted from an offside play will be reviewed and determined by the on-ice officials, in consultation with the NHL’s Situation Room in Toronto. In order for a coach to make a challenge, the team must have its timeout available.

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This is a good thing. A very good thing. Will it drag out the occasional game by a couple of minutes as the officials look for the perfect replay or haggle over interpretations? Sure, but since the goal of everyone involved is to make the right call, taking the time to ensure they arrive at that conclusion seems like a reasonable price.

It’s also good to hear that the decisions in both cases apparently will remain in the hands of the on-ice officials. No one feels worse about a blown call than those guys, so giving them a second chance to examine a controversial play outside the constraints of real time ensures you’ll get the proper result 99% of the time.

Also worth noting: A league source says the challenge can be used to look at goaltender interference situations that resulted in a no-goal call, not just to reverse a goal call. That’s a key distinction since it seems that these challenges could be initiated on those grounds as often as any other.

Need an example? Take a look at this play involving the Lightning and Canadiens:

It was immediately ruled as no goal on the ice, but upon review it sure looks as though it should have been a goal, right? This is exactly the sort of situation where this recommendation should enhance the integrity of the game.

There are some questions still waiting for answers, though. Take the requirement that a team still have its timeout in order to issue a challenge. Presumably it is forfeited in the event the challenge is unsuccessful, but will it have to be surrendered if it is successful? Will there be an additional delay of game minor assessed on failed bids as has been suggested in the past? Will there be additional timeouts rewarded or the rules amended in some other way to account for playoff overtime?

And while this will be a valuable tool for coaches it could end up causing more problems than it solves, or at least it could open them up to more criticism. Heaven help the guy who hoards his timeout for a possible challenge and fails to buy his exhausted players a breather on a late icing or conversely uses his challenge for an event early and then is caught without a timeout at a critical juncture late in the game.

A challenge may make the game better, but it won’t make it any easier.

The committee also made a recommendation to change the current face-off rule to force the center from the defensive-zone team to put his stick down first.

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This is another one of those minor tweaks that may end up having little-to-no effect on the game but is certainly worth trying. As it stands now, the visiting team’s center must have his stick down first in every situation. That will remain the order of the day for all neutral-zone draws. But this new rule will create an advantage in the circle for the attacking team that hopefully will translate into more offensive opportunities. At least that’s the theory. It may end up leading to more scrums in the circle as defensive teams focus on not losing the draw rather than trying to win it, but it’s worth a shot.

One subject the committee tackled, but couldn’t agree on, was a change to the current overtime format geared toward reducing the number of games that are decided via the shootout.

A format that includes some time spent playing three-on-three has been a hot topic of debate for years now. Some love it (we see you with your hand up, Ken Holland). Others, particularly on the NHLPA side, have concerns that it will place a heavier burden on top players, especially if OT is extended to seven minutes (or longer) by tacking three-on-three time to the end of the current five minutes of four-on-four. And some, believe it or not, actually like the shootout the way it is.

That doesn’t mean the concept is dead. According to the NHLPA statement, the two sides “will continue discussions in the coming weeks on potential changes with the intention for the Committee to make a decision on overtime later this month.” In other words, they'd still like to take a position before the Board of Governors meet to discuss and accept or reject the entire slate of recommendations, but there are no guarantees. My gut on this? It'll be tabled, again, until next season.

Still, a pretty successful get-together for this group, one that sets the table for some lively debate, and maybe better hockey, next season.

The numbers game


• Conn Smythe Trophy favorite Duncan Keith of the Blackhawks leads all skaters in total ice time (566:19—nearly 72 minutes more than Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman, who ranks second) during this year’s playoffs and is the first defenseman to record 17 or more assists in one postseason since Brian Leetchhad23 for the Rangers in 1994. Keith’s 19 points are the most by any blueliner in a single postseason since 2006 when Chris Pronger of the Oilersproduced 21.

• Five of the last seven Stanley Cup Final games dating back to 2013 have been won by a team that mounted a comeback.

• The last two Stanley Cup champions (Kings and Blackhawks) actually trailed for more time in their respective series than they led.


• Has new Bruins GM Don Sweeney come to a decision about the future of Claude Julien? And if he’s sticking with the status quo, assistants and all ... what took so long?

• In hindsight, the investment in the Penguins has never really paid off for team owners/potential sellers Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle.

• Forget about upgrades to the first line and the defense. What the Vancouver Canucks really need is a master of feng shui.

• Here’s why everyone is concerned that the NHL’s salary cap might inch down next season.

• Sorry to hear that the legendary Herb Wakabayashi has passed away. Our condolences to his family.

• And finally, a long overdue honor for Bobby Mac. Congrats to the best in the biz.