This is a column which could have – and should have – been written a long time ago.
To be exact, right around the time we were one of the first to start beating the drum for the NHL to follow the NFL’s lead and allow for a coach’s challenge.
In theory, the concept was a sound one, an option to rectify an officiating error, particularly at a crucial time.
Generally, the results were positive. On a number of occasions, scoring plays (among other crucial instances) were corrected on video replay and there was a feeling of “well, we got this one right.’’
But as the years have passed, the system has been shown to have one major flaw: Not all plays are reviewable.
A classic example: Game 3 of the Western Conference finals between the San Jose Sharks and the St. Louis Blues.
In overtime, the Sharks’ Timo Meier gloved a bobbling puck and flipped it to a teammate, with Erik Karlsson eventually scoring the sudden-death goal.
The Blues howled in protest, claiming an illegal hand pass, but to no avail. Ex-Flyer Brayden Schenn smashed his stick off the glass in frustration after all four officials (two refs, two linesmen) said they didn’t see the violation.
And here’s the kicker: There was nothing the folks with the replay machines in Toronto could do about it because, according to NHL rules, the play was “non-reviewable.’’
If that public relations disaster sounds familiar, it’s because a similar scenario took place in the opening round between the Sharks and the Vegas Golden Knights.
With the Golden Knights leading, 3-0, midway through the third period of Game 7, officials handed down a five-minute major penalty to Vegas’ Cody Eakin for shoving Sharks captain Joe Pavelski, who was then hit by Paul Stastny, causing him to strike his head on the ice – resulting in a puddle of blood.
During the ensuing power play, the Sharks scored four goals and went on to win the game, 5-4, in overtime.
Replays showed Eakin making contact with Pavelski, but only for what should have (in the opinion of most observers) a minor penalty.
In fact, the NHL admitted its error the next day and issued an apology to Vegas ownership and management.
No such regret was expressed in the Meier incident, however.
To his credit, St. Louis coach Craig Berube told his players not to whine about this injustice and, sure enough, the Blues came out with a purpose on Friday night and won Game 4, 2-1.
Don’t think for a minute retribution for the Meier play wasn’t a factor in the Blues’ energy level as they tied the series.
So how does the NHL correct this flawed system?
Make all plays reviewable, including penalties.
Don’t take it from us. Take it from a football coach you’ve probably heard of. His name is Bill Belichick. You know, the guy with enough Super Bowl rings for all five fingers, plus one for the other thumb.
Belichick is the one coach who has had the courage to come out and recommend that all football plays – including penalties – be reviewable.
Why not? Referees and linesmen are human. Major league baseball and the NBA challenge plays in question. Why not hockey, the fastest moving and the hardest to officiate of the four major sports?
Belichick is a long-time proponent of making all calls subject to review and his opinion gained even more traction after the infamous “no pass interference’’ call in the Saints-Rams playoff game.
“To me, if you see a play that’s just a bad play, it’s just a missed call, I think as a coach you should be able to challenge that,” Belichick told CBS Sports. “And if you want to challenge holding, they can go back and look at it. If you don’t think it’s holding, then okay.”
There are a number of old-school general managers and coaches who fear additional replay will slow the game down but that sentiment is beginning to lose momentum in the sport.
“I’m not for more challenges, because so many of the plays will be replayed anyway, because of the officials, and scoring plays and their rules,’’ Belichick said. “If I have a timeout, I can’t challenge the play, but if I take a timeout, I know that during the timeout, they’ll look at it. And if they feel it needs to be. So it’s just kind of, well we all just want to get it right.”
That last line says it all: Get it right.
For any play.
Otherwise, why bother with replay at all?