Home Top News Opinion: Five-alarm fire: NHL playoffs show officiating, review process need significant overhaul

Opinion: Five-alarm fire: NHL playoffs show officiating, review process need significant overhaul

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SportsPulse: Kevin Allen says that the series of officiating blunders in the 2019 NHL playoffs is proof the league must look into rule changes.
USA TODAY Sports

It’s no longer a question of whether the NHL should look at how the game is officiated. The question is: How could they not?

This year’s Stanley Cup playoffs has provided overwhelming evidence that significant changes are required.

What happened Wednesday, when the San Jose Sharks scored an overtime goal on a play that should’ve been blown dead on a hand pass, shows this is a five-alarm problem. That play (a hand pass) leading up to the goal is not on the list of reasons why a goal can be reviewed.

There have been far too many officiating misses or incorrect calls, too many teams suffering, too much NHL embarrassment.

As a starter, officials should be allowed to use replay on any scoring play. No longer should we hear broadcasters say after a goal, “This is not a reviewable play.”

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If we are going to use replay, let’s use replay. The aim is to get it right, and if it lengthens games, so be it. That’s collateral damage.

If the NHL’s “War Room” in Toronto believe referees missed something on any scoring play, they should notify the on-ice officials that a review is underway. If they determine conclusively that an infraction occurred leading up to that goal, it should be overturned regardless of the problem.

How much time will be added to a game? Couldn’t say. But having a better shot at getting it right should be the priority.

We shouldn’t have all of the tools to nullify a November goal because of a one-toe-over-the line offside call and not have the rules on our side to wave off a playoff overtime goal started with a blatant hand pass. (The Sharks’ win Wednesday gave them a 2-1 conference-final series lead over the St. Louis Blues.)

The right to review all goals should be adopted before the next season as the first step of the league’s officiating reformation project. 

The NHL should form a committee of former NHL referees, players, coaches and general managers, headed by someone with impeccable credentials to review how the game is officiated.

The committee can study video, interview people, review data and then make recommendations about how officiating can be changed to improve the game. The mandate would be to study how to use 21st-century technology the best way possible to assist the officiating crew.

A third referee in the booth to provide an eye in the sky? Chips in pucks? Altering the delay of game rule? A clearer definition of goalie interference? No consideration would be out of bounds.

Take a full year to study it. This needs to be an extensive study.

The committee findings would go to the general managers to add their opinion. Once a consensus is reached over possible changes, the league could ask the American Hockey League to experiment with the alterations for a season.

Experimenting in the AHL is necessary because we know that unintentional consequences often arise from rule changes.

Officiating will never be perfect. Goalie interference is always going to be a controversial judgment call. All infractions involve subjectivity. My cross check may be your “letting the boys play.”

But what we know for sure is we can do a better job officiating than we are in the 2019 NHL playoffs.

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