And then, they had the lead taken away. Fifteen seconds before Subban scored, it was determined that Filip Forsberg had taken the puck into the Penguins’ zone offside, negating Subban’s goal and sending the Pittsburgh crowd into delirium. The buoyant Penguins used the bounce from the disallowed goal to quickly go up 2-0, adding a Mattias Ekholm own goal with 15 seconds left to take a three-goal lead to the first intermission.
The internet, predictably, went into hysterics. Just hours after Gary Bettman declared at his state-of-the-league press conference that replays “are working exactly as they were intended to,” here was a black-and-white exhibit of reasonable people reaching different conclusions, and that judgment call had a direct impact on the outcome of the first game of the league’s showcase event.
So, what should the NHL’s response be? We debate whether offside reviews have a place in hockey, and you’re invited to chime in with your own opinion in the comments. The two sides were written without either person reading the other’s before writing their own take.
Brett Finger: Fire offside reviews into the sun
The implementation of the coach’s challenge ahead of the 2015-16 season was met with mixed reviews. Many feared that the challenges would slow down games to a halt, be abused by coaches and that a matter of half an inch would decide the outcome of a game.
Unfortunately, all those fears have been realized.
What started as a new way to get more calls right has quickly turned into nothing short of a ridiculous hindrance to the pace of the game. One time each game, a coach has the right to challenge a goal call. It’s been abused time and time again and it’s something that has to be fixed.
The Subban overturned goal is just one example of the joke that is the current system for reviews. The fact that half an inch of the puck’s location entering the zone can affect so much hurts the game instead of improving it, especially when the alleged offsides play can come 30 seconds or longer before the goal is actually scored. At that point, if a team controls the puck in the zone for that long, they’ve earned that half-inch back. They deserve the goal if they score one.
Beyond the tedious technicalities of whether or not a puck is just barely behind the player entering the zone, NHL coaches have found a way to exploit the system, using it as a second timeout in many cases. This can’t be a viable use for coaches anymore. We’ve seen Bill Peters do this more times than any coach in the league. He never gets the goal reversed, but he gets the extra minute, sometimes even two or three minutes, to regroup with his team before the goal is inevitably confirmed.
You can’t blame the coaches. It’s a simple exploit of a poorly executed system in the league. They’d be foolish not to do it, but the league needs to take initiative and remove this from the equation.
There are many ways to cut down the amount of reviewed offside plays. If the defending team gains possession of the puck and then fails to clear it, they are no longer allowed to challenge the offside play. If the offensive team holds the puck in the zone longer than a specified amount of time, say 30 seconds, then the defending team can no longer challenge the play.
The success rate of offside reviews through the end of November this past season was 32%, according to Scouting the Refs. While a third of these goals were disallowed, it comes back to the matter of an inch or less in many cases.
To make matters worse, the referees reviewing the play on the ice are practically watching VHS tapes of the play on their iPad mini-sized screens.
If the league is going to keep the offside challenge, they need to not only rework the system almost completely, but also give the officials on the ice the equipment necessary in order to make the right call. If they’re not given the right resources to make the correct call, then it’s all just a big waste of time.
So far, the offside review system has failed. It needs a total retooling to eliminate these issues and become a viable option for the league.
Brian LeBlanc: Keep reviews, with some tinkering
First off, a reminder of why we’re here in the first place: this play cost (ironically) the Predators a game in 2013.
I’ve seen arguments that replay should only be used to overturn egregious errors like the screen shot above. Come on; the rule is the rule. There’s no exception in the NHL rulebook for not whistling an offside as long as the puck is within some arbitrary distance of the blue line. Why should a replay be any different?
Now, if you want to argue that the rule itself is an anachronism, the way that Jeff Marek does on the Marek vs. Wyshynski podcast anytime one of these controversies comes up, and that the solution is to just get rid of the blue line altogether and eliminate offsides, I’m fine with that. It’s the hockey equivalent of baseball lowering the pitcher’s mound: a fundamental change in the game, but one that would become totally normal within a few weeks.
But as for the argument that the NHL should just eschew replay altogether and go back to allowing for the human element and dealing with screwups when they happen? Get real. It’s 2017. Twitter and DVRs are things that exist. Replay reviews are cumbersome and take too much time, but at least they provide closure. If that Duchene play happens in overtime of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, and there’s no recourse available to fix an obvious mistake, can you imagine the outcry?
If baseball can use automatic report cards to grade umpires’ calling balls and strikes – possibly the biggest judgment call in sports in terms of fundamental impact on the game – then hockey can use replay to figure out if a play is offside or not.
I’m fine with changes to the process. The reviews take too long, and if they want to put a clock on the process, saying that you have to see conclusive evidence to overturn the play within 60 or 90 seconds or else the play stands, that’s fine. I’m even OK with the idea I saw posited Monday where a statute of replay limitations ends if the defending team possesses the puck, as happened when Ron Hainsey took the puck and then promptly turned it back over.
I’ll also say that the position of a skate, whether in the air or not, needs to be clarified. Extend the blue line to the ceiling, like a foul pole, and if any part of the player’s body is onside – even if it’s in the air – then the play should be ruled onside. With cameras at the blue line in every rink now, that’s an easy fix that gets rid of the fingernails that currently rule plays offside.
In some quarters I’ve heard it argued that the penalty for a failed challenge should be something more impactful than a lost timeout; a two-minute delay of game penalty, for example. But if you go down that road, it’s like getting rid of challenges altogether. No coach is going to risk having to kill a penalty if there’s no guarantee the league will get it right.
So, yes, there is tweaking that needs to take place. But – God help me – I agree with Bettman. Offside reviews, annoying as they are, need to stay.