Should the NHL Change the Coach’s Challenge? Offside and the Capitals Power Play Entrance

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opinion The 2015-2016 NHL season saw a variety of changes. Coach’s challenges, 3-on-3 overtime, expanded video review; the Board of Governors approved all of these. But for next season, which of these rules, and others, should stick around? While Sean McIndoe believes that the NHL won’t change anything simply because it’s the NHL, there is one modification the league should consider for this upcoming season.

The offside coach’s challenge needs to be adapted. Rules purists will argue that the call should be correct 100% of the time, and typically they would be right. While it’s clear that an obvious flouting of the rules (as illustrated in the video below) should be reversed, in most instances this challenge rewards a team’s lack of defensive effort due to a technicality.

For example, if a defensive team cannot retrieve the puck after more than 10 seconds, including pinning the puck possessing player against the boards, then maybe that team deserves to be scored on.

Why should this rule matter to Caps fans? Because the Capitals’ power play entrance relies on neutral zone confusion when crossing the blue line. Thanks to some fantastic work by Arik Parnass and his Special Teams Project, we know the Capitals use a single swing zone entrance with John Carlson quarterbacking, Ovechkin and Oshie skimming the blue line, and Marcus Johansson receiving the entrance pass from Nicklas Backstrom. That is a packed blue line with very little room for error, and if any of those 3 players are a hair off in their timing, that is a coach’s challenge waiting to happen. In fact, it has happened and it did not favor the Capitals, as shown in the video below.

Currently, no one has offered a solution to this problem. But rugby, an equally bruising and exhilarating sport, may offer the one the NHL needs: impose a time or plays limit to validate the coach’s challenge. Rugby establishes this time line by stating that 2 phases of play constitute the time frame with which to award or disallow points. In rugby, the argument is that an infraction that had no impact in the progression of play, let’s say 18 phases prior, should not be the call that reverses a try (score).

With the rule as it stands in the NHL, a team could be in the offensive zone for 5 straight minutes and still have their goal reversed due to an offside challenge. As long as the puck does not exit the zone, the goal could be reversed. For the NHL, perhaps after 5 seconds elapse or when a defensive player engages the offensive player twice, a time line would be created for reversing the call. This would force coaches to hold their team accountable on defense, while keeping the thrill of the coach’s challenge and video review.

Additionally, the referees need better equipment to determine these calls. Should these calls be reviewed at the war room in Toronto? Building viewer suspense from referees reviewing calls on a Nintendo DS sized screen makes for riveting television. But for practical purposes, the war room is the crown jewel of video review, and many leagues aspire to emulate it. Just ask Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk for his opinion whether or not Toronto should be involved in these calls.

Rugby also provides a solution for this. During a match, the official will call for a TMO (Television Match Official) to review and refer to the jumbotron for guidance. At this point, the official asks whether or not to award the try (score). This is rugby’s version of the war room in Toronto, and it works the way it was designed.

The NHL is worried that scoring rates are at historic lows. It’s true that they are, but the NHL is only blaming advances in goaltending for the decrease. Never mind trying to shrink goaltenders pads or increase the size of the net to up scoring in a league that claims to have a scoring problem. The coach’s challenge to the offside rule alone has cost the league 37 scoring opportunities in the regular season. In the first round of the playoffs, the challenge was used 3 times in 3 days, with a reversal rate of 66%. Yes, that sample size is small. But if one of these calls happened in a Stanley Cup Final game to determine a winner, people would be hysterical. We’ve seen that movie before, and it ended up changing the rules of the game.

The rugby rule could solve both these problems. By establishing a hard time line and using the jumbotron or the war room in Toronto to review these calls, fans and the NHL both get what they want: more goals, less rules minutia, and the war room duking it out with the referees. While I doubt the NHL would take this exact approach, it is worth considering instead of holding steadfastly to tradition.

By Julia Karron


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5 Responses to Should the NHL Change the Coach’s Challenge? Offside and the Capitals Power Play Entrance

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