Monday, April 18, 2016

Offiside? Can the NHL Adjust?

As I write this, the Blues are up 2-1 in their playoff series with the Blackhawks after an inspiring 3-2 victory Sunday afternoon in Chicago. Many of us who follow the Note are thrilled with that, but also thinking it could easily be a 3-0 series lead if things had gone a bit differently on Friday night at Scottrade Center.

The Hawks' 3-2 win Friday was particularly tough to swallow after it appeared the Blues had taken a 2-1 lead late in the game. Appeared is the operative word. Hawks' coach Joel Quenneville challenged the goal as offside, and won, after a long video review. Replays showed Jori Lehtera crossing the blue line with his trailing skate appearing to be a bit off the ice at that critical moment. (see photo above) Lehtera went on behind the goal and fed the puck to Vladimir Tarasenko for what Blues fans celebrated as an apparent game-winning tally. (Of course there was still some time to play...but, you know.)

It is already shocking to see how many instances of video challenge on offside plays have occurred in the playoffs across the league. And in reading's Eklund's thoughts on the Blues game, I have to agree that some kind of sanity must be brought to these situations; especially when a ruling goes a long way to determining the outcome of a game. There can be no disputing the fact that the ruling was correct, and that video showed it to be, based on the rules as currently written. But did Lehtera really "cheat" or attempt to hide behind the defense in order to gain an unfair advantage? Gaining an unfair advantage in an attempt to make a play is what the offside call in hockey, soccer, football etc. is all about isn't it?

On the play in question in the Blues game, Lehtera entered the zone and went all the way behind the goal before passing out to #91 for the goal. The defenseman on duty at the blue line for Chicago not only was even with Lehtera at the time he entered the zone, but chased him all the way back behind the goal on even terms. The goal didn't come as a direct result of Lehtera's skate being a fraction of an inch off-side. Someone else scored it after a defensible passing play. Up until the coach's challenge was implemented, that was as good a goal as you're going to see.

You can't blame a coach in that situation for taking a gamble that anything close is offside and asking for a review. Sometimes they'll win...sometimes not. But are we unnecessarily delaying the game for these reviews?...and also unnecessarily overturning what just about everyone who knows anything about hockey thinks is a good goal? Again...did Lehtera really gain an advantage by having his skate a fraction of an inch off the ice? As Eklund said in his piece, referring to what he called the disaster in St. Louis, "Did the missed call have anything to do with the goal?" 

It appears to me that the video replay which everyone in the building, and at home, sees is in most cases subject to the interpretation of the officials anyway. Why not just let the on-ice officials rule on what they see in real time and be happy with it? A player being offside should be blatant to have a real effect on the ensuing play. The video review also takes the human element out of officiating, particularly on this type of call. And then it re-injects a different human element into the final ruling that many won't agree with anyway; particularly if it's so close that it takes ten minutes to come to a decision. So why put up with the protracted delays if fans are eventually going to come away frustrated and confused by the eventual decision? (By the way, when the officials announce the final ruling on any of these reviews, the NHL needs to take a cue from the NFL and have the officials explain the call as thoroughly as possible.)

For Blues fans, the overturned call on Friday night was akin to getting exactly the toy you wanted from Santa Claus on Christmas morning only to have your big brother break it before you could play with it. Is that good for the sport? Was the sport better before the coach's challenge on offside? The current policy, with video assistance, was enforced correctly. But the current policy needs to be re-evaluated so that the spirit of the offside call is what fans get....and they get it in a reasonable amount of time. I'm hoping the next time the NHL general managers get together to talk about rules they will put this one at the top of their list.

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