Growing Pains Put Heat on Coach’s Challenge Review Process

USATSI_9252226_154158418_lowresAs is usually the case when something new is introduced, there’s been a whole lot of talk about the coach’s challenge in these playoffs.

Goals have come and gone as a result, with offside rulings negating goals by Aaron Ekblad of the Florida Panthers and the addition of cameras along the blueline coming into play for the post-season. Going into Monday night’s NHL action, there were eight coach’s challenges in the playoffs so far – three of which negated a goal on the basis of an offside call.

The NHL put the coach’s challenge on the books last summer and it was used 266 times during the regular season, with 68 plays overturned.

Missed calls have often been the stuff of hockey and indeed of all professional sports and the NHL’s attempt to do something about it has been tested over the past several days.

The Panthers saw the coach’s challenge alter the momentum of the game, but teams will have to learn to adapt. Florida would’ve been up 3-0 on Sunday on Ekblad’s goal in the middle stanza, but the New York Islanders challenged it and the play was offside. The Islanders climbed back in the game and tied 3-3 by the end of the second period and they polished it off by a final of 4-3 in overtime.

The collapse could be blamed on the coach’s challenge, but it should be blamed on Florida’s inability to crawl back in the game – even if they thought the ruling was unfair.

Even Panthers coach Gerard Gallant knew the deal. “Our guy said it was offside a little bit,” he said after the game. “It was real close, but they challenged it and they won. There’s nothing you can do about it.”

But as with most things, there’s a lot of bickering. People tend to complain when calls don’t go their way and the coach’s challenge has been no different.

If there is a complaint to be made, it’s that the process takes so long. Some calls have narrowed the play down to millimetres and have taken up to 10 minutes to deliver, resulting in a diminishment of the game’s momentum in the process.

When Vladimir Tarasenko’s goal was called back on Thursday, the St. Louis Blues were on the precipice of a Game Two win and had seven minutes to go. But the lengthy review process took the shine off the apple and the Chicago Blackhawks hauled themselves back in the game for the 3-2 win.

“They get the OK from Toronto before the challenge and then we challenge and then there’s another seven or eight minutes,” Blues centre Paul Stastny said. “I think the game’s changed so much, I guess that’s the only downside to the challenges. You don’t mind them for certain reasons, but you want to get an answer in 30 seconds, a minute, two minutes, quick; almost like a quick timeout basically.”

Obviously, the National Hockey League wants to get the calls right. That’s the primary goal here, even if you think the league has a conspiracy against your favourite team. And getting things right can’t always be done in 30 seconds or a minute or two.

But sometimes, you can’t even get things right in 10 minutes and some calls will be eternally contested.

So what’s the answer?

The NHL will be assessing how well the coach’s challenges have been going in the post-season and they’ll have to work beyond the frothing thinkpieces to do it. The basis of the challenges is apt and there should be a mechanism by which to ensure the calls on the ice are the right calls. Technology can and should be used to make the game better, to make the referees more accountable.

And sometimes, the evolutionary process can take time – especially in the playoffs.

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