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PPP Reviews the Options to Fix NHL Officiating

But is it even broken, or are we at risk of making a bigger mess with any fix?

IAAF U18 World Championships - Previews Photo by Joosep Martinson/Getty Images for IAAF

Everybody is talking about officiating this playoffs, so we climbed on the bandwagon and talked over our thoughts on things zebra-related.

The highlights (or lowlights) of this playoffs include:

  1. The Leafs-Bruins out of control Game Two, which saw the officials involved lose out on working later rounds
  2. The penalty-filled first game of the Vegas-San Jose series (after a first period of “let them play”) that saw three misconducts handed out in the final minute
  3. The major penalty call in the Vegas-San Jose Game Seven that set the stage for Vegas ripping defeat right out of the jaws of victory with ruthless abandon, and caused those officials to be cut from the next round
  4. The Gabriel Landeskog line change/offside call in the Colorado-San Jose Game Seven that called back a goal
  5. The missed hand pass on the San Jose overtime winning goal against St. Louis

Is all of this just playoffs, random chance and the oddity of most of this happening to one team? Or is there a problem to be solved by having even more video review?


I think reviews of some kind are necessary, if only because they’re here to stay in the modern sports world and to discard them completely would give people even more reason to tell the NHL “this is why you’re fourth!”. That said, there should be limits. Something like, a play that affects scoring and happens no earlier than 60 seconds before the goal, and penalties that cause or might reasonably have been expected to cause an injury. For penalties I think a coach should be allowed to alert the officials at the next stoppage that they believe an infraction has occurred, or if a penalty is called at the time, the play should be reviewable in order to a) get the right player b) determine if it’s a major/minor/coincidental.


I used to think having reviews for anything to get calls right (as far as goals) is always better than not having them. I am still of the opinion that the league should always do everything they can to get calls right, specifically because losing a playoff game or series the way we’ve seen sucks so bad.

But the past two years have completely changed my stance on this, at least as far as the NHL is concerned. What’s the point in having reviews to get the call right if at the end of a review it doesn’t seem like they’re actually capable of getting their calls right or at least consistent? Their goalie interference and offside review decisions have been so baffling that you always see people on Twitter and even on broadcasts say “I don’t know how this review call will go” during a review, because they seem to call it one way on a Tuesday and the opposite way on a Wednesday.

If they’re going to make calls inconsistently anyways, might as well save us the time and just let the refs make the decision on the ice after a few seconds.


I do think the size of the screen they give the refs to review a call when it’s them doing the review is silly and should be expanded.


I start with this:

And then I work backwards to the day the NHL innocently decided to deal with the puck-over-glass trick as a delay of game penalty with zero tolerance. Zero tolerance was in vogue then. It set the table to say to the on-ice officials: your judgement is suspect. And you may say it is! And you’re right because everyone can fail at a judgement call, but the league on that daym and with many rules and interpretations since, told the referees they don’t have their backs. They can and they will hang the officials out to dry. All the misguided video review for offside plays did was double down on that philosophy that, for some things, we want absolute perfection with no false positives or false negatives, but for a host of other things, we will ignore the failure rates in all directions.

I know hating on the zebras is fun, and tinhat theories abound: They favour Canadian teams, you know. They hate the Leafs, and they love the Bruins. But if you’re the league making rules and giving direction to officials and you put them in a position where you accept and promote a separate set of rules for the playoffs (unless the puck goes over the glass, then we’re totally sure we need a penalty) but you publicly humiliate the guys who “let them play” too much in the Leafs-Bruins game two, well... you know, hate these guys all you want, but they are people who will react like people. The relationship there is broken.

So for me, this problem is about the institutional culture of the NHL, its structure, and the fact that the rules were written in the days before video review was a thing:


I wonder if I’m echoing anyone in the officials’ union when I say that whoever is reviewing it in the situation room should be an experienced member(s) of said union. Either refs who might otherwise retire because the on-ice part is too strenuous, or just make it part of the rotation. I have no idea who currently does the reviews.


They only added retired refs this year.

AT Fulemin

At this point I want a standard where

A) a rule violation that can be said to have a direct and proximate impacting the puck going in is reviewable

B) You can challenge on the basis of any rule you like of you think it had a direct impact on the goal, but as usual you lose the timeout and the chance to challenge again if you fail

C) any playoff OT goal is reviewable (I know they already are, but to be clear here)

The safety I’m counting on to limit infinite reviews is that I want “direct and proximate” to be a high bar. If your team had clean possession and could have cleared? No review. Something tangential to the play might have been a bit off? No review. I might tack on a minor penalty for failed reviews if another disincentive is needed but I would wait and see on that.

This is definitely potentially messy, but review is such a disaster already that I think this ultimately tightens the standard to overturn a goal on the ice while removing the weirdo standards for what is and is not reviewable. My desire would be that goals only be called back for clear errors that impacted results--i want a very limited standard of review.


I would be cool with all of that, but I want that review of the rules with an eye to two things: does this rule work with video review and how can we have fewer stoppages in the game.

The Landeskog incident is definitely not video review gone wrong, but a rule on shift changes that never took into account the removal of a referee’s judgement from the process within the offside review.


To encompass the IIHF situation (the goalie interference penalty plus overturned goal at the Women’s IIHF gold medal game), if a review disagrees with the call on the ice and the reviewer has the power to overturn or award the goal based on what they’re seeing, they should also have the power to overturn any penalty called on the play that goes counter to the “good goal” call (or the overturned goal).

If a penalty was called that would disallow the goal and the room is calling it good, that penalty shouldn’t exist. That situation was a farce on SO MANY levels.

AT Fulemin

Yeah that ought to be inherent in the conclusion the reviewers make.




I feel like a re-writing of goalie interference needs to happen there. Is disallowing a goal but not calling a penalty ever the right option? Or if there’s interference that disallows a goal, should the penalty be automatic? I think the disallowed goal has become the punishment when it shouldn’t be



AT Fulemin

Pretty much. Goalie interference is such a farce at this point you might need to throw out the whole rule and start over anyway.


Which leads right into the problem of education and understanding of the rules. There is no standard that insists hockey media people know the rules of the game. So social media instantly reacts with a host of false interpretations and confused media reports, and by the time the NHL issues the official explanation, the tinhats are on tight, and anyone reporting the NHL’s words is accused of spinning and being a shill. So, in that fetid atmosphere, the idea that there is this huge problem with the quality of reffing gets blown up. Refs will make harmless errors and they will make harmful ones. You can only reduce the impact, not erase all errors.

AT Fulemin

Yeah, I feel the same way. Taken from a distance I think most people want the really egregious errors overturned and then after that they care when it goes their team’s way and not otherwise. Try to get the very worst errors and forget the rest.


But the temperature of the NHL right now is for more review in a broad sense, and I think we will regret that if it happens.



This seems to be saying that I like the idea of there being judgement calls, I just want someone other than a referee doing it.

Or, in other words, I want your judgement to conform to mine.

I really have to ask people how many of them would enjoy their job if it was done that way, and I say this as someone who has worked in fields where review and checking is normal. But not some dude standing behind you and saying: NOPE!

Meanwhile, Kevin McGran was prescient:

So now at this point, with all these ideas floating around, what do you think about this:

1. Should the NHL put someone in every rink to stop play and say, you missed a call there, turn the clock back and replay with a power play in a way similar to how Toronto calls up the goal judge and says blow the horn if a goal is missed?

2. Should the NHL just expand the things that can be reviewed using the current coach’s challenge?

3. Should the NHL allow the on-ice officials to huddle around the iPad to confirm a call when they confer with each other?


Crowdsource the correct call! Twitter instant poll!


You joke, and yet...


Modern gladiator games.

AT Fulemin

1. No

2. Expand categories, but restrict to what’s obviously impactful

3. No


My answer to 3 is no and my answers to one and two I think are in what I’ve already said.


1. There are enough people already in the building with an eye on the game. Why not give the referees a closed circuit audio system so they can talk to Toronto and the off-ice officials and catch any naked-eye missed calls that way? Incorporate mics and earpieces in their helmets and equipment so they can talk to each other and get live updates. We don’t have to hear the audio, but it would help them both make calls in real time and better explain reviewed calls in the press releases after (as well as perhaps even some of those rare he-said-she-said controversies like with Rielly and with Wideman). It’s a lot better than pushing a landline through the glass.

One of the biggest problems I have with the league is how static it has been to technology. When we got the first wave of review rules, NHL teams made a quantum leap in the technology they carry on the bench. They have radio communication with secondary staff, iPads with live video of gameplay, and they’re constantly looking for chances to review. The NHL has chosen to not keep up with that increase in getting information and I think it’s made them look really bad. The fact that those blueline cameras take so long to get sent to the broadcasters so we’re stuck with watching inconclusive feeds for several minutes is a symptom of a bigger problem than just getting the calls right. Get more information so you can make decisions faster and explain those decisions to your fans faster.

2. Yeah, why not, they only get one a game anyway. I never liked the idea that some things are more illegal than others. Allow coaches to challenge everything in the book, and as long as it follows Fulemin’s proximity rule, it can be overturned. Also, cut out those offside review penalties. It never made sense.

3. Yes, always check. All four referees on the ice can be wrong at the same time, just look at the Karlsson goal. Just mic everyone up, it’ll shorten those conversations if you feel the reviews take too long.


One thing we haven’t talked about is are we saying to give the coaches unlimited challenges? Because if we aren’t, then there will be egregious mistakes not fixed because the coach has no challenge left.


Well that’s on them to make that choice, especially if the emphasis falls on fewer stoppages.


The refs are done for the season


When does the NHL officials CBA end?

Ah, looks like it ends at the end of this season.

Note that O’Hallaran (one of the referees from the Vegas-San Jose Game 7) is the President of the NHL Officials Association too.


The plot has thickened up like the best gravy.


Oh this is peak NHL:

Colin Campbell: “We knocked out our best referee– put it this way, not our best referee, but our most experienced referee. He’s a good referee. His career will come to an end at the end of next season. It’s Dan O’Halloran. He made a tough call. He’s done the most playoff games, the most finals of any referee working now.”

So O’Halloran was benched for the playoffs because he was the one who gave the Golden Knights the major penalty against the Sharks.

So now Campbell is laying blame for a bad call at the lack of experienced officials... who were kicked out of the playoffs for making bad calls.


The last word goes to Bob McKenzie:

No matter what we all think, if the Board of Governors wants more video review, not smarter video review, that’s what we’ll get. What could go wrong, indeed.

Tell us what you think. Is more video review the answer?