Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Was it indisputable? Refs and "war room" in Toronto creating controversy

Published by, 5-30-2017

The Stanley Cup Finals got off on the wrong foot yesterday as a rather lengthy delay negated a goal by the Nashville Predators. The play in review had Nashville's Filip Forsberg accepting a pass while straddling the Pittsburgh Penguins blueline with the linesman parked right behind him, which is where he should have been as he looked for a possible offside. While straddling the line Forsberg took the pass and it seemed as if his right skate was in the air before the puck crossed the blueline. The linesman on the play did not indicate an infraction, the play continued and PK Subban lit the lamp for the first goal of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs. However, there was a review of the play on a coaches challenge and the goal was overturned. (to view a nice angle on the play at the blueline, NBC ProHockeyTalk has it right here.)

The NHL mandates that indisputable evidence must be presented to overturn a call. Last night officials determined that Forsberg's skate was in the air when the puck crossed the blueline therefore making him offside and thus disallowing the goal.

The only problem we should have with that call is that it's not indisputable.

Circumstantially we can assume that Forsberg's skate was up in the air through body positioning and the natural movement of a skater. But how could one say with 100% certainty that a thin, white blade with a sliver of silver against white ice as a backdrop was or was not on the ice?

You can't. Not from the camera angles we were given.

Preds coach Peter Laviolette told reporters after the game that ""The impact of that moment, and the chain of events that happened after that—the penalty kills, I think, changed the course of the game." In other words Toronto and the officials changed the course of the game as momentum clearly shifted and Nashville soon found themselves down 3-0 instead of bein up 1-0.

There were other factors in the eventual Predators loss, like the aforementioned penalty kills which involved the Pens scoring on a five-on-three and Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne being unable to corral two pucks he should have stopped. And no one could predict the outcome if the goal had counted. But, for as much as the NHL wants to get things right via replay, if 100% certainty is the rule, just like a skate in the air is a definitive offside, then keep it at that.

If the NHL and their officials don't subscribe to that notion whole-heartedly, it leaves the door open for questions about favoritism and God knows "The face of the NHL" plays for Pittsburgh not Nashville.


Sabres fans know a little bit about rules and how they somehow get altered for convenience sake.

In 1999 Dallas Stars forward Brett Hull scored the Stanley Cup clinching goal by beating Buffalo's Dominik Hasek late in the third overtime of Game-6 of the Finals. However the NHL put a rule in at the start of the 1998-99 season that said if a player was in the crease when the goal was scored, the goal would be disallowed. Hull's skate was clearly in the crease when he scored which would indicate that it shouldn't have counted.

NHL officials didn't see it that way that night and a parade of experts tried to justify their conclusion invoking possession rules and a player "deemed" to have possession of the puck. What was once a simple clear rule that a player could not score a goal while in the crease all of a sudden had clauses in it.

The next season the rule was changed allowing players in the crease as long as they do not impede a goalies ability to make the stop which has also created headaches for the NHL as they're having trouble getting that right.

One final note on rules and "No Goal," the Stars were transplanted from Minnesota in 1993 as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's foray into "non-traditional hockey markets" was in full swing.


A case for indisputable vs. circumstantial could also be made when the Sabres played the Dallas this past season.

With Buffalo down 4-3, Sam Reinhart spun a backhand to the Stars net which Kari Lehtonen stopped. But where he stopped the puck was contentious. After the play was whistled dead and players began to disperse, Lehtonen got up and the puck was sitting on end clearly over the goal line. Buffalo's Jack Eichel was right behind the net feverishly pointing at the puck over the goal line. The refs went to review, it went to Toronto, and after a very long review the call stood--no goal.

Here's the video from Sportsnet:

There's a perceived double standard in the NHL and officiating is at the root of it. It's not so much that they make mistakes, which is human, but when it goes to Toronto and they still mess it up--or in the case of the Subban, a no-goal call without 100% surety--the perception is that grey areas lead to subjectivity which leads to favoritism.

It doesn't matter if they are or are not favoring a team as it's hard to prove something like that, but perception is reality and controversy's like this doesn't help the league.

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