It happens every night in the NHL. A referee makes a call and then players, coaches, fans and media all look up to the scoreboard to determine if he's an idiot.
Modern technology has turned NHL referees into pi±atas and the league, by virtue of not helping its officials with video review, has given fans the stick to bash away at the game.
The NHL needs to expand video review to calls other than goals and add coaches' challenges. Do it slow and get it right.
Pick one infraction (let's start with puck-over-the-glass delay-of-game penalites), then throw some money at research, equipment and personnel. Then tweak. Once one rule is up and running, consider more.ã
Just this week, referee Francis Charron has been branded everything from a blind fool to a member of some sinister Parti Québecois plot hatched to give the Montreal Canadiens a leg up on those sinister Lightning from Tampa Bay. Did Alex Killorn interfere with Habs goalie Carey Price? Charron thought yes and waved off Ryan Callahan's goal. But did Charron get it right? Would video review have helped?
On Monday night in Minnesota it was referees Brad Watson and Justin St. Pierre electing not to hand Wild defenceman Jonas Brodin a delay-of-game penalty, determining the puck he flipped over the glass in his defensive zone was first tipped by a member of the Avalanche. Video replays suggested otherwise and the Avs missed out on a critical power play in a scoreless game they eventually lost in overtime.
Referees watch every play in real time and often have other things in their peripheral vision they must monitor as well as players from both teams possibly blocking their view. Their task is at best difficult and, at times, impossible.
The rest of us get to watch in high-definition slow motion from multiple angles before we determine what was the right call. The on-ice officials have to make an immediate decision and then we beat them up until the next missed call comes along.
Goalie interference seems like the natural place to start with video review. But just as big a problem as the calls on the ice is the rule itself. It's open to interpretation and every play has its own nuance.
Before the NHL can institute video review on these plays, they need to bring goalies, skaters, referees, coaches and GMs together to work on the rule to come up with a more clear definition of what is and is not goaltender interference. Then, they can consider video review to help the referees on the ice.
Major League Baseball has dipped its toe into video review. And they appear to have moved a little too quickly and stumbled into some issues. Umpires used to use the pop of the ball into the glove at first base to determine when the first baseman had the ball.
Now, when a play is reviewed at first base, an argument has developed over when possession begins, when the ball enters the glove or when it hits the palm of the glove. Baseball has some work to do before video review enhances its game rather than adding confusion.
The NHL normally likes to test rule changes in the AHL but can't in this instance, because of the equipment and manpower required. The league needs to move slowly on video review. Pick one rule and try it out. The puck-over-the-glass delay-of-game call seems well-suited.
Referees can call the infraction tightly and coaches can challenge. Have the reviews done by the war room in Toronto and if the call is wrong, take the penalty off the board.
In Minnesota, St. Pierre appeared set to give Brodin a minor penalty before linesman Shane Heyer came across the ice from the bench-side, claiming it was tipped by an Avalanche player. The referees, within the best of their abilities and with the tools provided, tried to get the call right.
Video review would have allowed St. Pierre to assess the penalty, leaving it up to Minnesota coach Mike Yeo to challenge and the video review experts in Toronto to help get the call right.
The game and technology has changed. The NHL was a front-runner in establishing video review for goals and supplementary discipline. Now it's time for the next step.
NHL people say it all the time: "Let's get it right."
Do you favour the NHL using replay to help officials make the call? Join the conversation in the comments below.