NEW YORK – Seems rather silly.
The NHL has invested millions of dollars to outfit every NHL arena with state-of-the-art technology and has the ability to review every single goal at its multimillion-dollar, state-of-the-art Situation Room in Toronto that has been copycatted by other professional sports leagues.
Yet night after night, unreviewable “incidental contact” rulings by referees — Wild fans are very familiar with these — are wiping out goals in a league that’s always searching for more offense.
Even a goalie like Wild veteran Niklas Backstrom, who is appreciative of the league’s directive to officials to protect goaltenders and feels that many laymen don’t understand how a simple bump can inhibit a goalie’s ability to stop the puck, thinks this type of washout should be double-checked and potentially overturned by the league’s team of video reviewers in Toronto.
“It’s a fast game. A lot of things happen out there for the referees to watch,” Backstrom said. “Maybe they’re worried it’s going to drag out the game, but maybe you’d rather have the game dragged out for a couple minutes and the fans get the right result and see goals that should be and shouldn’t be.
“It’s tough for refs. Things happen so quick on the ice. Often, you don’t know if maybe a guy gets pushed into a goalie. I think if they have the ability to get the call right, get it right.”
In 13 games this season, the Wild has been involved in six incidental contact rulings — three that benefited the team, three that went against.
In recent home games, Arizona’s Kyle Chipchura had a goal disallowed because B.J. Crombeen made contact with Darcy Kuemper. San Jose had two goals waved off against Minnesota, one by Jason Demers after Kuemper couldn’t slide over because Logan Couture contacted him. In overtime, Brent Burns had a goal waved off because the puck went in after Burns slid into Kuemper.
All three of those were letter-of-the-law calls by officials.
Two of the three Wild goals waved off potentially could have been overturned if video review were allowed. In Denver, Charlie Coyle looked to score a power-play goal, but the referee ruled incidental contact on Nino Niederreiter even though replays showed Jan Hejda pushed Niederreiter onto Semyon Varlamov.
In the Wild’s last home game, Mikko Koivu looked to score, but the referee ruled Mikael Granlund was on top of Thomas Greiss. Replays showed Granlund got there with the help of defensemen Kris Letang and Paul Martin.
In Saturday’s loss at Montreal, Kuemper couldn’t stop a Jiri Sekac goal because he was knocked into the net by Brandon Prust. Referee Kelly Sutherland didn’t rule incidental contact because he was calling a penalty on Niederreiter for interfering with Prust.
Sutherland arguably got the call right, but the Wild was frustrated because of the Koivu and Coyle goals being disallowed for what Niederreiter felt were the “exact” same plays.
Referees have only two eyes. They can only look so many places at once. So why, when all this technology exists, do NHL general managers not make a formal recommendation for the video war-room to help out?
“Video review on these type of things could bring up a whole host of other issues,” Wild GM Chuck Fletcher said. “It’s not a black-and-white issue. Video review on goals is simple. It either went in the net or it didn’t. When you start getting into goaltender interference, that’s pretty subjective.
“One guy in Toronto may have a different interpretation than another. The league wants video review to be clear and not open to interpretation. That’s the concern.”
So in the case of the Koivu disallowed goal, the gray area could be: Was Granlund pushed? Did he fall too easily? Did he make a strong enough effort to get off the goalie? Did Granlund even impede the goalie in the first place?
So Fletcher said the NHL is having the Situation Room this season catalog all types of different scenarios (such as goals that occur after missed offsides), look at the circumstances and factors for all sorts of calls and take an inventory of what could be perhaps helped by video review and what can’t. That data being logged eventually will be presented to the GMs.
“You don’t want to create four problems by fixing one,” Fletcher said.
Some have suggested the NHL put a monitor in the penalty box like the one used in college so referees themselves can confirm that what they think they saw actually occurred.
Wild coach Mike Yeo said he’s “iffy on all this stuff. I’m all for getting it right and I know at the end of the year there will be teams that maybe miss the playoffs by a point or a tiebreaker and one goal could have made the difference.
“But the greatest thing in our game is the speed and the fact that our game moves whistle to whistle, from play to play quickly. And like everything in the game, it usually evens out over time.”
Coincidentally, Yeo said this before Saturday’s game in Montreal, a game in which the Niederreiter call indeed evened out the Wild’s incidental contact tally on the season at 3-3.