Last season, the Star Tribune took hockey fans into the NHL situation room, which best can be described as a man cave on steroids inside the league’s Toronto office.
This is where every goal every night is reviewed and confirmed and should not be confused with the NHL’s department of player safety, a similar surveillance room in the league’s New York headquarters.
This season, the situation room, also dubbed the “war room,” was given an additional undertaking: the coach’s challenge.
Coaches are able to challenge goals or wiped-out goals if they feel there was or wasn’t goalie interference, or if they feel the attacking team was offside entering the zone.
There have been 198 challenges this season. Fifty-two have resulted in overturned calls (25 for goalie interference, 27 for offside).
Last Wednesday, the day before the Wild played in Toronto, the league again granted access to the Star Tribune.
The only consistent problem that has arisen is on offside challenges. Unlike goalie interference challenges where the league has at its disposal its own overhead, in-net and in-post cameras, the league is at the mercy of broadcast camera positions on offside challenges. So at the outdoor games in Minneapolis and Denver, the league tested cameras at both blue lines. At the All-Star Game, the league tested eight cameras at each blue line on the glass and in the rafters.
The situation room staffers loved the looks they got and plan to recommend the cameras to the GMs next week with the hope of implementing them in time for the playoffs.
“The big surprise to all of us is how many offside plays  have been challenged,” said Kris King, the NHL’s senior vice president of hockey operations. “This was put in place for those egregious offside goals that we couldn’t do anything about.
“Now we’re talking about inches and millimeters and feet in the air and it’s real hard because of where our cameras are positioned in our buildings. We can’t tell sometimes. We have to prove it 100 percent, so sometimes we’re leaning toward inconclusive. But one offside goal we miss could be a big, big goal come playoff time.”
The big difference with challenges compared to normal goal or no-goal decisions from Toronto is that the officials on site (referees for goalie interference, linesmen for offside) have the final call after consulting with one of four Toronto supervisors.
A logger in Toronto feeds the officials replays at the penalty box. According to King, there have been only a half-dozen occasions all season where one of the supervisors would have made a different decision than the officials.
“What’s happened through the start of the year to now is for consistency’s sake, they’re leaning a little more on us because they know we’ve been involved in all of them,” King said. “This came out of the GMs meeting in the fall where they asked us to be a little more giving of what we see, remembering quite specifically that [the officials] have the final say.
“We’re not making the call in here. We’re just giving them information and helping them get to that call.”
There has been a groundswell by some that for consistency’s sake, maybe the league should make the final call since the same four guys see all the replays as opposed to 36 refs having different, subjective criteria.
That may ultimately come to fruition, but King said senior VP and director of officiating Stephen Walkom sends video each week to his officials of every challenge.
“It’s continued education, and each official gets to understand what their colleagues are doing and are constantly brought up to speed on how everything’s working,” King said. “It has created more consistency.”
King figured it would take a year to work out the glitches and get challenges perfect.
“A lot of people thought that the referees would be too proud to change their call, and we found real quick that’s not the case,” King said. “We’re mandated to get it right, and trust me, they just want to get it right, too, and for the most part have done an excellent job.”
NHL short takes
One change the league also hopes to make before the playoffs is to move its two cameras inside each post to inside the crossbar.
“We think it’ll give us a truer picture and a real look straight down from 4 feet away rather than the overhead on the rafters that can sometimes be distorted,” Senior vice president of hockey operations Kris King said. “Oftentimes there’s traffic or goalie gear locking out [the post] cameras, and what we saw at the All-Star Game looked fantastic.”
Incidentally, staffers at the NHL situation room all said the cameras they’re able to manipulate all showed that Charlie Coyle did not score in the final seconds of a recent game in Philadelphia. Many Wild fans believe Michal Neuvirth stopped Coyle’s shot with his stick over the goal line.
Wild GM Chuck Fletcher will be part of a 20-year reunion of the 1996 Florida Panthers team that went to the Stanley Cup Final when the Panthers host the Flyers on March 12. It worked out perfectly for Fletcher, Bryan Murray’s assistant that year, because he has to be in South Florida the same time for the GM meetings.
Wanted: U.S. captain
Dean Lombardi, the United States’ World Cup GM, indicated Wednesday there would be a changing of the leadership guard for the Americans this September. That would indicate that the Wild’s Zach Parise won’t captain the Americans the way he did during the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014.
WILD’S WEEK AHEAD
Sunday: 7 p.m. vs. St. Louis
Thursday: 7 p.m. vs. Edmonton
Saturday: 6 p.m. at Montreal
Player to watch: Connor McDavid, Oilers
The No. 1 pick in last year’s draft, the 19-year-old leads all rookies with 1.1 points per game.
“They want to play on both sides of the puck. The whole team can learn from that.”
— Wild coach John Torchetti on what makes the Nino Niederreiter-Erik Haula-Jason Pominville line so good.