As is traditional at the start of the Stanley Cup Finals, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman took time earlier this week to address the state of the game.
It should be no surprise that central to his comments – and the questions that followed – was a discussion about what can be done to improve a video review system that has already misfired numerous times during the playoffs.
“Clearly what we already do still may not be enough,” Bettman said.
It was interesting that Bettman described video review as a “blessing and a curse” because that’s exactly what it is. The game can be vastly enhanced by a system that remedies incorrect calls.
But it also can create chaos when things happen that video review has not been commissioned to review or correct. And that is what has brought the NHL to its knees begging for forgiveness this spring.
Bettman, the most tenured commissioner of the major sports in North America, confirmed the league’s competition committee and general managers will discuss expanding video review next month.
“If we are to extend video replay – and we will be looking at that possibility – we must find the right balance when it comes to how much more to use and when to use it without affecting the flow, pace and excitement of our game,” Bettman said. “Perhaps most important, we’ve got to have a system that enables us to be consistent. This is the challenge, and it’s a challenge we are focused on and we will meet.”
You’ll note how similar his response and call to action is to how Roger Goodell responded when on-the-field errors and a lack of video oversight led to the missed pass interference call in the NFC Championship Game that likely cost the New Orleans Saints their chance to play in the Super Bowl.
The NFC’s competition committee and GMs met soon after and recommended enhancements to video review that will change the way pass interference calls are revisited at certain points of games beginning in 2019.
At this point, the NHL uses video review to confirm goals and check whether goalies are interfered with. It’s also used to verify whether goals were scored as the result of offside plays. Unlike the NFL, which has video review booths on site, the NHL has a studio in Toronto where officials review video and report back to referees.
While it seems as if expanding video review would improve the game, Bettman mentioned the league is always concerned about doing things that will slow down the game. But he assured everyone those worries would be secondary to doing something that will protect the game’s integrity.
“We want to get it right, but what is the ‘it’? How far do you go back? What actually affects the actual result?” Bettman said.
Bettman admitted he was very upset that all four game officials missed the obvious hand pass that led to an overtime win for their San Jose Sharks in Game 3 of their Western Conference final against St. Louis.
“What I thought [at the time] was that it would be good if I kept my head from exploding,” Bettman said. “I was unhappy. We all were.”
Still, Bettman wondered aloud about how far-reaching video replay should go.
“What if the hand pass happened a minute earlier? Or it cleared the zone? You can roll it back endlessness,” he said. “If we decide to extend replay, we have to define it in a way where we don’t ruin the game and get it right.”
Countering the outcry created by all of the missed calls is the feeling of many players and executives that video replay is already too invasive. They actually would be happier if the system was cutback and more emphasis was placed on improving the skill level of the referees and linesman – just like the old days.
“Whatever your view is of video replay, what we’re doing is working well, and I don’t think you can go backward anymore,” he said. “I think that ship has sailed.”
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly added to the conversation by saying he expects there will be rule change relating to offside as opposed to the elimination of video replay.
The NHL competition committee is scheduled to meet June 11 in Toronto.
”What we have to do is make sure we have feedback from all of the constituent groups, both in terms of soliciting ideas and ultimately whatever conclusion we reach to make sure everybody buys into it,” Bettman said. “We all understand the issues at the League office. We know what works. We know what doesn’t work. We understand the challenges of implementation. So we’re going to use that body of knowledge, share it with everybody, and take as much feedback as we can from everyone.”