Coach's challenge gets positive reviews at GM meetings

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- The show of hands said it all.

The league's hockey operations department showed video of six goalie interference plays Monday, and none of them managed to find unanimity when 30 NHL general managers were asked to vote goal or no goal.

That hammered home the message that on very close calls, the referees reviewing the coach's challenge have their hands full. For the most part, they're making the better call in a gray situation.

"Goalie interference, we understand it's the better call. It's not a black-and-white," Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland said Monday after the first day of GM meetings.

"We went through a lot of the 50-50 calls, and those are going to happen, and if those aren't reviewed, then there are still going to be disgruntled parties on either side," Edmonton Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli said. "I look at the 50-50 calls, those calls that could go either way, as the cost of doing business to have this in place and to have the right calls on the egregious mistakes."

Discussion on the coach's challenge dominated the agenda on the first day of meetings. The universal feeling was that in its first year, the coach's challenge has largely been good.

"From my perspective, we knew that there were going to be challenges with the coach's challenge from the beginning because there were interpretations that were always going to be there," Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said. "Even when we vote internally, we're all not going to agree on it. But it's about getting the egregious ones, the ones that are really, really, really blatant, and getting them right. I think that's been really good.

"Overall, it's done what it was intended to do -- to help with the egregious call. I still think you're going to have the judgment call, no matter what you do. Even as a group, there's always gray areas."

Added Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman: "If you look at the big picture, we're in a better place than we were a year ago. The whole point of the coach's challenge was to try to get rid of those ones that are egregious. I think we've accomplished that. In the process, you talk about every single thing, but at the end of the day, it's a judgment call, and we're not going to agree on everything because it's not definitive, it's not if the puck went over the line. We can look at that and say 'yes or no,' but when you're looking at a judgment call, we're in a much better place than we were a year ago, relative to having no coach's challenge."

There has been a push among some GMs to bring the coach's challenge video reviews to the NHL war room in Toronto, instead of giving on-ice officials the last say. But after Monday's discussion, GMs agreed that nothing would change for the rest of the season.

"We have debate internally with our group in Toronto on calls," said Colin Campbell, the NHL's director of hockey operations. "We've had close to 100 goalie interference calls [on coach's challenge] this season, and we might have disagreed with our officials six or seven times. And this is the first year of the process, so that's pretty good. You have to look at the whole body of work over the course of 1,230 games and some 90-odd playoff games and then sit back and say, 'How good is the process? What kind of corrections do we want to make?' And we'll meet with the competition committee and see where they're at on this too. We'll know more at the end of the season."

Although nothing has been decided, it's a good bet that the coach's challenge for offside video reviews will be switched to the Toronto war room for next season, thus taking that responsibility away from the linesmen on the ice. However, the referees will continue to be in charge of coach's challenge video reviews for goalie interference.

If that is the case, it's essentially a compromise between the camp that wanted it all from the Toronto war room and that camp that wanted it all to stay on the ice with the officials.

"The feeling is because the offsides is black-and-white, it can go to Toronto [next season] because that's the black-and-white call," said Holland. "With goaltender interference, the feeling is right now, referees should continue to be in the process. The process is working as planned. We'll go through the stretch run here and into the playoffs, and then we'll look at it again when the season is over at our June meetings."

One tweak that we will see before the end of the season? More camera angles added to the blue-line area to help referees judge the close offside calls.

"Come playoff time, in 16 arenas we'll have blue-line cameras, which will help the process of the offside challenge," Campbell said. "That's the one in-season tweak we can make. It's not a rule change. It's just helping make the process better."

Campbell said the league has used these camera angles on the blue line in two outdoor games and the All-Star Game this season.

"It's been great," he said.

There have been some controversial goals in the playoffs the past few seasons, when there were clear offside calls missed. That shouldn't be the case this spring, thankfully.

All-Star Game format

The GMs discussed the new All-Star Game format, and the unanimous feeling was that the three-on-three mini-tournament is here to stay.

"It was enjoyable for everybody from the players to the fans, and I think it was potentially the best All-Star Game, at least over the last 20 years, from a competition standpoint, from a fan standpoint, from a player experience," New Jersey Devils GM Ray Shero said.

Holland echoed those sentiments: "I think the feeling was it was probably the best All-Star Game that we've had in maybe 20 years. It was competitive. Players enjoyed the game. They enjoyed the format. The ratings were well above the previous year. So I think hockey ops will continue to evaluate things, but for the most part, they were very, very positive."

It should be noted that the NHL Players' Association must sign off on the All-Star format. The NHLPA signed an agreement just for this season, so as to try the new format. I can't imagine why the players wouldn't want it back, given how lifeless previous games were.

"The All-Star format was great this year," Campbell said. "It couldn't get any worse than what it was in Columbus, as far as on the ice. Columbus did their best to be a good host, but that game was so bad. We had to do something."

Also part of the All-Star discussion Monday was the league's rule on suspending players one game if they back out of the All-Star game. Jonathan Toews and Alex Oveckin had to sit out a game this season for backing out. The question Monday was whether the suspension should be extended to two games to further deter players, but it was only a discussion Monday, and nothing was decided on that front.

"We still have to get that one wrinkle out of the way -- the player maybe deciding not to play and the one-game suspension," Campbell said. "It never is a good thing. Do we increase it? We haven't really addressed that.

"In Toews' case, he was sick. He's come to every [All-Star] Game. Ovechkin made a decision -- he had back issues -- that he thought he needed a rest. It's tough to argue. He's been to 10 All-Star games.''

Shero says it's a tough call to get right, when it comes to player discipline for skipping the weekend.

"We talked about it a bit, but nothing was decided at all," he said. "It's something that everybody has to consider. Everybody has gone through this with their own players, in terms of whether guys are hurt or not hurt. I had to go through it when I was in Pittsburgh. That is something for everybody as a group to decide what is best. The All-Star Game is about, certainly, the fans, the sponsors that help pay for the league [and] the players. Compared to Major League Baseball, I don't see any guys missing the All-Star Game for Major League Baseball. It's just quite an honor, and that is the way it should be. Hopefully, the players feel the same way because it is their way of giving back to the fans. It's also being amongst their peers. It should never get old, but that is easy for me to say."

Meetings on Tuesday will see the 30 GMs break out in smaller groups to discuss a number of issues, including the draft lottery and Rule 48.