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The Current Flaw with the Coach’s Challenge

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A look at an issue and a proposed amendment.

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Calgary Flames Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

A Questionable Goal

On Friday night, the Flames played a strong game against a hot Chicago Blackhawks team. Close in shot attempts, leading in the shot department, the Flames were tied 2-2 late in the third, before this questionable goal transpired.

Artemi Panarin fired a wrist shot from the top of the left circle, which Chad Johnson got a piece of, causing the puck to go flying up into the air. Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa did his job and crashed the net, managing to knock the puck in as it was coming down into the net. The Blackhawks got the go-ahead goal with 2:23 remaining in the third. The Flames were unable to tie the game in the brief period of time remaining, falling to the Blackhawks by a score of 3-2, failing to earn a point in the contest. But should this goal have counted?

It is pretty evident that the presence of Marian Hossa in the net obstructed Chad Johnson’s ability to make the save. Hossa is standing in the crease behind Johnson, and when Johnson reaches back to try and collect the puck, his glove instead hits Hossa. Would Johnson have collected the puck before it entered the net without Hossa being there? Maybe not, but it is certainly possible that he could have stopped the puck and in the rules of hockey, the goaltender should have the opportunity to make a save without obstruction from an opposition player.

While I did fault the referees for failing to protect Johnny Gaudreau earlier this week, I do not fault them for calling this play a goal as it happened. It was a scrambled play that happened quickly. I had to watch the replay a few times to get a clear picture of what had transpired. However, a review on the play could very much have been warranted, an initiative the officials chose not to take.

Timeout Already Spent = No Chance to Challenge

So why did the Flames not issue a coach’s challenge on the play? They wanted to, they tried to. But they were unable to, due to the fact that they had already utilized their 30 second time out earlier in the third period after a long shift resulted in the Flames icing the puck.

According to the rules, a coach can challenge a play only if they have not utilized their one timeout allowed in the game. If they have a timeout remaining, they can challenge the play and if correct they keep their timeout, if wrong they are charged for their one timeout and have no further opportunity to call a timeout or issue a coach’s challenge for the duration of the game. So since Glen Gulutzan had already used his timeout, he had no opportunity to challenge the goal, even though he rightfully believed that if he challenged the play, there was a very real chance the goal would have been overturned.

Origins of the Coach’s Challenge

To me, the inability to challenge a questionable goal because you previously called a timeout is representative of an inherently flawed system. The coach’s challenge was implemented in the first place because with the capabilities of video review, games should be decided by getting calls right as often as possible. The debate that lead to the introduction of the coach’s challenge was sparked by this “goal” by Matt Duchene:

Duchene was a mile offside, but the officials blew the call and there was no recourse for the Nashville Predators to do anything about it. Everyone could tell by the replay (or as it happened) that it was absolutely not a legitimate goal, but nothing could be done. The coach’s challenge was implemented not long after in an effort to prevent plays like this from happening again. The fact the opportunity to challenge exists at all is excellent and a big step forward for the league. However, there are still issues that should be addressed. Say this exact goal happened again today and the officials on the ice had called it a goal. Now imagine that earlier in the game, the Nashville Predators had already spent their timeout for whatever reason. They would have no recourse to do anything about this play, the goal would stand. That is wrong, goals that are not goals should not count.

By no means was the goal against Chad Johnson on Friday as egregious as the Duchene goal, but you get the point. It was a goal that the Flames thought should not have counted, along with many other observers watching the replay. But because they had spent their timeout, nothing could be done and they lost the game in regulation. Yeah, the could have scored more goals in the course of the game, they probably should have converted on one of their five powerplays, but ultimately they should not lose on a goal that was had the chance of being overturned due to goaltender interference.

A Possible Solution

I understand the premise behind the stipulation that if you challenge a goal and are wrong, it costs you a timeout. Replays can be a lengthy procedure, allowing coaches to use them at a whim would allow abuse of the system. We saw evidence of that in Calgary last year, where a couple of times Bob Hartley challenged goals that were obviously good goals, in order to get his team an extended timeout. Coaches will do what they can to help their team gain a competitive edge.

My proposal is a pretty simple one. The original challenge rules stand but with an amendment. If you have already spent your timeout or lost it on a failed challenge, you still have the opportunity to challenge a goal. If you are wrong, your team is charged with a 2 minute delay of game penalty. This should prevent abuse of the system, while still allowing teams the opportunity to challenge goals they believe should be disallowed. No team is going to take a 2 minute penalty just to get an extended timeout, but if they are willing to risk the penalty because they think there is a legitimate chance the goal will be overturned, they should be able to take that risk. Maybe I am way off the mark here, but I just think that if a goal is an illegal goal, it should not be counted. This proposed amendment to the system reduces the chance that bad goals are permitted even though the team on the wrong end of the play knows the goal was illegal.

Closing Thoughts, What Is Your Opinion?

The Flames lost on a late goal that probably should have not counted on Friday and that is unfortunate. I think the rules should be amended slightly to decrease the chance of such a thing happening in the future. The current system has a flaw and means should be taken to address it.

Feel free to share your thoughts on my proposition, or any suggestions you have on how situations like this could be improved upon around the NHL.