Images the NHL wants to linger after an hard-fought overtime game: the jubilation of the goalscorer; his teammates erupting on the bench and spilling over to celebrate on the ice; the disappointment and hard-earned exhaustion of the losers, skating off in disbelief.
Images the NHL got after Wednesday night’s 5-4 Sharks overtime win in St. Louis: A goalie furiously smashing his stick on the glass before skating to confront the officials; a forward doing the same, a slightly alarming distance from the officials, and later whacking his stick to pieces on the end boards; Blues fans throwing trash onto the ice in protest; a GM banging on the door to the officials’ room, yelling, “fucking garbage.”
Everything is going extremely great in the playoffs! Which by now are pretty much doomed to be remembered as the postseason where officiating—or, more specifically and accurately, the use and reach of instant replay—reached a crisis point. Bad calls have gone unchallenged. Good non-calls have been overturned. Glaringly terrible missed calls are, it turns out, not subject to review. I don’t know exactly what a workable review system looks like, but I know exactly what it doesn’t look like.
It sure as hell doesn’t look like Timo Meier’s hand pass to set up Erik Karlsson’s winner being allowed to stand because, as the NHL explained afterward, the hand pass didn’t cause a goal but merely led to one, and so could not be reviewed by the league’s central replay office.
In an official statement, the NHL said: “Plays of this nature are not reviewable. A hand pass that goes into the net can be reviewed, but a hand pass between teammates cannot be reviewed.”
This is an unsatisfying explanation given that, just one week ago, the War Room in Toronto was allowed to review and overturn a goal because of something that had absolutely zero to do with the actual play. Meier’s, on the other hand, was a damned secondary assist.
The four officials on the ice missed the hand pass, which is bad considering how glaring it was, but is the sort of thing that happens sometime. Why not give the War Room the ability to fix a clear error? Oh buddy, do I have a stammering, flop-sweaty explanation for you:
Another especially weird angle here is that San Jose has been the beneficiary of the biggest questionable calls throughout this postseason, from a phantom major penalty call on Vegas’s Cody Eakin, to an extremely bullshit offside call on Colorado’s Gabriel Landeskog, to this. There’s no conspiracy—why on earth would there be one, and for the Sharks?—but try telling that to a team that ends up on the wrong side of the latest bad call.
“I really didn’t get an explanation,” said Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo, “other than, I guess, there’s a different set of rules for two different teams.”
Athletic writer Scott Burnside overheard two Blues staffers talking. “What are you going to do?” one asked another. “Vegas got fucked before. And tonight we got fucked.”
Teams are always going to get fucked. The ever-evolving question before the NHL is: How do you minimize the fuckery? I am more pro-replay than many of my peers and colleagues, but I accept that there’s a slippery-slope argument against expanding replay, and this is it. Namely, how do you make some things reviewable but not others, without eventually reaching a point where all things are reviewable and threatening to slow down games to an unbearable point? But the counter-argument is before us as well. In just the last month we’ve seen too many bad calls and non-calls, that could have been quickly and easily reversed, swing playoff games and even entire series. If too much replay would be a problem, so are the inconsistent half-measures we have now. Any review system should flow entirely from the basic premise that it’s most important to get things right.