COMMENTARY/ANALYSIS: The Los Angeles Kings had a likely victory snatched from them by on-ice officials in Detroit on January 18, when video replay showed that a Detroit goal should not have been allowed. Was the right call made? Should the goal have been reviewable? What’s next?
At least, that is probably the way the lead for a recap of this game should have read. Instead, the Red Wings pulled out a 3-2 shootout victory after the officials allowed a goal at 19:33 of the third period by Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall that never should have counted.
On that highly controversial play, Kronwall got the puck at the top of the slot and fired a slapshot that deflected off of Kings center Jarret Stoll’s stick. The puck ricocheted high into the air, hitting near the top of the protective netting behind the Kings net. It then dropped, bounced off of Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick’s back, and wound up in the net.
At that point, referee Rob Martell pointed to the net, indicating that a goal had been scored.
Despite claims by the Kings that puck hit the netting, Martell discussed the play with fellow referee Dan O’Halloran and linesmen Mike Cvik and Don Henderson, but none of them saw the puck hit the netting, so they allowed the goal.
Here is the play in question:
As it happens with every blown call that impacts a National Hockey League game, fans of the victimized team immediately begin crying foul, and Kings fans were no different. They began venting on social media, and you can bet there were many expletives being hurled at televisions throughout the Los Angeles area.
Many complaints were reasonable. But there were also the usual far-fetched ones, such as those claiming that the referees are against the Kings (or insert your favorite victimized team here), or that the NHL doesn’t like the Kings. There have even been some conspiracy theories bandied about.
But regarding this particular play, there were also claims that the play should have been reviewed by the video goal judge on site, and by the NHL’s Situation Room in Toronto.
At 19:33 of the third period in the Kings/Red Wings game, the puck crossed the Los Angeles goal line and, following a discussion between the four on-ice officials, the referees awarded a goal to Detroit. Video of the play appears to show the puck hitting the protective mesh above the glass before deflecting off goaltender Jonathan Quick and into the Los Angeles net. While the Situation Room examined the video, this is not a reviewable play, therefore, the referee’s call on the ice stands.
Kings televsion color commentator Jim Fox posted the following on Facebook:
“[Video review] does not apply here,” he wrote. “There is a section of the rule book that supersedes this and this rule is too vague to cover this situation. It is not reviewable. The people that made the rule know the rules. Kerry Fraser, an ex-official who now works as a TV analyst and deals specifically with rules, says it is not reviewable.”
As Fox mentioned, also confirming that the play was not reviewable was retired NHL referee Kerry Fraser, one of the best to ever don the orange arm bands. He posted the following on Twitter:
@wayne_chow Yes they do but puck out of play is not reviewable therefore Toronto could only confirm puck entered net. This will change.—
Kerry Fraser (@kfraserthecall) January 19, 2014
Despite all that, some still insist that the goal was reviewable, pointing to NHL Rule 38.4, “Situations Subject To Video Review,” as evidence.
Here is Rule 38.4, in its entirety:
The following situations are subject to review by the Video Goal Judge:
(i) Puck crossing the goal line.
(ii) Puck in the net prior to the goal frame being dislodged.
(iii) Puck in the net prior to, or after expiration of time at the end of the period.
(iv) Puck directed or batted into the net by a hand or foot. With the use of a foot/skate, was a distinct kicking motion evident? If so, the apparent goal must be disallowed. A DISTINCT KICKING MOTION is one which, with a pendulum motion, the player propels the puck with his skate into the net. If the Video Goal Judge determines that it was put into the net by an attacking player using a distinct kicking motion, it must be ruled NO GOAL. This would also be true even if the puck, after being kicked, deflects off any other player of either team and then into the net. This is still NO GOAL. See also 49.2.
(v) Puck deflected directly into the net off an Official.
(vi) Puck struck with a high-stick, above the height of the crossbar, by an attacking player prior to entering the goal. The determining factor is where the puck makes contact with the stick. If the puck makes contact with the stick below the level of the crossbar and enters the goal, this goal shall be allowed.
(vii) To establish the correct time on the official game clock, provided the game time is visible on the Video Goal Judge’s monitors.
(viii) The video review process shall be permitted to assist the referees in determining the legitimacy of all potential goals (e.g. to ensure they are “good hockey goals”). For example (but not limited to), pucks that enter the net by going through the net meshing, pucks that enter the net from underneath the net frame, pucks that enter the net undetected by the referee, etc.
Specifically, those claiming that the goal should have been reviewed are basing their argument on sub-section viii of the rule. By strictly interpreting it, they argue that any goal can be reviewed for any reason.
But that is merely wishful thinking. To the contrary, it is a flawed argument that is highly reminiscent of debates about what is constitutional (in the United States) and what is not.
Strict constructionists adhere to a narrow reading and interpretation of the Constitution of the United States of America, without regard to the differences in society from when that document was written to the realities of today.
Such narrow interpretations are often applied to Federal, State and local statutes as well. However, the Constitution and our laws have so rarely been interpreted on a strict, narrow basis by the legislative or judicial branches of the United States Government, or by states and local municipalities, a lesson taught in high school Civics classes.
Like the Constitution of the United States of America, the NHL Rule Book has never been interpreted so strictly, and especially in the case of Kronwall’s “goal,” that was not the intent of NHL general managers when Rule 38.4 was adopted, nor has it been the way it has been implemented.
To be sure, the overriding concern among general managers when video replay was adopted was to limit its use so that such a fast game would not be marred by multiple, lengthy reviews. That thinking has not changed, and you can bet that it never will.
As a result, video review has been limited to what is described in Rule 38.4, sub-sections i – vii. As noted earlier, a puck hitting the netting without being seen by the officials and then bouncing into the net is not listed among the reasons a goal can be reviewed.
Further, although the on-ice officials completely botched the play, they actually made the right call, under the circumstances. In fact, NHL Rule 85.1 spells it out (only the relevant excerpt is listed below):
Should the puck strike the spectator netting at the ends and the corners of the arena, play shall be stopped and the ensuing face-off shall be determined as if the puck went outside the playing area. However, if the puck striking the spectator netting goes unnoticed by the on-ice officials, play shall continue as normal and resulting play with the puck shall be deemed a legitimate play. Players must not stop playing the game until they hear the whistle to do so.
As stated in Rule 85.1, “…if the puck striking the spectator netting goes unnoticed by the on-ice officials, play shall continue as normal and resulting play with the puck shall be deemed a legitimate play.”
Like it or not, that is exactly what happened. The officials missed the puck hitting the protective netting, so play continued, and the resulting play was, by rule, legitimate.
Indeed, just because the resulting play was a goal does not negate Rule 85.1. Moreover, because the resulting play had to be deemed to be legitimate per this rule, the goal could not be reviewed simply because the puck hit the netting. Again, that is not among the reasons specified in Rule 38.4 for reviewing a goal.
“See rule 85.1, last paragraph,” Fox wrote. “This is more specific and supersedes the other rules [regarding] video review. I don’t like that this is the rule, but this is why they ruled the way they ruled.”
The bottom line is…NHL rules are clear in this matter. Yes, the officials missed the puck hitting the netting. But given that fact and how the play went down, they made the correct call, under the circumstances.
Now that we’ve settled that issue, what about the fact that the officials botched the play to begin with? In fact, that was such a blatant miscue by the on-ice officials that I posted the following on Twitter:
Haven’t said this in many, many years…officials gift-wrapped two points for #LAKings opponents tonight with a horrid, embarrassing blunder.—
Frozen Royalty (@frozenroyalty) January 19, 2014
Kings head coach Darryl Sutter had to be seething after the game. In any case, he took a swipe at the officials, and deservedly so.
“That’s embarrassing for the league,” Sutter told the media in Detroit. “That’s what it is. It doesn’t matter if we’d have scored, or if they had scored it. That’s embarrassing.”
“Coaches get fired, GM’s get fired, but somebody’s got to be held accountable,” Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi told LA Kings Insider Jon Rosen.
Lombardi hit the nail on the head, but going even deeper than that, this incident proves that the video replay rule must change to account for this kind of play.
To be sure, the fact that the rules dictate that such a goal is not reviewable is appalling and embarrassing for a major professional sports league. After all, if boundary rulings in college and pro football are reviewable, why aren’t they reviewable in the NHL, especially on such an egregious blunder by the officials?
Fox called for such changes to happen quickly.
“Energy should now be spent on changing the rule and making all ‘boundary’ situations reviewable,” he wrote. “The rule you are referring to is being misinterpreted by many people. It has to be addressed with a video review rule change, [and] I believe it will happen before this year’s playoffs. If not, then I believe they are making a mistake. There also should be a public statement by the NHL to address what happened. Transparency is the best way to improve for the future.”
“Again, the officials missed it. They did not see it, otherwise they would have disallowed the goal, and I assume they are being questioned at this time by league supervisors. But the solution is to make any ‘boundary’ issue reviewable via video. ‘In bounds or out of bounds’ should be part of the criteria for video review.”
On balance, the protective netting did not exist when the NHL adopted video replay, and it is a safe bet that those who make the rules probably didn’t give the netting much thought in terms how it might impact video replay.
But after this tremendous, embarrassing faux pas, the time has come for the NHL to make such plays reviewable, and they need to act on this so that the new rules can go into effect by next season, if not sooner.
Of course, the NHL has made many ridiculously dumb moves (or non-moves) over the years, so you might want to keep your fingers crossed.
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