The Boston Bruins lost their fifth consecutive game Thursday night. They followed a similar pattern of energy and solid play in stretches (Ryan Spooner even gave his team a short-lived lead- bay steps!) against the Florida Panthers but ended up with the same result- no points and their tenuous hold on a playoff spot even more in peril.
Like their contest against the NY Rangers the night before, the B’s once again found themselves in the middle of a controversy involving the NHL’s archaic replay/review system. For the second straight game, the B’s came out on the short end of the league’s decision, made by off-ice officials in Toronto.
Only this time, there is a much more convincing case that the NHL bungled this one.
There are two big issues with the league’s goal review process as it currently exists: the most glaring deficiency is the reliance on television networks to provide the various feeds and camera angles the NHL’s war room team uses to make decisions as to whether they uphold or overturn calls on the ice. The second is in how the rules are written- the language gives little leeway to officials and forces them to adhere to a standard that has been proven to have vulnerabilities in each of the situations the B’s have experienced with the Lee Stempniak no-goal on Wednesday and Patrice Bergeron’s negated tally (that would have made it a 2-2 game in the third period) against Florida. Dan Ryan/@bruinshockeynow has a good photo showing the Bergeron goal that wasn’t. You be the judge.
Colleague Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe has been critical of the replay and newly-instituted coach’s challenge this season, and after last night’s replay debacle, he’s got another thoughtful piece that is worth reading. It’s not just about the Bruins coming out on the short end here…your team might be next and it might be in a much more critical (and devastating) situation if the NHL doesn’t collectively pull its head out of its posterior and address what is an unacceptable flaw in an otherwise well-intentioned system designed to prevent what Boston has gone through with alarming regularity this season.
No, despite the passionate feelings of some B’s fans out there (we’re packing on the foil, coach!) there isn’t some grand conspiracy by the league’s leadership to hose the Bruins. However, folks aren’t wrong to point out that the way the NHL and its on- and off-ice officiating crews apply the rules is inconsistent at best. What may be a goal one night is inexplicably not a goal the next and vice versa. And when these faceless, unaccountable people can simply hide behind the nebulous “inconclusive evidence” canard to justify a decision that flies in the face of what your lying’ eyes are telling you, things are not going to get any better. It takes moral courage sometimes to act and do the right thing for the good of the game. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman needs to hold his hockey operations folks accountable and make them get to work on a solution. He needs to direct an honest effort into addressing some major vulnerabilities in the existing system and assign some smart people to come up with solutions worthy of the 21st century. Nothing in life is perfect, but what we’ve seen from the league the past two games doesn’t even come close, and the teams and fans who pay ever-escalating prices to see the sport, deserve better.
If you’re not a Bruins fan, you might even be a little bemused at what has happened to the club of late and let me be clear- Boston hasn’t lost five game in a row because of two questionable (in one case not even questionable) calls that have gone against them- they’ve lost because they simply haven’t been good enough. But if you’re snickering from afar, you might not have quite a sense of humor about it if your team is on the receiving end of this NHL-perpetrated farce…with a lot more on the line. Don’t believe me? Then go ask Buffalo Sabres fans about 1999 and see what kind of an answer you get. If you don’t think this could be your favorite team one day, then you simply aren’t paying attention.
Like another past issue- the defunct “in the crease before the puck” rule that threatened to steal the joy and integrity of the game away in the late 90’s before the NHL’s powers finally stood up and instituted some common freaking sense, the current video replay/review system needs similar attention. I already mentioned the Sabres and Brett Hull’s skate in the crease just before the Stanley Cup-clinching goal was scored. B’s fans might also remember P.J. Axelsson scoring the overtime-winning goal against Washington in the 1998 playoffs, only to have it overturned because the front of Tim Taylor’s skate was in the crease. Former Bruin Joe Juneau’s sudden death goal later on counted and the entire series turned on that outcome. It took a much more controversial goal at a critical moment that embarrassed the NHL to force them to take action. Bettman and company should know that waiting this out only opens them up for more embarrassment.
Back then, referees were forced to overturn perfectly legal scores because the words in a well-intentioned rule said they had to- it did not allow them to exercise the discretion and judgment the league pays them for. If the NHL isn’t willing to pursue meaningful change- whether it is to invest in the kinds of fixed cameras on multiple angles that the league would control- as Shinzawa offered, then maybe we should just go back to no replay and let the humans on the ice figure things out. If a puck goes through the side of the net and is ruled a goal at a critical stage, then so be it. You can’t be half-in on this kind of thing. Either do it right, or not at all, Mr. Bettman.
I know the league’s intentions are good when it comes to replays and coach’s challenges- it doesn’t want controversy surrounding games that should be decided in a straight forward manner each and every time. But, life doesn’t work like that, and whether we acknowledge it or not, we’ve got controversy that the NHL needs to address. It can start by taking a hard look at the rule book and determining whether allowing reviewing officials to exercise some common sense when determining whether to uphold or overturn a call on the ice is warranted. Building the kind of technical infrastructure to give the league a much better video vantage point than what they have now will take a little longer and require more resources, but it is worth it. To say the NHL’s intentions are sound and desire to preserve the integrity of the game genuine, is no longer enough.
After all, you know what they say about good intentions and the road to h-e-double hockey sticks.