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In last night's overtime playoff game between the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues, the winning goal sequence involved an apparent hand pass by Timo Meier as he glancingly batted an aerial puck that bounced twice on the ice and went to goal scorer Erik Karlsson. There's a lot to unpack on the play, but let's get to the main point first.
Hand passes that lead directly to goals are not explicitly reviewable in the NHL Rule Book. I say "explicitly" because of the wording of Rule 38.4, which also came up in a different context as regards the puck-off-the-netting play in the Boston-Columbus series in the second round.
There is a broad allowance specified in Rule 38.4 (ix): (ix) 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”).
As such, there is already a mechanism in place, but not a standard practice. There are three viable options, as I see it. 1) Review all goals (just as all NFL touchdowns are reviewed) to ensure it was a good hockey goal. A goal directly off a hand pass is not a good hockey goal any more than one played with a high stick. 2) Limit the automatic "good hockey goal" review to overtime goals, since those are game-ending plays; or 3) Live with the human element.
I am fine with any of these options, but I suspect it won't be the third option unless there's a time-limit element wherein we go with the call on the ice after a certain elapsed time for review.
The "Situation Room" crew in Toronto should be identified publicly at every game and should consist of people who are certified to have passed an NHL Rule Book test -- with a demonstrated understanding, for example, of what is and is not goaltender interference -- before being appointed as a league replay judge. Former officials, whether it's someone such as Bill McCreary or Dan Morouelli or whomever else the league might want, should be in charge of the review process.
One thing I am NOT in favor of, is expanding the purview of the coach's challenge. I'd like to do away with that entirely. It should not be up to the coaches on the two benches to generate a review. The crew in Toronto can implement the review. Blatantly apparent offside plays that are missed in real time should be reviewed but not the slide-rule type of plays. The rule of thumb is whether an actual advantage was gained by the actions of the attacking team that scored.
Specific to last night's play, I have seen a lot of bad information out there. First of all, it does not matter if the puck glanced off a Blues player (I do not think it did, but it doesn't matter either which way). Only when there is a chance of possession and control of the puck does it negate a hand pass. Plain and simple, play should have been blown dead.
Secondly, to certain folks in the professional hockey media. Please learn that there are not "four refs" on the ice. There are two referees and two linesmen and they have different responsibilities. Hand passes typically fall within the linesmen's purview to whistle down the play.
It will be interesting to see if the NHL does what it did after the Vegas series, and reactively respond to controversy to sending home the officiating crew (one of their most seasoned and respected crews with considerable playoff experience). If so, they'll be sending home another batch of fine officials (refs Marc Joannette and Dan O'Rourke and linesmen Jonny Murray and Matt MacPherson worked Game 3), who are presently scheduled to work Games 5 in the Boston series and Game 7 of this series.
Remember those old Tarzan movies, where there'd be a "slingshot" between two trees and the bad guys would be catapulted into the river? If we do that to four more officials, we'll be running out of bodies.
A Class of 2018 inductee to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.
Visit Paul's official website, YaWannaGo.com