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The National Hockey League and other circuits need to give serious thought to changing how officials are coached on their positioning. This is not the first time I have blogged this sentiment, nor the second or the third. It likely won't be the last, either.
Having referees off in the corner rather than coaching them in various techniques -- I have discussed telescope, banana, funnel and accordion techniques in past blogs -- to get into optimal position for plays around the net greatly increases the chance of a missed call: a too-hasty whistle (or intent to blow the whistle) because sight of the puck is lost, uncertainty over whether the puck crossed the goal line with a maze of bodies around the net, etc.
Compounding the problem is the way that "a we'll fix it in replay" mentality has seeped into the officiating mindset, right up to the NHL level. The emphasis needs to be on getting the call right in the first place. Replay is a fallback, not the solution to all close calls. My advise to officials is the same that my own mentors gave me: "You are paid to judge, so judge."
Lastly, and this in another topic that I have blogged about numerous times: goaltender interference controversies are a fact of life throughout the season but are especially predictable in the playoffs. The NHL's Rule 69 that covers goaltender interference is poorly written, counterintuitive in places and even self-contradictory. We often hear it said, "I don't even know what is and isn't goalie interference." It's a legitimate gripe that needs to be taken seriously.
Even among officials themselves, there can be widely varying interpretations of the standards. What constitutes "incidental contact"? Was it inside or outside the blue paint on a borderline play? Did the goaltender still have a reasonable chance at a save? If a defender pushed an attacker, was there still a reasonable effort made (or possible) to avoid contact? How long after glancing contact in the blue paint and a shot arriving constitutes the attacker vacating the crease in a timely manner versus it being goaltender interference?
I don't know if there can ever be a totally uniform standard -- or absolute consistency -- on goaltender interference plays. These will always be tough calls and there will always be a "feel for the play" element and judgement involved.
However, I do know that clearer wording and less convoluted permutations of Rule 69 in combination with better positional coaching and execution would reduce the frequency of the controversies, the duration of replay delays and challenges and the number of times that officials leave the rink with the aching feeling that perhaps the final decision on a play was not the right one.
Let's take a step back here to the John McCauley principle. Ask ourselves "Why does this rule exist?" Just as with the way the "toe in the crease" disallowed goals got out of hand and then, finally corrected to re-establish the original intent (i.e., did the attacker's skate in the crease have a DIRECT effect on why the puck went in the net? If so, no goal. If not, it's a goal), we need to view goaltender interference in a similar light. Was there bonafide interference that inhibited or prevented a bonafide save opportunity? If yes, was it severe enough to merit a penalty on top of disallowing the would-be goal? If no, it's a goal.
At its root, goalie interference rules exist for the same reason that we do not allow goals on plays where at attacker in the crease (whether there's contact or not) directly affects the play or pucks that are deliberately kicked or swatted with a glove.
What has happened is that we've over-complicated the Rule, poorly defined the most crucial terminology within it, and too often do not have our officials in optimal position to judge it before the inevitable challenges, endless replay delays, etc.
There is no "perfect" system. As long as hockey is a game played and officiated by humans, there will not be complete consistency or the right calls made 100 percent of the time. We strive for those ideals, however, and I believe there's a better way than it's currently done.
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