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A Hole in the Replay Rules: The Safety Netting Goal

January 21, 2014, 9:46 AM ET [21 Comments]
Paul Stewart
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In the landmark Star Trek series, the crew of the Starship Enterprise served its mission under the guiding principles of a Prime Directive. For the NHL, there should also be a Prime Directive: get the call right for the good of the game.

Strange things happen in hockey. On any given night, there can be something you've never seen before, and which may never happen again. In this situations, the rulebook may not cover the specific situation in question, and the Prime Directive should take over.

In Saturday night's game in Detroit between the Red Wings and Los Angeles Kings, there was one of the flukiest goals you will ever see.

In the final minute of the third period, the Red Wings trailed 2-1 and had a power play. Detroit had the goaltender pulled for an extra attacker, making in a 6-on-4 attack. Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall fired a puck at the net, and the puck was deflected into the safety netting behind the end glass. The puck then rebounded high in the air, hit Kings' goalie Jonathan Quick in the back and went into the net.

None of the officials saw the puck hit the safety netting, which should have brought about a stoppage of play regardless of the puck coming back onto the ice and winding up in the LA goal. As a result, Detroit tied the game, 2-2, and went on to win via shootout.

Before we break down what happened and why the play was not reviewed in Toronto, here is video of the crazy play:

OK, here is the rulebook rationale for allowing the goal: The reason why the play was not reviewable under current NHL rules is that rulings over the puck going out of play is not subject to review. Once play continued after the puck hit the safety mesh and came back into the ice surface, it was a live puck. From there, so long as the puck entered the net legally, it was a good goal.

In reality, of course, this situation revealed a hole in the rulebook. Although it is very unusual for a puck to go in the net in a continuous sequence after going out of play, the Prime Directive of getting the call right should have taken over.

I'm not always a big fan of the current video review process in the NHL (see my "Selling the Call" blog for why). However, in this situation, the call would have been a much easier one to get right in the so-called War Room -- those nameless and faceless folks in Toronto who interrupt their Chinese takeout dinner periodically to review plays taking place hundreds of miles away without the officials working the game having any say in the final decision.

When the play goes to video review, part of the Prime Directive within the War Room is supposed to be that there needs to be "conclusive evidence" to overrule the call on the ice. Honestly, I haven't seen enough consistency in this standard and I think it would work better if the on-ice officials were given a voice in the final decision after the review. We do it that way in the ECAC, and I think it's an improvement.

At any rate, in this particular case, even a cursory video review would have shown that the puck had hit the safety mesh and should have been a dead puck before winding up in the Los Angeles net. There is a little bit of wiggle room under Rulebook section 38.4 (which covers situations subject to video review) to determine the legitimacy of all goals. However, the wording is very ambiguous and needs to be sharpened.

We disallow goals for pucks that go through side netting on the goal (a loophole that got closed for good after Philadelphia's John LeClair had a goal scored that way stand up in a playoff game against Buffalo). We allow goals that are legally scored and go through the net in the goal because of holes or loose twine and aren't seen by the officials (such as the NCAA game at Bridgeport a few years ago).

For most of my active referee in the NHL, there was no safety netting atop the end glass. It was put in place following the death of a little girl struck with a puck in a game in Columbus. I am all favor of the added safety precaution, but it does create situations where pucks rebound back into play. On Saturday, we learned that the puck may even wind up pinballing into the goal cage.

It's a new wrinkle; a rare case, mind you, but still something that needs to be addressed. The solution is to adjust the rule and get it right. Make disputed pucks out play a reviewable situation in the specific case that it results in a goal. It's a quick and easy fix that no one would dispute if and when a similar situation arises in the future.

A final point: People have asked "how can all four officials on the ice miss the puck going over the glass and hitting the safety netting?"

The nets are different colors in different buildings. In some, the netting is nearly invisible so as to not to obscure the view of spectators in the stands behind the net. Also, from a referee's standpont, I know that the puck in the air was not something I looked for during the play. I told the linesmen to watch pucks going up and I would concentrate on the players, their sticks and elbows, etc.

In the end, we ended up with an unfortunate situation where a call got missed and it directly affected the outcome of the game. Rulebook hole or not, had the Prime Directive of "get the call right" been applied, this would not have happened.


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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.

Today, Stewart is an officiating and league discipline consultant for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and serves as director of hockey officiating for the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC).

The longtime referee heads Officiating by Stewart, a consulting, training and evaluation service for officials, while also maintaining a busy schedule as a public speaker, fund raiser and master-of-ceremonies for a host of private, corporate and public events. As a non-hockey venture, he is the owner of Lest We Forget.

Stewart is currently working with a co-author on an autobiography.
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