The NHL Has a Replay Problem

Hockey games raise heavy passions, and few events rank as competitive as when two NHL teams go head to head to determine who will proceed to the Stanley Cup finals. Even though the NHL has possessed video replay technology for over two decades, only certain plays warrant review. Players and fans alike protest vehemently, sometimes even violently over erroneous calls.

Other sports such as American-style football and baseball apply instant replay rules for many more purposes than disputes over a scoring point. A number of recent cases of bad calls suggest expanding the instant replay to cover more controversies in the NHL. As the purpose of sports remains friendly and fair competition, changing professional ice hockey rules to allow for the use of replay in additional circumstances will help insure this.

San Jose Sharks vs. Vegas Golden Knights

On Tuesday, April 23, 2019, center Cody Eakin of the Golden Knights lost his face off to Sharks center Joe Pavelsky during Game 7 of the playoffs. Eakin performed a cross-check, which happens pretty often and is at most a two-minute minor.

The cross check left Pavelsky off balance, however. Paul Stastny of the Golden Knights accidentally brushed against Pavelsky as he attempted to maneuver into shooting position. Game officials Dan O'Halleran and Eric Furlatt did not witness how minor the contact was — they only witnessed Pavelsky lying on the ice, bleeding.

Gerard Gallant, coach for the Golden Knights, reported one official told him that Eakin hit Pavelsky in the face with his stick. This would be a punishable offense — but there was no truth to the allegation.

Unlike football and baseball in which officials can rely on instant replays to review any number of controversies, in the NHL, only suspected errors on goals qualify for such review. Officials declared misconduct on the part of the Golden Knights and awarded the Sharks a five-minute power play.

The result? The Sharks defeated the Golden Knights 5-4. Even though the Golden Knights previously led 0-3, the Sharks scored four goals during the power play received for the badly-called penalty. And now, the season for the Golden Knights has ended.

Fans and players alike decried the penalty as unfair. But because of the way NHL replay rules work, since the bad call was the proximate, not the direct, cause of the controversy, officials' hands were tied once they called the penalty.

How to Make the Game More Fair

The playoff between the Golden Knights and the Sharks hardly marks the first time a team won a hockey match due to a bad call, and wouldn't be the last one that involved the Sharks. In Game 3 of the Conference Final, the Sharks scored the OT winner on a very obviously illegal hand-pass. The refs missed it, the call couldn't be reviewed, and the game ended with the Blues in shock.

Those who argue against numerous replay opportunities state that allowing a replay for every controversial call will make the game drag on unnecessarily. And admittedly, this fear has merit. However, no team should lose a playoff opportunity the way the Golden Knights or Blues did.

The NHL would improve if officials could review the cause of any on-ice injury through replay. While all player injuries deserve attention, players accept the risk of harm when they sign their contracts. However, assumption of this risk should not lead to an entire team losing an important match when they committed no penalty.

Improving the Rules of the Game

By allowing instant replay of controversial player injuries, the NHL would send a clear message they've learned their lesson. Whether a team wins or loses, they should walk away knowing that the game was fair and square.

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