In theory, there is nothing wrong with the use of instant replay and some sort of a challenge system in sports. The most important thing is getting the calls right, and the technology exists to make sure the correct call is made as often as possible.
Unfortunately, it will never be a perfect system because plays are not always obvious and there is always going to be some level of subjectiveness to calls that get made, even with the benefit of a review. The NHL is finding that out this season with its coach's challenges system that allows coach's to challenge one play per game (as long as they have a timeout) if it results in a goal being scored because of an offsides play or goaltender interference.
Unlike the rest of the NHL's league-initiated reviews (high stick on the puck, kicking motion, net dislodged, etc.) these decisions are not handled by the NHL's situation room in Toronto, but are instead made by the on-ice officials looking at tablet screens on the ice. There has been plenty of criticism this season not only with the calls that have been made as part of the challenge system, but also with the way the challenges are handled, specifically the use of tablets by officials that just made the call.
Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk joined the chorus of critics following his teams' 4-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Sunday night. The focal point here was a goal scored by Blues tough-guy Ryan Reaves mid-way through the first period to give his team a 2-0 lead.
The Wild felt Blues forward Kyle Brodziak entered the zone offsides just prior to Reaves' goal.
Here is a look at the play.
A player is allowed to back into the zone before the puck as long as he is in control of the puck and has possession of it. On a play like this with Brodziak, there is obviously going to be room for debate as to what "possession" is. The officials decided Brodziak maintained possession and that it was a good goal.
The Wild, and especially Dubnyk, clearly did not agree.
"This is a play that they brought the coach's challenge in for," Dubnyk said after the game. "This exact play. It's so offside that both our defensemen stopped playing, and all of a sudden they have twice as much as room as they would because both our guys stopped playing. You have guys on the other bench that are laughing after the goal gets called. I mean that's ... just add it to a list of interesting calls on challenges everywhere around the league this year."
The main point of Dubnyk's criticism is the way the reviews are handled on the ice with the person that just made the call looking at a tiny screen when the NHL has far better technology to work with in Toronto.
"You don't have the guy on the ice making the call on an iPad that's four inches big," Dubnyk said. "It doesn't make sense. You have a lot of technology elsewhere that people can have a look at it. You're asking good referees that are proud guys to make calls and overturn calls they just made. Don't get me wrong, these are the best referees in the world, hands down, but you're asking a guy to go look at a video in front of 20,000 people and overturn a call he just made. It doesn't make sense. There's enough technology to go elsewhere for it."
Edmonton Oilers forward Taylor Hall had a nearly identical criticism after a goal was overturned for them in a game last month, while also extending his criticism to the Rexall Place Wi-Fi.
"I watch a lot of hockey, this coach's challenge is tough," said Hall. "You're asking the referee to admit he's wrong in front of 18,000 people by watching a six-inch tablet and the Wi-Fi in our rink is mediocre at best. That's what we're relying on."
"It's been both ways, and certainly we have been on the other side, and this is not a shot at the refs tonight, I do not envy that position at all having to make that decision, but I feel we would be better served if we went to a third party. There has to be some kind of mediator here because it's not in our nature to admit we're wrong. I don't envy the position the refs are in, but it's just a tough play overall."
In between the criticism from Hall and Dubnyk was Columbus Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella simply calling for the league to get rid of the challenge system entirely after his challenge of a controversial Loui Eriksson goal did not result in a reversal.
In almost every case the players/coaches seem to be sympathetic to the referee's being placed in the difficult position of not only having to use a tiny screen to make a call on a play that could come down to a matter of inches, but also having to stand up in front of a crowd of people and correct themselves.
The solution here still seems pretty simple: Just let the same the people that handle the other reviews handle the challenge reviews. They have better technology (an actual giant TV screen instead of a tablet) and aren't dealing with a situation where they have to admit they were wrong and overturn their own call on the ice.
It would also eliminate the absurdity -- and embarrassment -- of having the same play be reviewed two different ways and have the final call be made by different people using different types of technology, something that has happened multiple times this season, including most recently in a Capitals-Rangers game on Monday on a Jay Beagle goal. After a lengthy review initiated by the league to determine whether or not the puck went in the net, the Rangers challenged the play for goaltender interference. In that case you're not only asking the referee to correct himself, but to also overturn a goal that the league just allowed for a different reason.