Flyers

NHL's new rule has turned coach's challenge into blackjack

VOORHEES, N.J. — The NHL's new challenge rule has now evolved into a play-the-odds gamble of high stakes hockey. 

What was once an effort two years ago by the NHL to maintain some league-wide integrity through the utilization of video replay to correct potentially incorrect calls has now extended well beyond that.

There's no longer just a benefit without the risk option, but rather, a risky proposition with the slight potential of a benefit.

It was only a matter of time before a coach would be burned by an incorrect challenge. Who knew it would be at the expense of the Flyers within the first seven days of their season? 

When asked during the preseason about the NHL's new rule, 78.7(b), where a minor penalty would be assessed for an unsuccessful challenge, Flyers coach Dave Hakstol agreed the league was discouraging coaches from utilizing the challenge option.

"The coach's challenge was really intended to focus on glaring errors," commissioner Gary Bettman said this summer.

So errors that aren't so glaring shouldn't be given the same consideration? A mistake is a mistake whether it's by an inch, a foot or a yard, and as the numbers suggest, they happen with regularity. Of the 117 offsides scoring plays that were challenged a year ago, only 39 were overturned — exactly 33 percent. That's more than enough to question human judgment.  

And that's just the number of offsides plays that were reviewed. Unquestionably, there were some scoring plays where a coach didn't have a challenge left, or the game was so out of reach that the goal in question wasn't worth the review.

When asked about the percentages and probabilities of the outcome, Hakstol said Thursday, "It has to weigh into your decision, especially the probabilities of the calls that are reversed in terms of the offsides challenge, so that has to come into it. That's something I'm very aware of coming into this season."

Armed with that knowledge, the odds were already stacked against Hakstol, who at one point last season lost his first seven challenges, whether it was for an offsides call or a goaltender interference.

The information Hakstol should have been absorbing at that moment of the game is now much more than just the video evidence (or lack thereof) of the questioned offsides play of Scott Hartnell's goal in the Flyers' 6-5 loss Tuesday in Nashville. Let's review:

Win the challenge — Flyers lead 5-4, finish killing off the remaining 36 seconds of a 5-on-3 power play with the ensuing face-off just outside the blueline with Nashville pulling Rinne for a 6-on-3.

Lose the challenge — Game is tied 5-5, kill off 36 seconds of a 5-on-3, and then kill 5-on-4 for the remaining 31 seconds of regulation, and then a 4-on-3 power play for 43 seconds into overtime.

Don't challenge — Game is tied 5-5, forced to kill off remaining 36 seconds of a 5-on-4 power play with the face-off at center ice.

If the coach is 100 percent certain the play would be reversed, the right answer is choice No. 1. Without that certainty, choice No. 3 is the obvious selection. It's a lot to comprehend in a short amount of time when coaches have roughly 30 seconds to make a decision whether or not to call for a review.

And then there are other factors and variables that could also be taken into consideration, such as home/away ice, momentum swing of the game, which players are in the box and whether the team's best penalty killers are available.

If you don't think professional coaches at every level and in every sport experience information overload at moments of split-second decision-making, then why would the NFL's coaching brethren have charts to determine the basic mathematical criteria on whether or not they should attempt a two-point conversion?

How many times did Eagles fans pull their hair out in frustration watching Andy Reid botch a two-minute offense with incoherent time management skills?

Hakstol spent a good 15 minutes following the media scrum in the Flyers' locker room explaining his thought process behind a decision of this magnitude that directly affected the outcome of a game. A decision that seemed obvious to outsiders: Don't challenge the play and bank on making it to overtime, where the Flyers would earn a point and possibly two.

However, rule 78.7(b) goes well beyond that.

Not only did the NHL bring the game of hockey to Vegas this season, it also adopted its blackjack mentality.