BRIGHTON, Mass – Have you had enough of the NHL Coach’s Challenge yet?
Most teams across the NHL have been burned by the vague, fickle nature of the coach’s challenge system set up by the league, and it goes doubly so for the offside challenge that so often seems to have nothing to do with the good goal in question.
That was the case Tuesday night in the Bruins' 5-4 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre in Montreal as a Charlie Coyle apparent go-ahead goal scored in the third period was wiped out by an offside challenge that was two-pronged in its complete irrelevance to the score. Coyle was in control of the puck between his legs as he entered the offensive zone, so by the letter of the law he was actually, legally on-side based on being in control of the puck as he entered the zone with his skates slightly ahead of the puck.
It took the on-ice officials upwards of three minutes chatting with the Situation Room in Toronto before they came up with a decision to overturn the good goal called on the ice, so it was clear from the beginning that it wasn’t an egregious, clear-cut offside play.
Which is exactly what the coach’s challenge was intended for in the first place.
All of the above was something that NHL leading scorer David Pastrnak picked up on when asked about it after the fact.
“When you have the puck under your control, you can skate backward with the puck [entering the zone], right? You can be out of the zone and still not be offside. We’re NHL players, so when you have the puck on your skates it’s pretty much under your control. It’s a tough call,” said Pastrnak, who has 15 goals in 15 games to start the season. “We are not referees...but this is the NHL. We are all skilled players here. Once you have the puck on your skate, it’s pretty much under your control and it doesn’t matter if the puck is behind the blue line first or not. I think it wasn’t offside, but it’s just a tough call and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Then there’s the fact that, as has happened already on two other occasions with the Bruins this season, the goal was scored a significant amount of time following the actual zone entry. It wasn’t as long a gap as the two previous occasions, at Colorado and at home against Ottawa, when the goal was scored 30 seconds or more after the offside play in question that had absolutely zero to do with the actual goal.
Instead, it was 10 seconds or so following the zone entry, but again it had nothing to do with the goal being scored. At that point, the Bruins had the puck in the offensive zone, had time to lose possession down low briefly and then Zach Senyshyn recovered the puck and wheeled around before finding Coyle in the slot for the prime scoring chance.
"Some are going to go your way and some are not. Ours are not going our way lately, but I assume they’re going to straighten out over the course of time. The rule was specifically put in place for egregious [examples],” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said after the game. “They were over there for three minutes. You think 'What's the purpose of this rule?' Either you find something or you don't...three minutes. So, now you're looking for something to be offsides.
“You know it’s going to go the other way and it did. That’s where my beef comes from, the intent of the rule. You always want them to get it right, but there was kind of a change this summer punishing the coaches if they got it wrong for this reason. They didn’t want three-minute reviews. Anyway, it was a big part of the game and it didn’t go our way.”
The bottom line is that the coach’s challenge for offside was put into place for obvious offside plays rather than gray area instances like Coyle’s play in Montreal. Some of it is certainly the law of unintended consequences coming into play with the advent of instant replay turning every little play into an agonizing Zapruder film study where nobody quite knows what is truly legal or illegal anymore, including the officials on the ice.
The truth is that the NHL wants offense. They want goal-scoring. They want exciting end-to-end action that highlights the skill of the players on the ice, and they have no problem with high-scoring games such as the B's-Hab's nine-goal outburst in Montreal.
So, they shouldn’t be looking for reasons to take good goals off the board as they did when they wiped out Boston’s apparent go-ahead score in the third period and effectively changed the outcome of the game. Put a time limit on when an offside can be challenged, and outlaw challenging a play where the goal was scored 15 seconds after the zone entry.
Furthermore, get the officials together and decide, once and for all, that a puck in between the skates of an NHL player is a puck that the player is actually in control of, and can legally enter the offensive zone as Coyle did.
The NHL is a great league full of great players, but it’s even better when the league gets out of the way of itself. It’s pretty hard to do that with the nonsensical way that the offside coach’s challenge is currently set up. Anybody that follows the Bruins knows there are easy fixes that could make the challenge system so much better than it is right now.
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