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Soccer could be the key to fixing the NHL's video replay and officiating problem

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Soccer could be the key to fixing the NHL's video replay and officiating problem

In Game 3 of the Western Conference Final, just about everyone in the world saw San Jose Sharks forward Timo Meier bat the puck with his hand to teammate Gustav Nyquist in the offensive zone. Nyquist then passed the puck over to Erik Karlsson who scored the overtime winner. It was a goal that never should have counted because of the obvious hand pass.

The St. Louis Blues players saw it, the fans saw it, everyone at home saw it. Heck, even the NHL saw it, as Meier was credited with an assist on the play.

The only four people who did not see it, however, were the four people who mattered most. Both referees and linesmen missed it and no hand pass was called.

The hand pass was obvious after watching the replay, but per NHL rules, hand passes are not reviewable. The goal stood and the Sharks won what felt like a tainted game.

Officiating and video review have become a major topic of conversation during the 2019 postseason after several botched calls on the ice that could have easily been overturned upon review. No one wants to see the game slowed down by multiple lengthy reviews, but this postseason is a clear indication that more video review is needed. When referees are making series-altering decisions that anyone can see from a quick replay is incorrect, that’s a problem.

In the wake of the controversies we have seen this postseason, there are bound to be many suggestions over how the NHL can expand video replay to get this right. The problem with every suggestion – and the reason many detractors do not want to see video review expanded – is the fear of unintended consequences.

The offside review, for example, was prompted by a goal scored by Matt Duchene in 2013 in which he was at least 10 feet offside. The rule was implemented to prevent plays like this. Instead, now goals are broken down frame by frame, pixel by pixel to see if a player’s skate may have been over the blue line even if that player had nothing to do with the play. Just ask the Colorado Avalanche, who had a game-tying goal in Game 7 of the second round this year erased because Gabriel Landeskog was headed for a line change and took too long to get on the bench.

The fear over slowing the game down and unintended consequences are legitimate, but they cannot be an excuse to not help the officials. Instead, the NHL has to find a system that limits reviews to catch the egregious mistakes that are more black and white.

Luckily for the NHL, there is a sport that has a rule like this already in practice.

Most Americans do not follow soccer all that closely, but FIFA has had a videa assistant referee system (VAR) for years now. It was implemented for the 2018 World Cup and there is no bigger stage in world sports than the FIFA World Cup.

How does it work?

Each game has a video assistant referee who reviews calls made by the referee during the game. There are only four types of incidents that can be reviewed: goals, penalty decisions (meaning specifically penalty kick decisions), red card decisions and mistaken identity (if the wrong player is given a red or yellow card). While these rules limit what can and cannot be reviewed, they are also broad enough to encompass all significant instances of a game.

A similar system can be implemented in hockey that will eliminate what we all most want taken out of the game: egregious officiating mistakes.

Let’s say, for example, the NHL stipulates that every scoring play, major penalty and perhaps some of the more black and white minor penalty calls such as delay of game are now reviewable. First off, this system takes reviews out of the hands of the coaches. Coaches should not be in charge of whether or not a game is officiated correctly and a bad call should not be allowed to stand just because a coach does not have a challenge. Second, making all goals reviewable for any reason would allow for the easy denial of plays like Duchene’s obvious offside goal or the missed hand pass on Meier. That is what a VAR would be looking for, not if a player’s skate was a millimeter offside.

The insane standard to which offside is now called based on the offside challenge would essentially be gone if you stipulate in the rules that a VAR in hockey would have until the puck drops to notify the referee of a review. That would only allow for the VAR to watch for the more obvious calls. Third, if all you are looking for are the obvious calls, none of these reviews should take much time at all. Fourth, this would not take the human element out of the game. Referees must make subjective calls throughout the course of the game. The VAR is not there to argue if something is a soft call, he is there to inform the referee of the possibility that he just got a call flat out wrong.

By leaving situations in which plays can be reviewed as broad while also keeping the time in which a review can be called rather short, this would ensure only the really bad calls are fixed. In the end, that should be the goal.

The NHL desperately needs a video review system in place that can better help the referees. If the whole world can see Meier’s hand pass, the people with the ability to make the call should too. Yes, expanding review can open a Pandora’s box of unintended consequences, but soccer’s system has had success in both limiting bad mistakes by officials without overly slowing down the game. They have shown it is possible and have provided a blueprint in which the NHL desperately needs to follow.

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Should the Caps re-sign Devante Smith-Pelly?

Should the Caps re-sign Devante Smith-Pelly?

It is almost time for NHL free agency to begin, and the Capitals certainly have needs to fill and a limited budget. Who would be the best fit? Who would be the best free agent target for Washington to pursue? That’s what NBC Sports Washington wants to find out!

Our experts got together and made a bracket of the 16 best free agent fits. The bracket is divided into four regions: Third line forward, fourth line forward, depth defenseman and Caps’ free agent. Now we want you to tell us who you want to see rocking the red next year!

Every weekday we will match two free agents up against one another and present a case for each player. Then you get to vote and decide who advances!

Check out today’s debate:

Region: Capitals free agents

Should the Caps re-sign Devante Smith-Pelly?

2018-19 stats

54 games played with the Caps, 4 goals, 4 assists, 8 points, 10:51 TOI

Playoffs: 3 games played with the Caps, no goals, no assists, no points, 9:47 TOI

Hockey-Graph contract projections

2 years, $1,170,523 cap hit

The case for re-signing

There is no question that Smith-Pelly can be inconsistent, but he always seems to bring it in the playoffs. Before his seven-goal performance in the 2018 Cup run, Smith-Pelly was brilliant with the Anaheim Ducks scoring five goals in 12 games back in 2014.

With Carl Hagelin re-signed and players like Jakub Vrana, Christian Djoos and other depth pieces still on the horizon, affordability is pretty much the biggest asset for any free agent available to Washington and it won’t get much more affordable than Smith-Pelly.

Hockey-Graphs can be spot on with some of its projections and outright wrong for others and this case is definitely the latter. Smith-Pelly’s contract for the 2018-19 season was a one-year deal with a cap hit of $1 million. After scoring just eight points and getting demoted to the AHL, there is no way he walks into next season with a two-year deal and a raise. The cap hit is going to be low for Smith-Pelly and that makes him a very attractive choice for the Caps.

Sure, regular season production is an issue, but if you can get a bonafide playoff performer for $1 million or less, that’s a good deal.

The case against re-signing

When the Caps needed to send a player to the minors to free up cap space for Nick Jensen at the trade deadline, the team elected to send Smith-Pelly to Hershey over Dmitrij Jaskin. Jaskin played 37 games last season. That is pretty much all you need to know.

Sure, Smith-Pelly walked into the playoffs and performed well, but he still did not produce. Depth offense is a weakness for the Caps and one they will struggle to address with the little amount of cap space left. You cannot waste that remaining cap space on a player who is going to give you eight points.

Smith-Pelly came into the season in questionable shape, was so ineffective he was sent to the minors and this from a guy who has already bounced around the NHL and who came to Washington after getting bought out by the New Jersey Devils.

On breakdown day, general manager Brian MacLellan said of Smith-Pelly, “Internally we had a couple of issues we had to work through.”

There are just too many red flags here for a Smith-Pelly return.

Who’s your pick? Vote here. 

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On the move? Why moving up or down in the 1st round of the draft is a realistic possibility for the Caps

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On the move? Why moving up or down in the 1st round of the draft is a realistic possibility for the Caps

The NHL draft is fast approaching. The first round will take place on Friday and it could be a busy night for the Capitals.

Washington currently holds the 25th pick in the draft. It will be the highest pick this team has had since taking Ilya Samsonov 22nd overall in the 2015 draft. The question, however, is will they stay there?

The more you look at the team’s situation, the more a move in either direction looks like a realistic possibility for the Caps. Here’s why.

Why the Caps could move up

In most situations, an NHL team should pick the best player available. Since most NHL prospects, including most players taken in the first round, will take years to develop before they see NHL action, it does not generally make sense to draft for an immediate need. When teams become fixated on drafting a certain position, it can lead to those teams passing on elite talent at other positions.

For Washington, however, they no longer can afford to ignore the team’s need for a difference-maker at forward.

You have to go all the way back to 2014 to find the last time the Caps drafted a forward in the first round when they drafted Jakub Vrana. Since then, however, they have drafted a goalie, two defensemen and have traded out of the first round completely.

The dearth of forward talent among the team’s prospects is starting to catch up to it. In a year in which the Caps need forward depth but have very little money to fill it, an ideal solution would be to plug any holes on the bottom six with cheap prospects.

Without any top-end forwards in the system, however, that is not really an option.

Riley Barber (sixth-round pick) is an unrestricted free agent and said he does not see himself re-signing with Washington. Nathan Walker (third-round pick) is also a UFA and, though he sounded more open to re-signing with the Caps than Barber, there is no guarantee he does not leave in free agency. Shane Gersich (fifth-round pick) and Garrett Pilon (third-round pick) still look like they need another year in Hershey. Axel Jonsson-Fjallby (fifth-round pick) has a whopping 16 games of North American experience and it is hard to know what exactly to expect from him. Kody Clark (second-round pick) and Riley Sutter (third-round pick) still need time to develop.

This team needs a high-end forward prospect, if not for this year then for the near future. It needs that guy who can infuse a bit of youth and excitement, as well as skill, back into the lineup when he gets a call-up. We are not talking about the next Connor McDavid here, just a top-six forward to add to the system because right now it does not appear Washington really has any top-six forwards besides the guys already in the NHL.

That needs to change.

There is value to be found late in the first round of the draft—Marcus Johansson was taken 24th overall in 2009, Evgeny Kuznetsov was 26th overall in 2010 and Andre Burakovsky was 23rd overall in 2013 just to name a few—but waiting for a good forward to drop into their laps this year may not be the ideal strategy knowing they need to pick a forward in the first round.

Moving up the draft will ensure they can grab one of the top forwards available. If they move up high enough, perhaps they could even snap someone who could potentially be ready to help the team in the latter half of the season, though that is a lot to ask of a young forward.

The point is Washington cannot afford to go with the usual “best available” mentality and see who falls to 25. General manager Brian MacLellan will have to get proactive and move up to ensure he gets the best available player at the position of need. We may not be talking Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko, but even moving up to the mid-round can dramatically affect the quality of prospects available.

Why the Caps could move down

Elliotte Friedman had an interesting note on the Caps in his latest 31 Thoughts column. He listed Washington among one of the most aggressive teams in trade talks saying generally of the NHL “we could see some frenetic attempts to move up and down.”

Friedman also wrote, “Other teams believe the Capitals are in total ‘go for it’ mode.”

When a team is in “go for It mode” and trying to win a Cup, the first-round draft pick can be useful trade bait to help bring in a significant piece and bolster the roster. Granted, Washington has very little cap room available so any trade would likely include sending salary with the pick which would, in turn, lower the value of return, but this team is just one year removed from winning the Cup. It is not as if they need to make a major addition to be a contender.

Trading away a first-round pick would be the exact opposite of addressing the team’s need for high-end prospect forward talent as written above, but it is hard to build a team for now and for the future. With Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and Co. all in their 30s, it would be understandable why MacLellan would choose to go all-in on winning another Cup in the next few years.

Whether the Caps move up, down or stand pat, we will have all the latest analysis on NBC Sports Washington’s coverage of the draft starting at 8 p.m. on Friday.

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