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Boogie with The Noogie: Examining Instant Replay in the NHL

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As we are all already well aware, video review in the NHL has a limited scope. For 21 years instant replay has primarily been used to judge the validity of a goal, and to a lesser extent to adjust the game clock if it is deemed necessary. This upcoming season the NHL will institute video review of all 4-minute high sticking penalties.

Check out my imaginary flag everybody!
Check out my imaginary flag everybody!

From its humble beginnings in the 1991-92 season, the NHL has utilized instant replay to judge the validity of goals for 21, going on 22 years now. In the beginning, instant replay was handled by off-ice officials in each NHL arena. It was not until the 2003-04 season that the "War Room" in Toronto was born, taking all video review of goals away from the individuals in each stadium and putting it into the hands of small staff of goal judges who have access to real-time action and replays of every game, every night.

For the most part, the use of instant replay has made a seamless integration into the NHL. The War Room in Toronto is often times in the midst of reviewing a goal the moment it is scored and typically confirm these before the celebration on ice has time to settle down. On occasion this takes a little extra time as not all goals are as clear as an empty netter in the waning moments of a game.

In the upcoming season the NHL plans to adopt video review for all 4-minute high sticking calls. In an effort to help relieve the burden from the sometimes mistaken eyes of human officiating, the War Room in Toronto will now be charged with reviewing these calls to help determine whether or not a players head was actually struck by the stick of an opposing player.

This idea, while well-meaning is not without its faults. One might wonder how you implement such a video review in a fast paced game such as hockey. With the NFL and its expansive use of instant replay, to go back and get the call right can take a bit of time on occasion. The NFL also has the luxury of a short break between each play, so adding a slightly longer break does not seem as if it's such a big deal. The NFL's review system obviously had its naysayers when first installed, something to the tune of it slows an already slow game down. After many "successful" seasons though, nobody seems to mind so much anymore.

The real question with an NHL review of a double-minor high sticking call comes with the how the game is played and situations that may lead to complications with the review.

When a team is about to gain a power play, they pull their goalie to gain an advantage before the offending team can gain possession of the puck and the officials blow the play dead. If during that advantage they manage to score a goal, what is to come if the video review determines their was no infraction to begin with? You would obviously be getting the call right, but not without the ire gained from the team that will now not only not be on the power play, but lose a goal that would have otherwise been good, and don't even get me started on how the fans will react if this happens to their team on their ice.

Sure enough this situation will play out at some point in the coming seasons. Just as sometimes you get the lucky bounce and sometimes you don't. Fans, players and coaches alike will have to adjust to the fact that this scenario has a very real possibility of occurring in favor of as well as against them. Doubly so if your an Oilers fan, because they never get the calls in their favor.

You have to get the call right, and I'm all for that. I am also not in favor of taking all the power away from the officials on the ice. Situations like this will undoubtedly muddy up the game as well as slow it down at times. One of the bigger draws to the game of hockey is no doubt the pace at which it is played. There really is nothing like it in any of the other 3 major sports. To institute further video review in the NHL must be done cautiously and every attempt must be made to not slow the game down if at all possible.

We will see how this works in just a few short weeks. It will have its flaws and undoubtedly need to be tweaked in the future. One thing is for certain, home fans will still boo calls that don't go their way. They will blame the one ice officials while the folks responsible for a reversal will sit far away from the angry fans, locked in the War Room in Toronto. Then again, this is nothing new for the seasoned NHL official. They have dealt with it up until now, and I have no doubt they will be just fine going forward as well.