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Bob McKenzie

TSN Hockey Insider


It's not that NHL coaches don't appreciate having the coach's challenge at their disposal this season for the first time ever...

Well, actually, that's not entirely true as six of 27 NHL head coaches polled by TSN don't like the coach's challenge at all and would just as soon see it abolished.

Their reasons run from it being a momentum killer to too much subjectivity to a suggestion that every goal should be automatically reviewed by hockey operations for goaltender interference and offside (without the coach having to initiate a challenge).

The majority (21 of 27), though, remain in favour of the coach's challenge‎. That’s not to suggest they wouldn't like to see modifications or improvements to enhance accuracy and efficiency.

These are the findings of TSN's annual NHL All-Star Break ‎Coaches' Poll. Coaches were asked to pick the Stanley Cup winner and finalists, as well best player, best goalie, best defenceman, best rookie and coach of the year. You can read the results of that poll here.

We also asked them for their feelings on the coach's challenge concept and application that has been a talking point amongst fans and media all season long.

As noted, they generally like it, but the majority of the 21-member majority would like to see it improved/amended. There was one comment ‎repeated over and over again:

"Let hockey operations in Toronto do the review," said one coach in a popular refrain.

"Take it out of the refs' hands," said another.

Multiple coaches said their biggest issue with the challenge is "inconsistency" from referee to referee.

"There's so much grey area from call to call," said one coach. "One ref calls it tight [on review] and another let's it go."

Many coaches felt if the same hockey ops staff in Toronto were making the calls on a daily basis, consistency would be enhanced.

That said, when the NHL instituted the coach's challenge concept, the basic tenet was that it wouldn't be taking control of the game ‎away from the on-ice officials. That seemed to be the foundation on which the challenge concept was launched.

One coach made a peace offering on that front: "Let hockey ops do it but have a couple of ex-refs on the hockey ops‎ staff to make the call."

Coaches felt shifting the decision-making to head office in Toronto would not only increase consistency of rulings but also reduce the amount of time required for a referee to review the play himself.

"In some cases, the time the players have finished celebrating the goal, hockey ops would know if it's a good goal."

The coaches who like coach's challenge appear to be split fairly evenly on which challenge they prefer — goalie interference or offside.

"Goalie interference is usually more important because it has a bigger impact on how the goal was scored," one coach said.

"Offside is more black and white, more objective than subjective," another coach said.

"Goalie interference is too grey an area," another coach added. "Now we have goalies embellishing to get the review."

"Some of these offside calls take a long time to review," added another.

The NHL is going to experiment with additional overhead cameras (over the blueline) at the NHL All-Star Game in Nashville this weekend.

"If they're going to review offside," one NHL coach said, "they must get more cameras and better angles."

Several coaches expressed surprise at the number of goals overturned because the zone entry was offside.

"I never would have imagined there are so many offsides initially missed," said a coach.

That, according to a few more coaches, has created a secondary problem.

"Linesmen are blowing down play on anything close‎ to offside, and now we're seeing some onside plays called offside," a coach said.

Overall, the coaches like having the option of the challenge. They feel that whatever issues arise are offset by the importance, especially in the playoffs, of making the correct call more often than not.

Or as one coach opined: "Just get it right."

Bob McKenzie is the 2015 recipient of the Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award for excellence in hockey writing.