Columnist image
Frank Seravalli

TSN Senior Hockey Reporter


BOCA RATON, Fla. — The NHL’s 31 general managers have recommended that the league’s Hockey Operations department takes over final say in coach’s challenge situations involving goaltender interference.

The proposed change – to have a handful of Hockey Operations staff members make the final ruling on challenges from the Situation Room in Toronto – would be instituted for the remainder of the regular season and Stanley Cup playoffs if the required approvals are granted.

The NHL began seeking that on Tuesday during Day 2 of the annual GM meetings here by formally presenting the NHL Players’ Association with a proposal to change playing conditions.

If the NHLPA approves the change, and there is no pushback from the NHL Officials Association, then a unanimous Board of Governors vote must take place via fax to enact change midseason.

NHL senior executive vice-president of hockey operations Colin Campbell said an indication will be given Wednesday.

“We haven’t heard anything yet at this point,” Campbell said. “It’s a change of playing conditions. [The NHLPA] always needs some input any time we have a change in playing conditions.”

Part of the recommendation is that GMs would like to see a referee presence in the Situation Room, but that likely won’t come this season, and besides none of these things change the overall issue because these judgment calls are subjective by nature.

“My opinion is that you can put the King of England in there, it doesn’t matter who you put in there … the team, the coach, the players, the fan base are not going to like the answer,” Campbell said. “My opinion is it doesn’t matter who is giving you the answer, they’re not going to like the answer if it’s in a key game.”

Campbell said opinion of GMs is that “they want consistency.” They felt that could be achieved by limiting the pool of people who have a say, from 34 full-time referees to a handful of Hockey Operations veterans who see all of the games in real time.

What would essentially happen, though, is a shifting of responsibility.

Hockey Operations already has final say for coach’s challenges for offside, yet the linesman on the ice still makes the call, it’s just that the Situation Room holds the hammer to overrule.

Campbell said Hockey Operations has agreed with the linesman every single time and hasn’t overruled even once.

That same process is expected to play out with goaltender interference. The referee on the ice would still make the call, then the Situation Room has the ability to overrule if they felt it necessary.

Out of 170 challenges this season ­– including those triggered by the Situation Room in the final minute of games and overtime – Campbell admitted Hockey Operations has only disagreed with the referee five times.

That means the true impact this season would have been five different calls. That’s it. Then in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the series supervisor takes on a larger role anyway.

“Final authority, yes,” Campbell said. “We’re not there yet. But if we do, nothing is going to change the way we do the games.”

Two things could still derail the process. The NHLPA could balk; NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly was scheduled to discuss the matter with NHLPA assistant director Mathieu Schneider on Tuesday night.

Or, the NHL Officials Association could raise their arms, since they have language in their bargaining agreement with the league that maintains their right to make the final call. The bet is that since this would take the heat off of referees, shifting responsibility to Hockey Operations, plus the potential presence of a former referee in the room, it would make this change more palatable.

“[The NHLOA] was well represented with retired guys and the head of their organization,” Campbell said of the meetings. “…I think we'll give it time yet. I think they probably have to get back to their executives too. We haven't heard anything yet at this point.”

Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli​