Columnist image
Frank Seravalli

TSN Senior Hockey Reporter


Canadiens coach Claude Julien didn’t exactly hold back on Monday night in expressing his tough time “digesting” the new punitive aspect of coach’s challenges in the NHL.

And that was after a preseason game.

Julien experienced first-hand the new iteration of the rule, which dictates that any unsuccessful challenge will come with a two-minute minor penalty for delay of game.

That is what the Canadiens were assessed after a failed challenge for goaltender interference on Darren Archibald’s second-period goal for the Maple Leafs at the Bell Centre. The penalty adds injury to insult.

Last season, a penalty was only assessed for unsuccessful challenges on offside calls, not goaltender interference.

Julien’s beef is that there was no rule change to clear up that goaltender interference is still a “50/50” judgment call in his mind, but there is now a penalty attached to the challenge.

“Well, it’s going to be tough,” Julien told reporters postgame. “That was what I said to the referees. It’s a very find line because, first of all, you want to protect your goaltenders. I think everybody wants to do that. You also want to show your goaltender that you have his back and you want to protect him…

“What I’m saying is most of the time, it’s 50/50. Most of the time when you challenge it’s a 50/50 gamble. So right now, basically, the way I feel is ‘How can I challenge those in the regular season knowing that the goal’s going to count and I’m going to have a penalty on top of that?’

“I have a hard time, I guess, digesting that. But if it’s the way it was last year and you challenge it because you’re protecting your goalie and it’s a goal, it’s a goal. Let’s move on.

“But to be penalized, especially when all year long last year we always talked about it being 50/50. So what’s changed this year? It’s not any clearer than it was last year. So basically, what they’re telling us is don’t challenge. Don’t challenge – that’s the message I’m getting.”

That is exactly the message the NHL wanted to send.

In the NHL’s mind, the referees are there to protect Julien’s goalie and the challenge shouldn’t be made on the basis that it’s a coin flip that could go either way.

“We don’t want lots and lots of challenges,” commissioner Gary Bettman said in June in Vancouver when announcing the rule changes. “We don’t want to disrupt the flow of the game. We only want challenges when it’s crystal clear that an egregious mistake has been made.”

So, does that mean we should expect coaches to challenge less frequently this season?

That would be the suspected outcome, because coaches were only successful on 26 per cent (45 of 172) challenges for goaltender interference last season.

Julien was just 1-for-7 on interference challenges last season according to, ranked 25th in percentage among teams who made more than one challenge.

But Julien was 3-for-3 last season on offside challenges when faced with the pressure of a potential penalty if he was on the wrong side of the call. 

The interesting thing is that the overall number of offside challenges went up 50 per cent from 2017-18 (62 challenges) to 2018-19 (91 challenges) with the potential penalty.

In other words, coaches weren’t scared off. The ability to potentially erase a goal from the scoreboard was worth the risk of killing a penalty.

Not surprisingly, coaches hit on 67 per cent of their offside challenges last year, compared to 63 per cent in the previous year.

They were surer, but they have that luxury with the offside challenge – it is black-and-white instead of “50/50” as Julien suggested with goaltender interference.

Overall, we can expect the number of coach’s challenges to rise. As part of the NHL’s expanded video review, coaches can challenge infractions that were previously off limits.

For the first time, there will be no limit on the number of times a coach can challenge in a game this season. Coaches can now challenge a play in the offensive zone that should have resulted in the sequence being stopped before a goal was scored.

The catch is that only black-and-white calls can be reviewed.

Think of the missed hand pass that delivered a Game 3 win for the Sharks in the Western Conference Final, or the puck off the netting that resulted in a Blue Jackets goal in Round 2 – not the missed Tyler Bozak trip in the Stanley Cup Final that resulted in a crucial late Blues goal.

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said that missed call gave the playoffs a “black eye.” But that wasn’t changed.

“We’re not prepared to go there in terms of the game right now,” Bettman said in June of reviewing missed penalty calls. “That would be something that wouldn’t be terribly productive and would be terribly disruptive.”

We’ll see if the latest changes can produce the intended result for the NHL – or if they’ll continue to draw the ire of Julien, Cassidy and coaches everywhere.

Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravall