TORONTO - If the NHL rulebook had any more shades of gray to it, the league could probably rebrand it as a romance novel.
Thursday night in Ottawa only added another layer of depth to its confusing text when Sean Couturier scored what clearly appeared to be the game-tying goal (watch the goal here), as he pushed the puck across the line and into Craig Anderson's glove (see story).
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Friday, the NHL defended its controversial ruling but stating "the play was not reviewable," which begs the obvious question, why would the on-ice officials send the play to the NHL's situation room in Toronto for a review if the rule states it's not a reviewable play? Perhaps, the guys in stripes, like many of us, aren't completely sure how the rulebook reads.
"They're obviously going to defend it. They have to, right?" Wayne Simmonds said. "They can't say they're wrong. There's lot of pride (in the league office), and no one willing to swallow it."
The NHL already had a lump in their collective throats from admitting just a week ago that officials and the situation room erred in a game between the Avalanche and the Blues when video review incorrectly nullified Colorado's late goal. It was the first instance since coaching challenges were introduced in 2015-16 that the league admitted a mistake was made on an offside review.
With that in mind, there was no way Gary Bettman and associates were about to fess up to a decision that can be attributed to a convoluted set of rules.
In the case of Couturier's goal, there's Rule 78.5 section (xii): Apparent goals shall be disallowed when the referee deems the play has been stopped, even if he had not physically had the opportunity to stop play by blowing the whistle.
Which seems to be contradicted by Rule 38.4 (viii): The video review process shall be permitted to assist the referees in determining the legitimacy of ALL potential goals. … This would also include situations whereby the referee stops play or is in the process of stopping the play because he has lost sight of the puck and it is subsequently determined by video review that the puck crosses the goal line.
You can see how rule 78.5 and rule 38.4 are playing this jurisdictional tug-of-war.
Prior to that, the Flyers were victimized by rule 69.3 - Contact Inside the Goal Crease which says (in part): If a goalkeeper, in the act of establishing his position within his goal crease, initiates contact with the attacking player who is in the goal crease and this results in an impairment of the goalkeeper's ability to defend his goal, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.
Such was the case when Anderson grazed Jordan Weal, nullifying what would have been a goal that brought the Flyers to a 4-3 deficit. The key word in that rule is "impairment." How much impairment is required to disallow a goal? Just over the past few years, we've seen that particular call go either way.
"For me, there's so many changes from year to year and what they're calling from goalie interference and things like that, where I don't even know the rules," goalie Brian Elliott said. "I don't even know when a guy bumps me. You have time to reset, but you're not on your angle, and he scores, is that interference? Yes, but I don't know. There are so many things that you go out there and you complain that you got interfered with and see what happens."
The video review process and the technology that comes with a multitude of camera angles was intended to fix all of this. Instead, it has seemed to only add an additional layer of confusion.
"It's supposed to have no mistakes, right?" Simmonds said. "What's the point of having the video if you can't get it right?"
And a rulebook should be written much like a set of laws, and those who are asked to follow those rules and laws should have a clear understanding of its context.
"I guess you look back and say, ‘What didn't we learn?' I'm not sure," Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said. "We don't agree with either call. I've talked to some people, but those are confidential conversations. There's no sense getting into it. We're not going to get the goal back."
A comprehensive rulebook is now the subject of subjectivity in which layers of protection have given those who make the rules a necessary "out clause" when needed. When asked what's fair or what's not in today's game, Hextall probed just a little deeper.
"It's society, right? Those of us who lived 30 years ago, we know differently," Hextall said. "That's where we're at. It's not changing. The game is different. The game has changed with society."