“What I thought was, it would be good if I could keep my head from exploding,” said Bettman, addressing the media at TD Garden prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Bettman knows things have to change. Not eventually. But in time for next season. What he doesn’t know yet is the will of his fellow owners — in the body of the Board of Governors — to make the necessary changes, and just how much further they are willing to go in using video replay as an essential officiating tool.
“What we’ve shown over the years as a league is that [we] are flexible and willing to constantly evolve and improve,” Bettman said from his prepared text. “And along those lines of self-evaluation and adaptation, I know these playoffs have featured some controversial moments.”
To be clear, added Bettman, he believes the NHL has the best officials in the world. They just make some big boo-boos at bad times.
“And we all know,” he added, “they have an extraordinarily difficult job.”
Reports earlier this spring made clear that Bettman personally called Las Vegas owner Bill Foley to apologize for an outrageous, inaccurate major penalty called against the Knights that essentially ushered the second-year expansion team out of the playoffs.
Foley paid $500 million of his expansion team and lost out on the chance to make another serious Cup run due to cut-rate officiating. Seattle is about to enter the league, at a buy-in price of $650 million. Stakes are high. Officiating needs to be on par with the investment.
On a much smaller scale, the Bruins also suffered the vagaries of officiating when a goal by the Blue Jackets was allowed to stand in Round 2 after the puck clearly struck the netting atop the glass behind Tuukka Rask’s net in Columbus The officiating crew failed to spot the puck hitting the net — normally an immediate whistle for out of bounds.
“We already have extensive video review,” said Bettman. “We review every goal and non-goal — over 8,000 a season. We review offsides. We review goaltender interference.”
Implementation of “these extensions,” said Bettman, “is not always easy and can prove challenging.”
“But clearly,” he added, “what we already do may not be enough.”
Correct. It’s not enough. Not even close. And the fix is providing the guys in stripes with the same tech tools that fans have while watching on TV.
The blown calls have made the NHL look chintzy and inept. We are well into the age of high-definition TV and crystal-clear replays, all of which have shown this spring the officiating too often not up the task, or at least too often out of position. They need to be as good as the cameras.
Currently, video replay cannot be used to review plays such as the one in the Vegas-San Jose series, when a five-minute cross-check was called in the immediate wake of a faceoff. The fallen player, Sharks center Joe Pavelski, was bloodied during the play — but not as a result of the cross-check, which was a borderline two-minute infraction.
Had the officiating crew been able to look at replay before making the call, the five-minute major would not have been called. The Sharks would not have scored four times on the same penalty, and Vegas, in all likelihood, would have advanced to the next round.
Instead, Knights lose, season over, and Bettman was on the blower the next day to Foley with as serious case of Ralph Kramden “hummuna-hummunas”.
Bettman has a way of making the stakeholders understand what’s at stake. In this case, the GMs, players, and owners should be easy to sway. He can open up his meeting with a quick recap of the blown calls (roll the tape), and drag his charges a few steps more into the 21st century by convincing them to give the officials more latitude in the use replay in more applications.
“The ability to review and parse plays down to the millisecond has become both a blessing and a curse,” said Bettman. “If we are to extend video replay — and we will be looking at the possibility — we must find the right balance when it comes to how much more to use and when to use it without affecting the flow, pace and excitement of our game . . . and perhaps most important, we have to have a system that enables us to be consistent.”
With his usual confidence, Bettman said, “We will meet the challenge.”
The issue now isn’t figuring out what to do, or when to do it. It’s time to go to the replay and make the right call.
“No one should doubt that we want to get ‘it’ right,” said Bettman. “The fundamental question is the ‘it’ – when to intervene and what are the instances that require doing so, and of course, how to do it without destroying the fabric and essential elements of our game. We want every call to be correct. Everyone does. And while we seek to minimize errors, the speed of our game, unprecedented in its history, and the advances in technology, also unprecedented, have conspired to make the world’s best officials the focus of every call and non-call which no one can do in real time as well as they do.
“This is not a complaint. This is not an excuse. And we are not whining about it. It is simply the recognition of a challenge which we will address sensibly and appropriately and in the best interest of the game and those who love it.”