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NHL centralized replay proving to be model as MLB adopts expanded review

January 21, 2014 - 2:06 PM

Major League Baseball will have expanded instant replay next season and it will look a lot like the NHL's system.

All replays will be reviewed from MLB Advanced Media headquarters in New York, as the NHL does with its situation room in Toronto. And while managers' challenges represent a step the NHL has yet to take, this could be just be the first example of other sports borrowing hockey's centralized-replay model.

"One thing that a central location does is it brings consistency to your calls," senior VP of hockey operations Mike Murphy said in a phone interview. "So the call you get tonight is probably going to be the same as the call tomorrow night or the next night because it's the same people doing it."

When the goal is to get the call right, making all the decisions in one place should help as baseball goes from looking at just home runs to almost everything except balls and strikes. If a manager wants to challenge a call, he has a chance to do so, and from the seventh inning on the umpire who's serving as the crew chief can initiate review if he sees fit.

That's more expanded than what the NHL does, and it could serve as a glimpse into hockey's future. But for now, as MLB special assistant and former manager Tony La Russa pointed out, baseball is doing a "historic thing" in brushing off tradition to be more accurate.

It's no coincidence that the move to centralized replay came after MLB senior VP of standards and on-field operations Joe Garagiola Jr. visited the NHL's situation room.

"Well, we've had meetings in here with both the NBA and the NFL. Years ago Major League Baseball did come in here," Murphy said. "We've had horse racing come in and look at our place. ... We've had a lot of sports. We've had Aussie rugby come in a couple of months ago and look at our setup here."

So as much grief as NHL officiating gets at times, there's reason to believe the league's review process — at least when it comes to whether the puck crossed the line — is the best system available for professional leagues.

MLB umpires previously checked out home-run calls themselves using monitors within the stadium, similar to how NFL referees went "under the hood" on the sideline to look at various replays. Now, everything will go to New York.

That could be coming to the NFL, too, as commissioner Roger Goodell has broached that possibility an effort to improve speed and accuracy.

"We always think we can improve," Goodell told NFL.com at league meetings last month. "Consistency is important. By bringing it into the league office on Sundays and having one person actually making that decision, you can make an argument there's consistency."

Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said centralized replay could expedite the replay-review process and make it "fairer" for referees, who have held extra responsibilities since the NFL instituted coach's challenges.

That's baseball's hope, as it will hire someone to work in a position similar to Murphy's to oversee the logistical aspects of instant replay. After many years of debate, MLB is finally embracing the technology that's available.

"If I'm a manager, if (replay) goes against me, I think you want to win if you should win and you don't want to get beat by something that was a miss that is now (able to be) corrected," La Russa said.

NHL coaches agree with that sentiment.

"In the end, all we want is the right call," Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said in a phone interview. "I think that's what both teams want."

Boudreau would be in favour of a coach's challenge system in the NHL similar to what baseball will implement. Managers will be able to challenge one play — any or all aspects of it — and then if a call is overturned get to challenge a second one.

"I would be for it as long as it was something that a coach can't put up his hand every 30 seconds," Boudreau said. "I don't know how they'd do it, but there are times when goals are disallowed or allowed mainly with people knocking the goalie or something to do with that could be challenged."

Boudreau recalled incidents from the 2008 and 2010 playoffs when his Washington Capitals were on the wrong end of potential goaltender interference calls.

"If we had (challenges) in those situations, things might've been a little bit different. It might've been different for my life, too," said Boudreau, who was fired as Capitals coach in 2011 and hired in Anaheim days later.

The NHL has considered that possibility, though Murphy singled out goalie interference as a play that is difficult to review because a "solid criteria" hasn't been figured out yet on how to rule on it.

"A lot of discussion has taken place with our managers about coach's challenges, and we've beaten it up pretty good," Murphy said. "You get into reviews on goalie interference, that's a very subjective area, so we've got to have very defined parameters as to what is goalie interference. ... There's a lot going on there that has to be detailed if you're going to do it this accurately and do it correctly."

MLB tested out instant replay during the Arizona Fall League, and several areas had to be clarified before players and umpires consented to the expansion and all 30 teams unanimously voted to approve it. Ultimately, it came after too many incorrect calls over a number of years.

"(Executive VP of baseball operations Joe Torre) explained it in a beautiful way," La Russa recalled. "When the game is over and there's been a big miss and the wrong team caught a break that probably directed impacted it, there's so much conversation about the miss that you forget about the competition that went on that got to that point."

A similar instance occurred in the NHL on Saturday night when the Detroit Red Wings scored the tying goal against the Los Angeles Kings after the puck went off the protective netting, which is supposed to be out of play. That play is not reviewable as replay is limited to just goals — whether the puck went over the line, was kicked in or directed in with a high stick.

The NHL planned to have video review for all double-minor high-sticking penalties this season, but too many questions about various scenarios put that on hold. Director of hockey operations Colin Campbell, who Murphy credited with coming up with the situation room approach to streamline the process, said in September he'd like to see offside plays reviewed in the event they lead to goals that shouldn't have counted.

A player sending the puck over the glass from the defensive zone leading to a penalty is another controversial call that could at some point become subject to video review.

All that could come via coach's challenges, but Murphy said it wouldn't change much of how the situation room operates.

"It would just expand the criteria that we can review, whether it's a puck over the (glass), whether it's a goalie interference, whether it be offside," Murphy said. "It would have to be a non-judgment play.

"It would be a play where we have to have complete and accurate video review in order to make it."

The future of replay review in the NHL could include high-speed cameras put in goal-posts and crossbars, according to Murphy, who said attempts to put a microchip in the puck to prove the certainty of goals have proven unsuccessful. Below-freezing temperatures aren't ideal for that.

"Anything we've ever tested, that hasn't worked," Murphy said. "For whatever reason the dynamics of the puck, altering the state of the puck has been a problem. The players haven't liked the way it's performed."

Murphy said the NHL also consulted with Hawk-Eye Innovations Ltd., the company that does reviews for tennis and other sports, but didn't feel it was right. Too many bodies and sticks in the way on an ice rink made for very different conditions than a tennis court.

One of the most difficult plays is when a goal is scored with a potential high stick, Murphy said, because in Toronto the situation room is evaluating a three-dimensional situation on a two-dimensional screen. In a perfect world, he would like to be able to have graphs made to determine exactly where a player's stick was in comparison to the crossbar.

"As your technology gets better, we'll get better," Murphy said. "We'll continue to look at everything we can to try to make our sport as accurate as it can possibly be."

That's certainly baseball's goal as it tries out expanded instant replay. Atlanta Braves president John Schuerholz told reporters in Arizona last week that everything will be reviewed after each of the next two seasons to iron out any kinks.

"At the end of year three, we expect to be as near perfect as we humans can get in this system," Schuerholz said.

Torre wondered what "price you want to pay" for slowing the game down, something Murphy said was always a concern in hockey.

"The ultimate goal is to get it right, but it's a slippery slope not to slow the game down to a snail's pace," he said. "It can take a lot of life out of a sport if you keep reviewing plays and it takes a long time to do it."

What helps the NHL is access to real-time replays, an improvement from satellites. Now Murphy and his crew can look at situations often before referees ask for a second opinion.

Because those working in the situation room are, in Murphy's words, so "qualified" to see and judged plays correctly the first time, the NHL has cut down from about 400 reviews a year to roughly 300.

Just as manager's challenges will cause some baseball games to last longer, coach's challenges in the NHL would increase the number of reviews and take more time. But if it's a means to an accurate end, few will complain.

"I think in sports in general, everybody wants the right call: The fans want the right call, the fans want the right call, the players want the right call," Murphy said. "Sometimes even when it goes against them, they can life if the call is right. They can live with it. I think that's one of the things that every sport is pushing for is to make sure we get the right call and that we get the right call in a timely fashion."

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