Sharks-Red Wings: On NHL Rule 85

Bleacher ReportSenior Analyst IFebruary 29, 2008

85.1 Puck Out of Bounds (PDF):

"... Should the puck strike the spectator netting at the ends and the corners of the arena, play shall be stopped and the ensuing face-off shall be determined as if the puck went outside the playing area. However, if the puck striking the spectator netting goes unnoticed by the on-ice officials, play shall continue as normal and resulting play with the puck shall be deemed a legitimate play. Players must not stop playing the game until they hear the whistle to do so."

My emphasis.

So that's the rule. Fine. That doesn't make it a good rule.

As Bruce MacLeod wrote, the key to the whole thing was the lack of noise. How four officials missed the lack of any sound such as the puck hitting glass is beyond me.

How is it that the puck is deflected high, over the glass so that it bulges the netting, falls back to the ice, and gets put in the net while four on-ice officials stand apparently oblivious to what's going on around them?

Actually, the referee in the corner (I did not catch his number) was apparently not quite oblivious: he actually brought his whistle halfway to his mouth before letting his hand drop as the puck returned to view. If he intended to stop the play, wasn't that puck dead under the accepted interpretation of Rule 32.2? Why didn't he follow through on the motion? Was he not surprised that the puck fell to the ice after a noticeable delay?

The fact that both referees were experienced officials makes their blunder all the more disappointing. According to the NHL Officials Association website, Tom Kowal is an seven-year veteran with over 321 NHL regular season games under his belt. Paul Devorski has been officiating since 1989 and has appeared in over 1041 NHL regular season and 116 playoff games. That both missed the puck hitting the net is inexcusable.

I don't want to get too hung up on a goal in a game in which the Sharks by and large dominated. However, what happened on that goal is shameful and an embarrassment to the NHL. It's analogous to an NFL running back going out of bounds and then back in bounds on a touchdown play and every official on the field somehow missing it. Tell me people wouldn't be justifiably upset.

What makes it worse is that there is no review on a play like that. As the rule says, any play following the striking of the netting by the puck that goes unnoticed by the referee is legitimate. That has to change when it leads directly to a goal. How can it still be considered a legitimate goal when the puck technically left the playing area?

In my opinion, the NHL should allow for the review of suspicious goals. Make it the job of the old goal judges to determine if a goal was scored under suspicious circumstances. If not the goal judges, allow the coaches of the team to challenge the goal.

Set up a checklist that includes looks at offsides, goaltender interference, high sticking, kicking motions, whistle blowing (intended or actual), the possibility that the puck went under the net or through the side, and possibility that the puck hit the netting. If any of those things occur during the offensive zone attack leading to the goal, it should be disallowed.

Giving the officials an out like Rule 85 currently does is just silly. Blowing a rule interpretation on goaltender interference is one thing. If they make a mistake on something such as rink boundaries or clearly definable lines, that's another. That sort of thing is not open to interpretation. It's pretty cut-and-dry, and video evidence can correct a mistake.

It's easy to complain about the goal as the reason the Wings lost. However, they had plenty of time to stage a comeback and wouldn't have been in that position had they not allowed the Sharks to dominate them in their own zone all night. Although the goal turned out to be the game winner, it's not the real reason the Wings lost. They were outplayed, once again.

However, I point the goal out because I believe the League should make the easy rule change. Use modern technology. Eliminate cheap goals like that. Give your officials some support so they don't have to bear the brunt of the fans' ire for blowing a call that could be overturned by video evidence.


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