What are coach’s challenges in the NHL

They say that change is the only constant. This is particularly true when it comes to how the NHL handles coach’s challenges and video review as part of the game.

This NHL rule for coach’s challenges is constantly being updated and tweaked. Here is the latest for the 2019-2020 season. 

After a goal is scored a coach is allowed to challenge the call if the goal resulted from a play that was offside, a call was missed that should have resulted in a stoppage of play, or to challenge a goal or no goal based on a goaltender interference call. The referee will use video review to determine whether the goal was good or not. If the coach is wrong, his team will receive a minor penalty. 

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Let’s look at the evolution of the coach’s challenges and then the current scenarios of how it is used. 


When did coach’s challenges come into the NHL?


In 2015-2016 the NHL introduced the coach’s challenge on two types of plays: Goaltender Interference Challenges and Offside Challenges, both after a goal had been scored.

At this point in the NHLs life it was believed that technology should be used to help make sure that the goals being scored were legitimate goals. There is nothing more frustrating than letting a mistake count when everyone can see that the goal should not be counted (except for the team getting the goal!). 

Therefore, the NHL decided to dip their toe in the water and allow not only referees to review goals at their discretion, but also allow coaches to be able to challenge calls on a limited number of situations. At this time the consequence of challenging a call and not being right would cost a team a timeout. A team would then not be able to challenge if they did not have a timeout.  

The NHL has tweaked the rules since then and added missed calls to the other two scenarios and changed the consequence for a lost challenge. 

Let’s take a look at these three situations for a coach’s challenge more in-depth. 


Goaltender Interference Challenges


A coach has the ability to call a challenge if he believes that the goaltender was interfered with prior to the goal being scored or if a goal had been waived off because of goaltender interference but should actually be a goal.

Related: Is a player allowed in the crease? 

A player is allowed to screen a goalie, but not deliberately touch the goalie while he is in the crease. He is also allowed to go in the crease and battle for a loose puck which may involve incidental contact. 

Simple enough? Well, not really. There are 100s of different variations of what can happen when a player is close to a goalie or touches a goalie that it can get quite confusing. Players, coaches and analysts have a hard time figuring out what the referees will call a goal or not.

So goaltender interference is the most common reason that a coach’s challenge will be used, but it is far from clear cut as to which way the referee will call it. I have watched countless games where I and the announcers and the players have really no idea if the goal will count even after watching dozens of replays. 

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It is important to note that the coach is not only going on what his eyes tell him as he originally watched the play. The coach will be in contact with the video coach who will give an opinion as to the validity of the goal and has a tablet at the bench to take a quick look, but they only have about 30 seconds to challenge before the play starts again. 


Offside Challenges

A coach has the ability to challenge a goal if he believes that the goal was scored as a result of a play that was offside. It is important to note that the only offside that will be looked at is the entry over the blue line proceeding that goal. Any other entries prior to that during the shift are excluded from review. 

ie. a coach cannot challenge for a potential offside that happened a minute prior to the goal when the puck has been up and down the ice three times

Hockey is an extremely fast moving sport, and there is potential that a goal can have been scored after 

How do you see this played out? 

The offside challenge really came out of a goal that Matt Duchene, then of the Colorado Avalanche, scored against the Nashville Predators in 2013. As you will see in the video, Duchene was a mile offside and the linesman just completely missed. 


The real question should be how often does a blown call like this get missed? Basically never, this really was the only time! 

Up until this point, what you would see happen with the offside challenge is that coaches will use it to examine potentially missed offside calls that would be only fractions of an inch offside. There will be team officials looking on their ipads to see if the play was offside and then signal to the coach to challenge or not.  Hey, if you only lose a timeout that is not that big of a risk, right? 

This is why they have brought in a consequence of the minor penalty. If you are wrong, you will not longer lose a timeout, but, instead, you will get a 2 minute minor penalty. And if it happens any additional times then you will get a 4 minute penalty. Now with that consequence a coach will want to be really sure before challenging the call!

Personally, I have never loved having the offside being challenged because I thought it took away goals on ‘offsides’ that really had no bearing on whether it was a goal or not. Does being offside by an amount that the human eye cannot even see without stop motion replays even impact the goal? Of course not! 

However, with the change being to a penalty if you are wrong instead of only losing a time out, I can live with it. 


Missed calls that could have resulted in stoppage of play


The newest allowable reason a coach can make a challenge is due to a missed call that could have resulted in a stoppage of play when a goal was scored. What does this mean?

Basically this means, for example, if there is a hand pass by the offensive team or the puck hits the mesh by the glass and comes back into play and the officials let the play go on (both of which should whistled for a stoppage immediately), the coach can challenge the resulting goal. 

The resulting play has to have happened in the offensive zone. If the play happened in the neutral zone prior or the other team’s defensive zone then it is not reviewable. In fact, I watched a game this year where the Avalanche knocked down a puck with a high stick in the neutral zone and went and scored on the Flames. This was not reviewable because it happened in the neutral zone even though it clearly should have been whistled down. 

This type of challenge really emerged from the 2018-19 playoffs when the San Jose Sharks won a game in overtime in the Conference Finals on a hand pass! Thankfully for the NHL, the Blues went onto win the series because can you imagine the protest in St. Louis if that goal cost them a chance at the Stanley Cup (which they did go onto win!). 

Here is a video of the handpass that resulted in a goal.

If there was a coach’s challenge, the play would have been called back immediately! 

How many of these coach’s challenges do they get?


So can they just challenge every goal that is scored based on one of these challenges? Because, why not it’s worth a shot? Well, they can but as I alluded to earlier, there is a consequence if you are wrong!

Well, the NHL wants to limit these challenges to as few as possible so they have set up some rules around the coach’s challenge.

When the NHL first instituted the coach’s challenge for the 2015-16 season, a team would have to have a timeout to use a challenge. And if they lose a challenge they would lose the timeout as well.

The league has evolved since then and beginning in the 2019-20 season a coach will be allowed to use an unlimited number of coach’s challenges. But, there is a catch. 

If they get the challenge wrong, their team will be assessed a 2 minute minor bench minor on their first challenge. Any subsequent challenge they get wrong they will be assessed a 4 minute minor 

The coach gets his challenge, but there is a steep price to pay if they are wrong. 

Imagine if they game is tied with 5 minutes to go and the coach challenges a call when they have already been wrong once. If they are wrong the team could be down for 4 minutes in a tight game. That could be the difference between winning and losing. 


Coach’s challenge success rates

So how well do coach’s do in their success rate of challenging?

Here are some stats of how all the coaches in the NHL did during the 2018-19 season. 

  • Total: 186 – 118 upheld, 68 overturned (37%)
    • Interference: 114 – 86 upheld, 28 overturned (25%).  Of the overturned calls, 25 were to ‘no goal’; 3 were from ‘no goal’ to ‘goal’
    • Offside: 65 – 25 upheld, 40 overturned (62%)
  • Goals Lost via Challenge
    • 6 – COL, DET
    • 5 – ARI, LAK, VGK
    • 4 – BOS, CGY, NYI
    • 3 – MTL, NSH, OTT
    • 2 – CHI, NYR, PHI, TOR, WPG
    • 1 – BUF, FLA, PIT, SJS, TBL, VAN, WSH
    • 0 – ANA, CAR, CBJ, DAL, EDM, MIN, NJD, STL

Source

So the coach’s did better on offside calls than goaltender interference calls. This is not surprise as the offside call is black and white, while the goaltender interference is subjective. You are either offside or you are not, and their is a lot of interpretation involved in the goaltender interference call and the referees usually go with the call on the ice unless their is sufficient evidence to overturn it.

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