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Photo Credit: Tom Kostiuk

Monday Mailbag – Fixing goal reviews

Can you believe it’s been a week since the last mailbag? I guess time flies when you’re banging your head against the wall, trying to figure out what the hell is going on with this hockey team. As always, you’ve submitted your questions and I’ve sent them off to our panel of mental warlords for their thoughts and ideas. If you have a question for the Mailbag, you can always hit me up through email or on Twitter. Until then, enjoy the free learning opportunity.

1) Al asks – Still frustrated and bewildered over the goalie interference call vs. Calgary (not to mention Minnesota & Koivu even). But my question is re: McDavid and “abuse of officials.” I loved his passion and his fire in the emotion of the game. However, do teams/players ever worry about refs holding a grudge? They’re professionals, but humans. Do teams run analytics on refs and their tendencies to make certain calls at certain times on certain plays? Do teams watch out for certain refs? Will refs, not in an obvious way like with Auger and Burrows, but subtle way make a call/non-call against a player?

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Robin Brownlee:

Referees have memories. It’s human nature. The best ones do everything they can not to let that get in the way, but if every interaction with a given player involves him calling you a ^$&@@@ and  #@##^#%, there’s going to be a problem getting a square call. There are running beefs between coaches/players and referees that last years.

Jason Gregor:

I’ve asked about teams scouting officials before, but I’ve never got an answer saying they watch out for one. Every organization at different times feels an official is bias against them, but I’m not sure there is any proof an official does. I don’t think Kendrick Nicholson and Steve Kozari had any vendetta against McDavid or the Oilers, at least I’ve never seen games where they have, I just think they had a terrible night. Handing out misconducts like candy at halloween showed me they let their ego get best of them. I’d hope they’d be better next time.

Matt Henderson:

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There are websites that scout officials with some basic information that is pretty interesting. If teams AREN’T putting effort into that kind of research then it’s a wasted opportunity. It would be good to know what’s going on with these refs — who you can push and see better calls from later, who you cannot.

Christian Pagnani:

I think there was something with the Flames after the Dennis Wideman incident, but otherwise I doubt there’s much going on.

I’m sure they have biases and favour certain players. A player like Patrick Maroon isn’t going to get the benefit of the doubt like Jonathan Toews or Ryan Getzlaf would.

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Chris the Intern:

I don’t think it’s as serious as deeply analyzing every official before every game, but I’ve read interviews from retired referees about them holding grudges against players. I think it’s pretty common. HOWEVER, that goes for mostly shit-disturbers around the league. I’m pretty sure McDavid’s comments won’t have any long term affects on him with any other future referees… I hope so anyways.

Baggedmilk:

Refs will always remember if a guy cuts them down because they’re human beings, but the guys that did the Oilers/Flames game last Thursday were butter soft. Kassian got weak calls against him and they also had hurt little feelings about Connor, so we’ll see if that makes refs hate the Olers even more than they do now.

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2) Steve in Winnipeg asks – The NHL has really bunged up some of their goal review calls this season and I’m wondering how you think they can fix it?

Robin Brownlee:

Fans protest the loudest when one of those calls goes against their team. They look the other way when their team gets a break. That said, in a perfect world I think the best way to approach something like goaltender interference is to leave it to the discretion of the referee. The problem is that too many referees aren’t showing they have the ability to make common sense calls and there’s a huge disparity in what is and isn’t a goal — the Kesler play last spring compared to the McDavid call against Calgary for example. I also have an issue with referees who tend to think that any contact with a goaltender constitutes interference. In the course of a play it can happen. Does the goaltender have a chance to re-set after being contacted or is he knocked right out of position etc etc? I think there should have to be profound and undeniable evidence that the referee has missed something to overturn the call of a good goal.

Jason Gregor:

Good question. They could start by having a semblance of consistency. I’d recommend having a former official in the situation room, which recently should be called the Shituation room or Create a Situation room. At least a former official would have more experience. I can accept human error in games. I don’t expect refs/linesmen to make the right call all the time, because we are talking split-second decisions, but the video review takes five minutes. They watch it over and over and still get it wrong. It is a joke.

Matt Henderson:

No review should ever be allowed to go in slow motion EXCEPT when determining if a goal crossed the line. Anything else, like offside or interference, should be real-time only. Offside should be a plane (like the goal line) and not require both feet on the ice. Goalie interference has to actually impede the goalie.

Christian Pagnani:

They need to make it clearer. Truthfully, I didn’t think the call against McDavid in overtime was that bad. He makes contacts with Rittich and that impacts the play. People just get upset when similar plays are called differently.

Chris the Intern:

I don’t know man, no matter what you do, there’s always going to be a problem with the goaltender interference review process. I say you remove the challenge portion all together. If the referee doesn’t see it happen in real time, then the call on the ice stands. Pretty soon people will want coaches reviews for a slash that happened behind the play or something..

Baggedmilk:

All I know is that if I’m a goalie I’m flopping anytime someone comes anywhere near me. I mean, why not? If plays are going to be reviewed and goals are going to get called back for even the tiniest touch, then why not yard sale whenever an opposing player is in the crease? It’s ridiculous. I don’t have an answer for how to fix it because the NHL will probably do the opposite and continue to shoot themselves in the foot.

Oct 9, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Edmonton Oilers left wing Milan Lucic (27) during the face off against the Winnipeg Jets during the third period at Rogers Place. Winnipeg Jets won 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

3) Vetinari asks – A recent TSN article entitled “The Death of Heavy Hockey” says that in 2018, the teams built on the old LA Kings model of using big, heavy but slow players concentrating on puck separation and retrieval is outdated and are getting skinned by the light, agile and fast teams who can control puck possession and use the Oilers as the poster boys for following the old Kings template resulting in their current woes.  Do you agree?  If so, what is the way out from here? 

Robin Brownlee:

Teams need the right mix of size and speed. For me, big players who aren’t at least average skaters are a liability unless they are smart of enough to make up for lack of foot speed by saving steps with their brain.

Jason Gregor:

Who is heavy and slow on the Oilers? Maroon, and Lucic, although he isn’t as slow as people think. Letestu isn’t fast but he isn’t big. The Oilers woes aren’t at 5×5, where you assume lack of speed would come into play. They are getting killed on special teams and Maroon and Lucic aren’t on the PK, so I don’t necessarily agree with TSN’s assessment the Oilers are loaded with big, slow players. I agree the game is getting faster, no question, but big players on the Oilers like Nurse, Kassian, Puljujarvi aren’t slow at all.

Matt Henderson:

We could go back in time and convince Chiarelli that trading skill for size is a bad idea. The NHL is a fast league and only getting faster. McDavid alone is forcing Western teams to adopt better strategies. Edmonton is going to get beat by teams just trying to keep up with Edmonton.

Christian Pagnani:

I agree. Three of their top six aren’t good skaters (Lucic, Maroon, Strome). Those players still have value, but the Oilers have too many of them and it’s made them slower. I’d move on from Maroon and Strome and try to find players who skate well, with one of them being a penalty killer. Lucic’s contract is tough so he’s here for the long haul.

Their defence skates well enough but lacks puck-movers.

Focus on adding speed and skill and worrying about size and grit less. Your best player might be one of the fastest plays ever. Utilize that.

Chris the Intern:

I do agree, and the Penguins’ dynasty the last few years is proof of this. However, it’s not to say that the speed factor in the NHL will remain the same forever. I’m looking forward to seeing what other type of team becomes successful in the NHL. I doubt this speed thing will last forever.

Baggedmilk:

I don’t think big and heavy is the problem. I think the continuous downgrade in skill is the problem. If you keep trading Lambos for little red wagons then things are going to fall apart. The problem isn’t the size, it’s that the players coming in aren’t nearly as good as the ones going out.

4) Play Dirty asks – Given the success of the Golden Knights in their inaugural season, which may have been at the expense of some existing teams, do you see the NHL changing the rules for the “Seattle” expansion draft? Do you think teams will change their approach to their own protected lists?

Robin Brownlee:

Why change it? Who wants to see an expansion team come in and suck for three or four years because they get nothing upon entering the league? Success right out of the gate look like a good marketing tool to me. Vegas is one of the best stories, maybe the best story, in the NHL this season.

Jason Gregor:

I don’t see them changing it. But teams should plan better before the next expansion draft. The point was to make the expansion team more competitive. No one expected the VGK to be this good, but let’s see if it continues next year or if it was just an incredible first season where they have ridden the wave or momentum and emotion from October.

Matt Henderson:

Yeah. There might be some tweaking of rules. That said, maybe they just need to have a rule in place that prevents Dale Tallon from dealing with Seattle.

Christian Pagnani:

Leave it how it is. Vegas being competitive out the gate must be huge for the market and the fans. How many fans would be there if they were like most expansion teams?

Teams might be more willing to just let one good player go next time instead of making side deals involving draft picks.

Chris the Intern:

I’d say no. Doesn’t make sense for the NHL to make the expansion teams less successful. This Vegas team is entertainment for the whole league, and I say good on em!

Baggedmilk:

Can’t see why the NHL would change the rules of expansion given how good Vegas has been. My bigger concern is how the hell the Oilers are going to build a protected list.

Dec 18, 2017; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; The Edmonton Oilers celebrate a second period goal by forward Drake Caggiula (91) against the San Jose Sharks at Rogers Place. Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

5) Dale asks – The Oilers just came off their bye week, played three games, and are going back on another break for another week. What do you think of the way the schedule was laid out? Do you have any suggestions for improvement?

Robin Brownlee:

I would rather see one longer break, but some players will tell you they don’t want to be off the ice too long mid-season.

Jason Gregor:

Many teams had a similar schedule with bye week and then AS break. The Oilers are a bit different because they have two extra days after the AS break and don’t start until Thursday. But it would make more sense to have the bye weeks at a different time rather than two weeks before the AS break where teams get four days off (excluding the stars going to the game). Why not just have the bye weeks around Christmas? Players, refs, arena staff, etc could spend more time between Xmas and New Years with family and it would give players a break a month apart rather than within two weeks.
Matt Henderson:

I hate the Oilers schedule — way too many afternoon games. That alone is enough to make me dislike this thing. Also, not nearly enough Saturday games. Oh, and the Oilers didn’t play Anaheim (after a heated playoff series) for months? Who made this thing?

As far as the time off goes, I don’t really care though.

Christian Pagnani:

It’s weird. I’m not sure they need so many breaks in the schedule.

Chris the Intern:

If we were in a tough playoff race right now I’d probably be upset about it. But if anything the time off is probably best for players to rest up. This is the time of year where if you’re not in tip top shape, injuries could occur more frequently when guys get tired out. The breaks might be good to keep everyone healthy.

Baggedmilk:

Yeah, I thought it was weird to have this many breaks too. I would be more annoyed if the Oilers were rolling, but since they’re not I’m enjoying the time off.

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  • WillyWonka

    the League doesn’t have time to tweak the expansion draft rules, they are too busy trying to figure out what it will take to get one particular team to stop getting all the first overall picks… made changes once and appear to need to make more to stop the insanity

  • Heschultzhescores

    The fun way would be to allow the fans to vote fplor a 2 min window. It’s about the same odds as the refs getting it right now, but more fun and money could be made doing this. And isn’t that the whole idea of today’s NHL?

  • CRONENBERG

    Side note: McDavid and Brent Burns are TWO PEAS IN A POD! Chiarelli, find a way to get him on our team. I don’t know how you’ll do it but get it done! And then all is forgiven.

    • TKB2677

      Burns is 32, turning 33 in March. After this season, he has 7 more years at 8 mill. I like Burns, for the next seasons or 2, I’d love to have him on my team, after that, no thanks. In the very near future, his contract will be EXACTLY like Seabrooks. A contract where you say “we have him for how many more years at how much? CRAP!!”

        • Dan 1919

          Lucic signed as a 28 year old, 20g/50pt, 6’3” Stanley cup winner. I’m not going to try and say he’s a value contract, but $6mill for that is not that outrageous. Big name UFA’s always get some extra cushion in their contracts, and his came as a NMC and an extra year or two. But his last two years have a modified NMC anyway. I really don’t mind Lucic on this team, the problem is we have too many Lucic’s and still no Dmen who can start a solid breakout more often then chipping it out/giving it away.

        • crabman

          The difference with Lucic is he will be 34 when his contract ends not 40. Lots of players play effective hockey until they are 34 but it is very rare for a 40 year old. I agree that Lucic isn’t a great contract as mentioned by most at the time of the signing it is probably a year or 2 too long and the signing bonus aspect makes it virtually buyout proof. as Dan1919 mentioned Lucic and his contract alone aren’t the problem. If other parts of the team were built better and playing better we wouldn’t be as concerned with Lucic.

          • Kneedroptalbot

            Lucic can’t keep up with the 1st 2 lines, yet he is being paid like a top 3 forward?? 6M x 7yrs to stand in front of the net on the PP (which he does well). TX Peter

          • crabman

            @kneedroptalbot, Lucic is actually scoring like a top line winger. He is top 50 in league scoring for wingers. Also top 10 in hits( big Part of what he is signed to do ).

      • Dan 1919

        Yeah exactly, it rarely makes sense to get an NHL star after the age of about 31/32. 90% of the time a star has signed his final big contract by then which basically awards them money at the end of their career for what they did at the start. It’s tough for most teams to justify that contract, regardless of the big name.

        Lucic falls into the same category, no doubt his contract isn’t the greatest, but it’s pretty much the cost of signing those types. Sure he’s no Kane, but he was a big name UFA player and if you’re team decides to go for one, you pay, period.

  • Serious Gord

    1.put the names back on the ref’s jersey that way we know who to hate and we in an indirect way can hold them accountable (and it helps increase the entertainment value a little)

    2. Henderson is out to lunch. Reviewers should have the same tools to review a play as the fans do.

    3. Size and speed aren’t killing the oil. It’s special teams. Even average production on both would put the oil in playoff contention.

    4. No way should or will they change the expansion draft. These teams will be writing checks for north of 1/2 billion – they deserve a good start right out of the gate.

    5. Get rid of the all star game or move it to September. And give teams more shorter mid-week breaks. And end the regular season and playoffs two weeks sooner.

  • JimmyV1965

    I’m not going to slag the writer of the article proclaiming the death of heavy hockey, but that was a piece of garbage reporting if I’ve ever seen one. The guy clearly had a narrative that he tried to defend using grade school stats.

    One of the main points in the article is the correlation between hits and points. So he trots out a graph showing eight seasons, four where high hits correlate positively with points and four seasons where high hits correlate negatively with points. Yet he cites this as proof that hits correlate negatively with points.

    Sure this year it appears there’s a strong correlation between high hits and low point totals but that can be explained in a dozen ways.

    Then he goes on to say the Oilers performance is somehow related to all our hittting. Sure we hit a lot but we have some very aggressive players.

    The guy clearly hasn’t watched the Oilers play because it has nothing to do with hits. We are losing because we give up too many goals early in the game and we’re too fragile right now to overcome that.

    Again, I’m not slagging the writer here, but the article he wrote was awful.

    I’m also sick of the narrative that we have a slow team. Every team in the league has slow players. In the last game Lucic beat two Flames players in a foot race. No one is calling them slow. No one calls the Blues slow. No one called us slow last year. Again, just another silly narrative to explain why we’re losing.

    • crabman

      two points,
      1st you absolutely are slagging the author and he absolutely deserves it.
      2nd, the Oilers are a slow team this year but I don’t think it has much to do with individual player skating speed. It all comes down to playing fast and execution or lack there of. Taking an extra second to react to a play or try to make a pass. Making poor decisions or poor breakout passes all lead to slow play. No player in the league can skate faster than the puck being passed. Most “fast” teams aren’t built of all world beater skaters. They have good passers. McDavid would be even faster down the ice if he was hit on the tape as he left the zone rather than needing to stop and go or turn back and wind up himself allowing defenders to get better positioned and ready for his attack.

  • wayne overland

    Hendo you state “Edmonton is going to get beat by teams just trying to keep up with Edmonton.” Are you saying that the Oil and fast or slow? If teams are “just trying to keep up” doesn’t this imply the Oil are faster?

    • McDavid is fast. Not many other Oilers are fast. Except McDavid will force other clubs to adapt to his speed and become faster. So if Edmonton’s opponents start focusing on speed to adapt to McDavid but Edmonton itself doesnt, then they are going to be passed by the opposition.

  • camdog

    The LA Kings teams were built to win the Corsi. The same guy writing Death of Heavy Hockey is the same guy saying that teams with the Oilers advanced stats should be winning more. If you have Caggiula on the penalty kill and Lucic on 3 on 3 is that a coaching problem or is that on the GM?

  • Dan 1919

    The NHL reffing is atrocious as of the past couple seasons. Players get bought out/scratched, coaches/gms get fired sometimes over things that they can’t even control, and refs are still held to this unspoken mafia like standard. It’s a joke, they should be put in the limelight and have to answer or be relegated out of the NHL if they have too many poor calls.
    I don’t think the NHL brass that’s directing the “slant” believes they are doing that much wrong, however when they place a minor agenda for officials on a large multi billion dollar sports league it doesn’t take much to get into the territory of straight up collusion and breaking the law. You watch what guys like Getzlaf get away with by hauling players down or Kesler pushing the goalie out of the way… This crap goes on year after year being uncalled with the California teams getting the calls. Furthermore, you watch all the non-calls against McDavid… Why do I want to see some third string plug d-man tackle the best player in the world because he just got undressed and gets no call?
    If I was Katz, I wouldn’t necessarily make a big public production, but I would definitely be gathering the data to see missed calls against and for on his team, because any avid hockey fan of any team nowadays will tell you that the big market US teams get the calls.

  • Heschultzhescores

    How about let each official doing the game and 1 Toronto war room clown check goal or no goal…onside or offside and if there is even 1 of the 4 that sees not enough evidence to overturn then the call on the ice stands. The solution is in using more than one person that would virtually make the decision a more correct one.

  • RJ

    If the team is built to use size to dominate teams, but then can’t use that size because any PK situation means the opposing team probably scores, then they have just chopped out one of their own legs.

    That’s on the players. It’s on the coaching staff for failing to adjust. It’s on Chia.

  • TKB2677

    When it comes to most things that Matt Henderson says, I tend to disagree with him. However, I actually agree with him on the review comment.

    The game is played at real time where the players are going full speed. Calls on the ice are made at full speed where the refs are at times looking through bodies, legs, sticks and skates. They aren’t making calls at super slow motion, frame by frame if they need too and they aren’t making calls super zoomed in. For the most part, the officials get the calls right even the close ones but the odd time they miss one.

    To make the review system better, I would like to see the following.
    1. Other than using it for goals, I would not allow reviews to be zoomed in. If the call is so close that the naked eye can’t see it and you have to zoom in to be able to make a call, then clearly it had no impact on the play for either team. If the league is so worried about making sure that a play is not offside by an inch that they allow for super slow, super zoomed in to make that call, what about all the times that the play is an inch ONSIDE but it gets whistled? How many potential goals could have been scored on a rush that were whistled offside but were really just fine?

    2) I sort of mentioned it above but expect for goals, I would not allow reviews to be done at super slow motion. The game is played at full speed, call are made at full speed. If you have to slow the game down to frame by frame to see it, then obviously that play did not have an impact on any of the teams. Again, if you are worried about making sure that a play is onside by an inch that you are OK to allow the game to be slowed down to a frame my frame speed, something that doesn’t happen normally, what about all the times that plays were incorrectly called offside when they were in fact ONSIDE by that inch. There are a TON of really, really, really close calls at the line that get whistled dead what could easily be onside but at full speed, you can’t tell.
    3) If you want to keep the super zoomed in and if you want to keep the super slow motion, then I would put a limit on the time a play can be reviewed. If when you slow the play down to a frame by frame speed and you zoom it in, you can’t make a decision in 30-45 secs. Then clearly it’s too close to call and had ZERO impact on the game. The review of he disallowed goal in the Oilers last game took at least 5 mins. If it takes the reviewers that long, then clearly its not obvious interference. The goal of any review should be to get the obvious call right. If the call is obvious, it shouldn’t take you long if you slow the play down and zoom it in to make it. If you have to slow it down, zoom it in and look at the same play from multiple angles over and over again, then clearly its extremely close, has the potential to go either way and didn’t impact the play.

    The disallowed goal showed that McDavid did clip the Flames goalie stick by accident. However, the goalie was able to stop sliding the way he was going, reset his feet move the opposite direction AND move his glove to try and make the save. If McDavid’s nudging interfered with the Flames goalie, not a chance he could do all of that.

  • I think we’re all tired of the “Oilers are big and slow” being a thing–because it’s not. There really isn’t any difference in terms of speed between last season and this one.

    When they play at a quicker pace, they’re good. Slowness can sometimes be attributed to thinking too much in trying to be in position rather than just playing and going for it.

    Take the Oilers PP. Slow as heck. Passes aren’t quick. Not because of skating, but because of dilly-dallying and thinking too much with the puck. This includes McDavid.