How to Fix the NHL’s Coach’s Challenge

It’s no secret. The NHL’s coach’s challenge has not gone as smoothly as hoped in its inaugural season.

It was put into place in order to give teams an option to challenge goals which they thought were not ‘good goals’ as deemed by the NHL rulebook.

However, the two times when a coach can challenge (offside or goaltender interference) are both very vague rules, changing depending on the linesman’s view and opinion, especially of goaltender interference. Not to mention, in a review of offside, the linesmen must look at the play on a tiny tablet to determine if a player’s foot is on the ice or not, without ground level cameras.

Although the coach’s challenge has certainly done it’s job in correcting missed calls, it continues to do exactly what the NHL doesn’t want. It is yet another way of cutting down on offence, in a time where commissioner, Gary Bettman, is constantly looking for ways to increase scoring.

The NHL executives will definitely review the coach’s challenge during the offseason, and perhaps they will make the necessary changes. But here’s some input for them to consider, we have come up with a few ways to fix the coach’s challenge, and there’s no arguing that each option would help tremendously.

How the Coach’s Challenge Works

The coach’s challenge was a new rule for the 2015-16 season. It was brought in to give coaches a chance to call for the review of a goal, but only in certain scenarios.

A coach can challenge a goal scored against his team in which he believes an offside play led to a goal, or which there was goaltender interference that took away his goalie’s chance of making the save.

A team can only challenge a goal if they still have their timeout available. If the challenge is a failure, the team must forfeit their timeout. However, if the challenge results in an overturned goal, then the team keeps its timeout.

Here is the league’s explanation of the rule:

1. A team may only request a Coach’s Challenge to review the following scenarios:

a) “Off-Side” Play Leading to a Goal. A play that results in a “GOAL” call on the ice where the defending team asserts that the play should have been stopped by reason of an “Off-Side” infraction by the attacking team.

b) Scoring Plays Involving Potential “Interference on the Goalkeeper”

(i) A play that results in a “GOAL” call on the ice where the defending team asserts that the goal should have been disallowed due to “Interference on the Goalkeeper,” as described in Rules 69.1, 69.3 and 69.4; or

(ii) A play that results in a “NO GOAL” call on the ice despite the puck having entered the net, where the on-ice Officials have determined that the attacking team was guilty of “Interference on the Goalkeeper” but where the attacking team asserts: (i) there was no actual contact of any kind initiated by an attacking Player with the goalkeeper; or (ii) the attacking Player was pushed, shoved, or fouled by a defending Player causing the attacking Player to come into contact with the goalkeeper; or (iii) the attacking Player’s positioning within the goal crease did not impair the goalkeeper’s ability to defend his goal and, in fact, had no discernible impact on the play.

How to Fix the Coach’s Challenge

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Officials often find themselves giving explanations for coach’s challenges, an extremely vague rule. (Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports)

When the review process of a challenge is taking up to five minutes, it is obvious that something isn’t working quite right. Making the linesmen try to see whether a player’s foot is on or off the ice for an offside call on a tiny tablet, with only overhead views available, means making the call ends up being an estimate.

The same goes for an interference challenge. What exactly is considered goaltender interference anyway? No one can tell because there is such limited consistency in the calls among different referees. That means that something a player gets away with in one game, may end up costing his team a goal in another.

It’s excruciatingly obvious that the NHL needs to lay down extremely specific, ‘black and white’, rules for goaltender interference. As for offside, perhaps cameras inside the boards, at ice level, at each blue line would take away the guessing job of linesmen.


a) Install ice level cameras inside the boards at each blue line.

These cameras would give linesmen the best possible view of a possible offside play. With the current views available for linesmen to use, they are able to determine whether a player’s foot is on the correct side of the blue line fairly easily. However, when it comes to whether the player’s ‘onside foot’ is still on the ice or not when the puck completely cross the blue line, it becomes anybody’s guess.

Here is an instance on Jan. 15, 2016 where a goal was scored on a play that may have been offside.

In the early stretch of a game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs, Hawks forward, Andrew Shaw, believed that he had scored the ever important first goal of the game. However, Leafs head coach, Mike Babcock decided to challenge the goal for offside.

After a lengthy review which mainly included the linesmen trying to decide whether Marian Hossa’s foot was on or off the ice at the time which the puck crossed the blue line, it was concluded that the play was offside. The goal was disallowed and the Maple Leafs retained their timeout.

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As you can see in the video, it is nearly impossible to know for sure whether Hossa’s foot was still on the ice with the available camera angles. Had there been an ice-level camera at the blue line, it would have been obvious whether his foot was on the ice or not. This would have cut down both the length of the review process, and the uncertainty of the final ruling.

Goaltender Interference:

b) If the goaltender’s feet are inside his crease at the time of contact, it will be considered interference. Otherwise, it will be considered incidental contact.

This rule would cut down the question of what exactly goaltender interference is. As it stands now, no one is certain of where the goalie must be positioned, or how much contact is needed to be considered goaltender interference.

With this new crystal clear version of the rule, any contact with a goaltender that affects his ability to make a save, while he is positioned inside his crease, will be called interference. If an opposing player makes contact with the goalie while he is outside of the crease, it will be called incidental contact, and no interference will be called.

Here is an instance on Oct. 31, 2015 where a goal was scored on a play which may have been goaltender interference.

The Flames believed that they had scored an insurance marker midway through the third period, but it was confirmed that Oilers goalie, Cam Talbot, was unable to try to make a save due to interference, so the call on the ice stood, no goal.

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Here, it is clear that Talbot was in his crease at the time Jones made contact with him, rendering Talbot unable to make an effort to save the puck. In this example, it is obvious that Talbot was in his area, making the call very easy for officials. Had Talbot been outside of his crease, the officials would have had to call it incidental contract, which would have resulted in a Calgary goal.

c) If an opposing player is pushed into the goaltender by a defender, it is not interference.

So often we see opposing players pushed into the goaltenders by defenders. On scoring plays, the line is blurred whether that is considered goaltender interference or not. With this rule, if an opposing player is pushed into the goaltender, it will not be considered interference.

You cannot possibly expect a player to get out of the way of the goaltender as he is shoved into his direction. It is the defender’s responsibility, and his actions which made the goaltender unable to make the save. Therefore, it will only be interference if the player makes contact with the goalie as a result of his, and only his, own doing.

Here is an instance on Oct. 15, 2015, where a player is pushed into the goaltender by a defender, causing confusion as to whether or not it is goalie interference.

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The correct call is made by officials here, as Charlie Coyle clearly made contact with Jake Allen as a result of the defenders actions. The call on the ice stood, good goal, Minnesota. The referees could not expect Coyle to avoid contact with Allen, as the Blues defender directed him into the goaltender. Had Coyle skated into Allen on his own, interference would have been called, and the goal would be disallowed.


With these respective rule changes, coach’s challenges should become extremely clear whether or not a good goal has been scored.

With ice level cameras at the blue line, linesmen will have a clear view of both the skater’s feet position on either side of the blue line, as well as whether his onside foot is still on the ice or not. This will make reviewing offside calls crystal clear, with absolutely no guessing involved.

On goaltender interference, referees will look at two things; is the goaltender positioned inside of his crease, and was the contact a result of, a) the defender pushing a player into his own goalie, or b) the offensive player’s own actions.

With these improvements, coach’s challenges will be reviewed in a much shorter time, and the correct call will be made with absolute certainty.

Have any ideas to fix the NHL Coach’s Challenge? Let us know in the comments section!