Thursday, 2 February 2012

When The Clock Strikes 1.8

A bizarre timing mistake happened last night during the game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Los Angeles Kings that allowed the Kings to escape the game with two points and send the Jackets away with nothing to show for their efforts. The NHL will investigate the error last night, but this might be the first time where a team has benefitted directly from a timing error. Whether it was a clock malfunction or human error isn't known at this time, the results of the game left Columbus GM Scott Howson furious for good reason.

Howson took to the interwebs on the Blue Jackets' website to express his thoughts on the game, but it appears that the NHL has forced Howson's hand and had the diatribe removed.. You can read the full article here thanks to the cached page, but there was one single paragraph that stood out for me in Howson's writing when I read it this morning.

"It’s easy to say that this doesn’t matter. We, the Blue Jackets, are in last place and it is likely not going to affect our place in the standings. However, in my opinion, this matters in many respects. It matters to our players, to our coaches, every person in our organization and our fans. In talking with our coaches and Craig Patrick, our players played with passion, tenacity, grit, determination and competitiveness after a rather embarrassing loss in San Jose the night before. This tremendous effort was put in without four of our top six defensemen (James Wisniewski, Nikita Nikitin, Marc Methot and Radek Martinek) and with Jeff Carter, Ryan Johansen, Mark Letestu and Kristian Huselius also out of the lineup. We will never know if we should have had one point or two points in the standings. What we do know is that we should not have had zero. Anyone who has competed at a high level of sports knows that when you put everything into a game, the result matters. And to have the result altered unfairly stings."
I have to admit that the Blue Jackets did play their collective rear ends off yesterday, and that, at first glance, it just seemed that they were bitten by bad luck once again.

However, just to put this all in context, if you haven't watched your local sports show's NHL highlight reel yet, here is the questionable event from last night's game. Keep your eye on the clock in the lower left corner when the dying seconds are ticking away.
Of course, one could assume that the clock in the corner was put up by the broadcaster, and was simply ahead of the official game clock. I've seen this happen on both TSN and CBC's Hockey Night In Canada where the time remaining on the TV stops momentarily as the broadcaster syncs its time with the actual game clock. Howson was all over this option as well.
"I spoke with (NHL Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations) Colin Campbell on two occasions after the game. Sometimes in watching the game on television there can be confusion with respect to the game clock. Some television broadcasts use their own game clock that is not official with the rink. However, and after double checking, Colin confirmed that we were actually seeing the official game clock stop for one full second. Therefore, when you do the math, Drew Doughty actually scored 0.4 seconds after time had expired, which means the goal should have been disallowed and should have gone to overtime. Colin has promised me that the NHL will investigate this to try and figure out how this happened."
And therein lies the problem. The official game clock in Los Angeles stopped during the mad scramble around the Blue Jackets' net, and this stoppage in time allowed just enough time so that Drew Doughty's goal counted as per the replay. I'm going to assume that the boys in the War Room in Toronto reviewed the goal when referee Stephen Walkom verified that it was a good goal, so how could they miss the clock not moving for over a second as they watched the replays?

I wanted to see if the NHL Rulebook had any sort of contingency plan in the event of a clock failure, and I found an interesting entry under Rule 34.7. It reads,
"In the event of any dispute regarding time, the matter shall be referred to the Referees for adjudication and their decision shall be final. They may use the Video Goal Judge to assist in rendering their final decision. (See Rule 38 – Video Goal Judge.) The Game Timekeeper shall assist to verify game time using an additional timing device (League-approved stopwatch)."
See that bolded part? The Video Goal Judge may "assist in rendering their final decision", but the game ultimately rests in the hands of the referee; in this case, Mr. Stephen Walkom, former NHL Director of Officiating. If Walkom decided that the game was over through the powers bestowed upon him as a referee, he has significantly affected the outcome of a game with a call that is egregiously wrong. That's not what the officials get paid to do, and Walkom's work in the final seconds of this game should be reviewed. His conversations with the War Room, the official Timekeeper, and the scorers really should be examined to see what was said and who said what.

There's no easy answer in terms of an answer in solving this problem. Kings' GM Dean Lombardi has already gone on record in stating that the clock regularly compensates for speed-ups and slow-downs in matching the official clock on the computer that runs the clock on the scoreboard. Frankly, I wasn't aware that Lombardi was an electrical engineer or a physicist in terms of his overly-scientific explanation, but we all have our hobbies, right?

A number of people have said that the game, or at least overtime, should be replayed so that the integrity of the game is upheld. In checking the two teams' schedules, they have one last meeting on March 8, 2012 when the Kings visit Columbus. This may be an opportune time to replay the overtime period if the NHL determines that that solution is the best course of action.

Unfortunately, I don't see this happening whatsoever for a few very good reasons.
  • The NHL Trade Deadline is on February 27, and there's a very good chance that both teams may be active at the deadline. If any players are acquired by either team, they would be technically be ineligible to play in the overtime period because they did not appear on the starting roster at the beginning of the game. How do you have either team play shorthanded without compromising the integrity of the game?
  • Any injury to an active player on the roster last night between now and March 8 would most likely result in an AHL call-up to take his place. Much like the players acquired at the trade deadline, the call-ups would also have to be ruled ineligible since they weren't on the starting roster. Again, the integrity of the game would be compromised.
  • The NHL has ruled that the game is officially over, meaning that the Kings receive the win and the two points. Because the game has officially been put in the books, the NHL would never, ever replay a game that has already been recorded as done and over. Integrity of the game, y'know.
So what is there left to do? Well, Columbus is still smarting from last night's result, and I'm pretty sure that Scott Howson wants something more than another loss recording on their standing for the season, and deservedly so. As it stands right now, Columbus is eleven points behind 29th-placed Edmonton, so it's not like awarding them additional points will upset the apple cart.

What the NHL needs to do is come out with a clear directive that any case like this going forward will be weighed on its own merits, and that no decision made today or in the future will hold precedence in terms of how any other decision on a situation like this will be resolved. And then render a decision on what to do with Columbus' legitimate complaint regarding the clock in this situation.

Honestly, this is a very ugly situation that the NHL needs to carefully wade through in order to make all parties happy. The one thing they may want to start with, however, is to stop having Dean "Coulombs" Lombardi work as the NHL's Science Advisor.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would have to say that this would be operator error. I don't know what kind of switch is used to operate the clock. But, one can imagine someone with their finger on the button/switch and applying slight pressure in anticipation with having to stop the clock. The button might not have been fully pressed but enough to cause the slight stop-and-go. (Like the funky button on my blackberry that is used to turns the screen on and off. I think it works when the wind changes direction even though it wasn't pushed far enough to "click".)