Thursday, January 14, 2010


In all the uproar about L'Affaire Burrows/Auger this week, I find it very, very surprising that hardly anybody is talking about what I think was the greater injustice perpetrated in Pittsburgh on January 7.

The Flyers were winning 5-3, when it appeared Philly had scored a sixth goal. The play went to video review, but after inspection of the available video, the league ruled no angle clearly showed the puck going over the goal line. No goal.

The problem? There WAS an angle that clearly showed the puck going over the goal line. The Pittsburgh homer broadcaster, Fox Sports Network Pittsburgh, which carried the only feed of the game, decided not to send that particular angle on to the league. The NHL is investigating the matter, but it seems pretty clear-cut that the only video clip that could have hurt the home team was purposely excluded from the tape sent to Toronto for judgement.

In the end, the Flyers won the game anyway, 7-4, so the cheating didn't really matter. This time. But, one must ask, what if that disallowed goal that kept the game at 5-3 gave the Penguins the emotional boost they needed to make a comeback? What if they'd won it 6-5 in OT? The Flyers are making a push back up the standings, and a loss in that game would have hurt them.

It's not the first time this has happened, either. Two years ago when Chris Pronger "stepped on" the neck of Ryan Kesler in what the Canucks claimed was a deliberate attempt to injure, the league first ruled there'd be no suspension involved because disciplinary officials didn't have any video proof that clearly showed Pronger stomping on Kesler. The league reversed that decision when, a few days later, the hometown Anaheim broadcaster...again the only source of tape of the game, and a source clearly interested in keeping Pronger on the ice..."found" a piece of tape that did, in fact, show Pronger jumping on Kesler on purpose.

This is a very, very dangerous thing. With video now such an important tool in league discipline and game outcomes, it must be above reproach in its integrity. The NHL cannot rely on hometown bias by broadcasters to dictate the fates of teams.

In a way, you almost can't blame the broadcasters, though. Often, they work for the teams themselves and their livelihoods depend on not pissing off the people who pay their salaries. So, if Brian Burke says, "Listen guys, we need Pronger. You don't have any tape showing he did anything wrong, do you," what do you do? I don't know if it went down that way, but you have to think there's an implication there that hometown broadcasters should be seen as supportive of the teams that pay them, especially in low-interest markets where balanced coverage can be seen as being too much coverage of the other guys.

Regardless, it's up to the NHL, which depends so heavily on video review, to make sure the tape its officials use is beyond reproach. The league is going to have to set it up so it has duplicates of all the tape first hand, without relying on local video editors to send it in. This didn't cost the Flyers, and Pronger got his suspension in the end. But you have to wonder, how many times has it happened when the broadcasters didn't get caught? And you have to worry about what will happen if a playoff game is on the line and the video editor in Buffalo or Nashville, who wants his team to succeed, gets tempted to "lose" a crucial bit of footage?

If the NHL wants to be taken seriously, these are questions that must never be answered. The league needs to solve this problem immediately. And, in the midst of all the fuss over Auger and Burrows, people need to talk about it. It's bad enough when the incompetence of on-ice officials hurts a team (yeah, I'm talking to YOU, Chris Lee!) and is written off as "human error". The video problem is an issue that has the potential to be much more devastating to a team's fortunes and the league's credibility than Stephane Auger ever dreamed of being.

1 comment:

James.P said...

Well one way to even things out is to always have 2 broadcasters in the building at once, which normally should be the case by default (2 teams are playing, they should each have their own network). For example, when the Habs travel, RDS always sends a tech team with them and creates their own broadcast from the other team's rink (as far as I know). So in a replay situation, if say FSN Pittsburgh wasn't providing the right angle, RDS could send their video to the War Room.

Comcast Sportsnet, the Flyers' broadcaster, usually covers all their road games as well as home games, but in this particular case could not send a team to the game for some reason.

The way I see it, since the NHL basically has to approve all TV deals the teams reach with local broadcasters, it should also force broadcasters to send production crews with the team for each road game, thus ensuring there's always 2 sets of cameras in an arena. Obviously come cameras can't be duplicated (in the net, right over the net, etc) but still it could save some trouble.