by Mike Chen on 11/19/09 at 06:20 PM ET
I might be in the minority here, but I support the idea behind the “intent to blow the whistle” rule. Refs are human and that means that they need to take time, however minuscule it is, to comprehend what they’re seeing, grab the whistle, and blow it. That part makes sense.
That being said, I think last night’s Brad May no-goal was a pretty spectacular job of backpedaling by the league. The problem with a rule based around something intangible like intent is that there’s no real way to quantify it. When you take intent and interpretation and third-party input, there’s no way it can come out clean. Because of that, close (or in May’s case, not so close) calls get tossed into this gray area where nothing good comes out of it.
But maybe there’s a way to add a little black-and-white to that gray area. Cue up your Thomas Dolby LP here.
Thanks to the miracles of modern science, there have been extensive studies done on how quickly the human body physically reacts once the mind processes a thought—known in layman’s terms as reaction time. In general, you’re looking at around 0.2 seconds. For a hockey ref, that means once he loses sight of the puck, it will take about 0.2 seconds for him to start moving his arm with the intention of grabbing the whistle and blowing on it.
Because hockey’s a fast-moving game with sticks and skates and jerseys flying around everywhere, what if we err on the side of caution and round that up to 0.3 seconds? Ok, then you establish that as your baseline and you add in video review. So, keeping that as a standard, you use your best camera angle of the ref to determine the moment that he begins the motion to blow the whistle. Once you define that moment, take it back 0.3 seconds. Has the puck crossed the line before then? If yes, then it crossed the line before he intended to blow the whistle. Case closed.
Here’s an example. If the puck is moving around the crease and it crosses the line with 10.5 seconds left but the whistle blows afterward, then we look at the replay. If the whistle blew at 10.2 seconds left, then that means the ref roughly began his intent at 10.6 seconds—or 0.1 seconds BEFORE the puck crossed the goal line. The intent was there before the puck crossed the goal line, so no goal. However, let’s say the whistle blew with 10 seconds left. That means that the intent began around 10.3 seconds left, which is about 0.2 seconds AFTER the puck crossed the line. Good goal.
You can get even more specific with this if you analyze the replay down to the frame/clock counter of when the ref began moving his arm to grab the whistle. It just gets too messy to describe an example without pictures.
(Sorry for the math problem, everyone. No more numbers, I promise.)
If the NHL leaves this issue up for interpretation, it’s just going to pop up time and again, creating a debate every few weeks about “What is intent?” Why not just take an average number proven by research and apply it to the rule? That way, there can be no debate. It may not be perfect, but at least it’s a hard-and-fast rule that both sides of the ice can agree to as The Rules.
As for the Brad May goal, the replay I saw didn’t have a clock tacked onto it. However, you can count a good “one-one-thousand” by the time the puck goes in and the whistle blows, so even eyeballing it tells us that this one’s a goal.
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