About that Flyers challenge last night…

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Last night Dave Hakstol and the Flyers were the first team to get burned by the NHL’s new offside challenge rule. With a one-goal lead over Nashville and just 2:41 left in the 3rd period, Philadelphia was dinged for not one but two minor penalties at the same time. And on the ensuing 5-on-3 power play, Scott Hartnell banged in a loose puck to tie the game up.


Philly, however, decided there was something not quite right about Hartnell’s goal. They thought that Filip Forsberg may have snuck into the offensive zone just slightly ahead of the puck on the zone entry that preceded the tying marker. The Flyers decided to challenge, hoping that video review would negate the Preds’ goal and put them back on top with just under two minutes to play.

When news first came out of the league’s proposal to change the rules, there was a lot of skepticism that it would act as much of a deterrent to frivolous challenges. While no coach wants to see their team go on the penalty kill after conceding a goal, the odds were still stacked pretty heavily in favour of challenging even in low probability scenarios. In a normal even-strength situation, your probability of success doesn’t need to be all that high in order to make a challenge worthwhile, in fact you’re safe challenging a lot of the time with less than a 25% certainty of success.
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How certain do you need to be on an offside challenge?

Offside challenges are, to say the least, a controversial topic. While many have advocated for the benefit of getting the call right even at the cost of a delay in the game, it’s almost indisputable that the introduction of the offside challenge has slowed down the flow of the game. Over the past two years, coaches have challenged any play that was remotely close with the hopes of getting lucky on the video review, to the dismay of basically anyone other than replay technicians.

Those spurious challenges are one reason why the NHL modified the rules around coach’s challenges yesterday. Starting next season, instead of a failed challenge simply resulting in the loss of a team’s timeout, clubs will now face a 2 minute penalty for losing an offside challenge. Upon hearing of this change many fans were apoplectic, complaining that this rule change could bury teams who were already reeling from giving up a goal against, and would severely limit the willingness of coaches to challenge even legitimate missed offside calls.

Fan reaction notwithstanding, however, the question coaches should be asking is whether they should be changing their approach in response to the new rules. The threat of killing off a penalty for a failed challenge may seem like a big deal, but it’s important to note that teams only score on roughly 20% of their power play opportunities. Fans will surely remember when a failed challenge leads to a power play goal against, but there will certainly be occasions when the potential gain from overturning your opponent’s goal outweighs the risk.

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