NHL Coach’s Challenge – Challenges Explained for Beginners

Posted on April 17, 2024 by Dan Kent
Game officials

A few years ago, the NHL implemented a new system for coaches to challenge specific calls made by referees on the ice. It feels like just yesterday when coaches, for the first time, were granted the power to contest referees' calls on goals, offsides, and goaltender interference on the ice.

The coach's challenge has become a topic of much debate among fans, players, and coaches alike. Some fans think it has drastically improved the accuracy on the ice. Others, however, think it just kills the game's overall flow.

If I were to make an estimate, I would say most dedicated fans of the game view it as improving accuracy. In contrast, newer fans who may not completely understand the rules may view it as a flow-killer.

Fast forward to the 2023 season, and the NHL, despite the blend of cheers and critiques, has held firm, albeit with a few tweaks here and there in the challenge rules. In this article, we're going to discuss all of them.

How does the NHL coach’s challenge work?

In the NHL, the coach's challenge is a tool coaches can use to challenge certain on-ice calls made by the officials. The challenge can be used to challenge goals scored, goaltender interference, offside calls, and missed stoppages of play.

How does a coach request a coach's challenge?

It's relatively easy. To initiate a challenge, the coach simply has to tell the referee. From there, the referee or linesman, in the case of an offside call, will utilize iPads provided by the league to review the call on the ice.

How many times can a coach challenge in the NHL?

A coach can challenge as many times as they want. Before the 2019-2020 season, you were required to have a timeout available to your team to challenge and were restricted to one per game. This has changed since, and the NHL has implemented a more drastic rule in case of an unsuccessful challenge. Let's go over it now.

What are the consequences of a failed challenge?

If a coach's challenge is unsuccessful, the team is assessed a minor penalty for delay of game. They don't lose their timeout anymore. However, I'd view the delay of game penalty as the much more impactful event.

The implications of failed challenges in the NHL can significantly sway the course of a game. Upon unsuccessful challenges, teams may experience a shift in momentum, potentially deflating the morale of players while elevating confidence within the opposing team. This is amplified even further if it ends up in a goal being awarded/taken away.

It is important to note that the success rate of coach challenges is not very high. In the 2022-2023 NHL season, only 33.3% of challenges were upheld. This means that teams must weigh the potential consequences of challenging a call before deciding.

Can a coach challenge a penalty?

It's important to note that not all calls can be challenged. For example, a coach cannot challenge a missed high-sticking call or a missed tripping call. Additionally, the coach's challenge cannot be used in the final minute of regulation or overtime.

The coach's challenge was introduced to the NHL in the 2015-2016 season. The purpose of the challenge is to ensure that the correct call is made on the ice, which can ultimately impact the outcome of the game.

Overall, the coach's challenge is a valuable tool for coaches to ensure that the correct call is made on the ice. While it may not always result in a call being overturned, it allows the officials to review the play and make the best possible call.

Types of challenges

Challenges can be for a wide variety of things. For the most part, coaches will challenge a play when they believe a goal was scored that shouldn't have been, for example, goaltender interference, a missed high-stick, or even a puck hitting the netting that got missed.

In addition to this, there could be offside challenges. Let's go over a few of them in-depth.

Offside challenges

An Offside challenge is used when a coach believes that an offside was missed by the linesman, leading to an offside play that resulted in a goal. If the review determines that the play was offside, the goal is disallowed, and the play is brought back outside the zone as if the whistle was blown for offside.

To be considered offside, the player's skates must completely cross the blue line before the puck does.

Goaltender interference challenges

A goalie interference challenge is used when a coach believes that the opposing team interfered with the goalie, leading to a goal being scored. Suppose the review determines that there was interference.

The goal is disallowed in that case, and the play is resumed as if the interference was initially called. Typically, this just means a faceoff inside the zone.

Goaltender interference occurs when a player interferes with the goalie's ability to move freely within their crease. If the goalie is outside his crease, he is considered fair game for opposing players. 

Of note, by fair game, I simply mean the refs will typically not give the goaltender the benefit of the doubt regarding incidental contact when they're outside the crease. You still can't outright hit the goalie, or you will get a penalty.

Stoppage of play challenge

Coaches can now challenge if a particular event or play has happened in the offensive zone that should have resulted in the play being whistled dead. This wasn't always the case, but the NHL brought it on board a few years ago with generally positive reactions.

Before the rule, a high-sticked puck, moved with a hand pass, or potentially hit the netting outside of the play was not challengeable if the ref missed it. These plays were happening often enough that the NHL felt they should introduce the ability to challenge them.

With it being in the offensive zone only, it hasn't slowed down the game's flow too much. I doubt they will ever expand this to the neutral zone, but who knows?

Consequences of challenges

Challenging a call can have significant consequences for the team. This section will discuss the implications of both successful and failed challenges.

Successful challenges

When a coach successfully challenges a call, the original call made by the on-ice officials is overturned. The play is resumed from the point where it would have continued if the infraction was originally called. For example, an offside would see the faceoff be brought into the neutral zone.

Successful challenges can have a significant impact on the momentum of the game. If a team successfully challenges a goal, it can swing the momentum in its favor. The momentum can also turn the opposite for a team with a disallowed goal.

Failed challenges

Failed challenges result in a two-minute minor penalty being assessed to the team. This can end up being a non-issue or could end up being devastating, especially in a close game.

There is an added element of risk for coaches challenging iffy situations when their opponent has a potent powerplay. On the other hand, they may be more willing to challenge a particular play that isn't clear-cut if their opponent has a weak powerplay.

The role of video reviews

Video reviews play a crucial role in the challenge process in the NHL. They allow officials to review a play in detail and from numerous angles available to make the best decision.

When a coach challenges a call, the officials on the ice use iPads to review the play in question. They can watch the play in slow motion, from different angles, and even zoom in on specific areas of the ice.

Technology in video reviews has greatly improved the accuracy of calls made on the ice. Using iPads and other advanced tools, officials can now make informed decisions based on clear evidence. This has reduced the number of incorrect calls made on the ice and has led to a fairer, albeit slower, game to a certain extent.

However, video reviews are not foolproof. Although many rules in hockey are written in the rulebook quite definitively, the referees ' personal opinions and discretion still come into play. There are no doubt some refs who call penalties more aggressively and some who let things slide. The same goes for things like goaltender interference. Offside and high-sticking challenges are more black-and-white but can still be very controversial.

A prime example would be a controversial call between the Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche in the Conference Finals of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Have a watch of the video below.

The Officials’ role

Referees involvement

Referees are the primary officials involved in the coach's challenge process in the NHL. They are responsible for deciding whether to uphold or overturn a call on the ice in terms of goaltender interference or an offensive zone mistake. 

Referees can initiate a review themselves if they believe a goal was scored illegally. If a coach decides to challenge a call, the referees will review the footage to determine if the call on the ice was correct.

During the review, the referees will watch the footage with the help of the NHL's Situation Room in Toronto. They will look for evidence to support or refute the call on the ice. If the evidence is conclusive, the referees will make the final decision. If the evidence is inconclusive, the call on the ice will stand.

Linesmen responsibilities

Linesmen are responsible for making calls related to offside and icing. If a coach challenges a goal based on an offside call, the linesmen's decision will be reviewed along with the goal.

In addition, linesmen are responsible for consistently ensuring players are not offside or icing the puck. If a linesman misses an offside or icing call, it can lead to a coach's challenge.

Coach challenge statistics

Coach challenges have become an integral part of the NHL game, allowing coaches to challenge specific calls made by the referees on the ice. 

The use of coach challenges has increased recently, with coaches becoming more strategic. This section will examine some coach challenge statistics and their impact on the game.

Of note, all stats have been pulled from Scoutingtherefs.com. Full credit to them for their awesome data.

Stats

There were 208 coach challenges during the 2022-2023 regular season, resulting in 142 overturned calls. This means that approximately 68% of all challenges were successful, a slight increase from the previous season's rate of 65.7%.

The high success rate is likely due to the video technology teams have available to them to make challenge decisions, along with the fact the NHL increased the consequences of failed challenges from a loss of a timeout to a 2-minute minor penalty. This is a drastic change, and coaches no doubt have to be near certain the call will be overturned, especially in crucial games.

Detail of challenges

The most common challenge during the 2022-2023 season was offside, with 107 challenges made. Of those challenges, 94 were overturned, resulting in a success rate of 88%. Other common challenges included goaltender interference (85 challenges, 42 overturned, 49% success rate) and missed stoppage of play (16 challenges, 6 overturned, 38% success rate)

Offside is a very cut-and-dry call, which is highly likely why the success rate is so high. At the same time, something like goaltender interference is up to the referee's discretion.

The evolution of the coach’s challenge

The coaches challenge was introduced in the 2015-2016 season to allow coaches to challenge specific calls made by the on-ice officials. Initially limited to goaltender interference and offside calls, it has since expanded to include other situations.

Advancements in technology have driven the evolution of the challenge. Coaches can now use iPads to review video footage of the play in question before deciding whether to challenge the call. This has made the process more efficient and accurate.

They've also removed the element of the team losing their timeout in the event a challenge is lost. This is borrowed from sports leagues like the NFL. However, in the NFL, timeouts are much more valuable as they stop the clock in critical moments. In the NHL, they aren't as helpful and as a result, numerous challenges on plays that would not be overturned.

They instead moved to a two-minute delay of game penalty for an unsuccessful challenge. And since then, there have been fewer challenges and a much higher success rate.

Who knows what the future brings regarding coaches' challenges. I have a neutral stance on them. At some points, I believe they destroy the flow of the game and alleviate a lot of fan frustrations towards the referees when an obvious call is missed in a crucial game.

I'm not sure I'd want them to make any more plays challengable right now, though. It's pretty solid as is.

Dan Kent

About the author

Growing up in a hockey hotbed (Calgary, Alberta. And yes, I'm an Oiler fan), I decided to put my love and knowledge of the game to work. I started at five and am still playing today into my early 30s. By acquiring Brave Stick Hockey and rebranding it to Big Shot Hockey in 2023, I plan to teach people about this great game and educate them on the best equipment and history of the game. On a career level, I am in finance, running one of the largest financial websites in Canada, Stocktrades.ca.

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