“Hey, Murph, look at that,” says former NHL player Kris King, alerting Mike Murphy, his fellow senior vice-president of NHL hockey operations, to the Boston Bruins-Washington Capitals game playing on his TV screen.
“I’m putting it up there so you know. Linesman makes a great call, [Bruins forward]Krejci’s pissed and fires it at the linesman.”
Murphy asks: “They give him a penalty?”
King points to a monitor on the far wall of the 11th-floor NHL war room. “Unsportsmanlike.”
In the replay, Krejci does indeed launch a puck at linesman Jean Morin. The video will be sent to NHL offices in New York within minutes for the perusal of player safety commissar Brendan Shanahan.
Murphy turns in his chair in the centre of the league’s video-review headquarters.
“If someone wanted to know what happens, we can send that clip in seconds to anyone who wants to know,” he says. “The commissioner [Gary Bettman] [deputy commissioner]Bill Daly, Brendan Shanahan, even the referee. It takes about 10 minutes, and we can send it to everyone who needs to know.”
On the next screen, the live feed of the Bruins-Capitals game plays, flanked by two dedicated live-time overhead cameras above the nets occupied by Boston goaltender Tim Thomas and Washington counterpart Tomas Vokoun. It’s the first of 10 games that day and, as such, gets maximum attention from the staff in the room.
The array of monitors on the wall (there are 14 separate screens) at 50 Bay Street resembles a casino sports book – without the slots. It is no coincidence: the league’s operations department consulted with the tech people who create casino sports-viewing rooms when it moved its operation down a floor to this new room at the start of the 2011-12 NHL season.
Each work station also contains a mini version of the video wall for the staffer assigned to watch a particular game. The goal of this sparkling new room is not only to get the close calls right but to reduce the time an in-game video review takes and to convey the decision via e-mail and NHL.com to the world wondering, “What happened?”
Because of the live overhead net cameras now available, lag time is being greatly reduced.
“We probably know within 20, 30 seconds what the call is going to be,” Murphy says. “By the time the referee gets to the headphones, we have a pretty good idea already. We’re quicker and more accurate and more consistent.”
When those decisions are made they’ll be posted online (later with video) within 90 seconds of the call being made. (Using Twitter.com as well is being debated.)
Murphy is asked about the notorious time-clock snafu in Los Angeles on Feb. 1 that allowed the Kings to score a late goal in a crucial decision over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“When the goal was scored, I went to my video-booth guy, and he said there was still time left on the clock,” he says. “We have the official time clock burned into the feed. But he didn’t go back further to see where it paused. None of us did.
“How did the clock pause? Was it user error, was it a flaw with clock? I’m not about to accuse anybody. I know the man who ran the clock, I trust the fact that he said he didn’t stop it. But I also understand that we’ve tested it before and never had an issue with it. Now, when we have a late-second goal, we go back to the last stoppage and chase it down from there.
“That changed our procedures.”
The league is also ensuring that all buildings and broadcasters have access to the official time clock. “When you’re talking about hundredths of a second, there can be a slight discrepancy in time among the TV people and us. In one game, the signals had three distinct and different times.”
So far, the afternoon has been quiet. The NHL staff are like firemen, however, on alert. So they cue up a contentious call from the night before in Pittsburgh, where referee Marc Joannette called a goal against the Florida Panthers that was soon overturned.
Murphy points to the monitor. “You can see that the way [Panthers goalie]Jose Theodore’s arm came down, the puck could never have been in the net. Joannette first seems to call no-goal and then seems to change his mind. We were pretty sure very quickly. The combination of all the new net cam and the overhead helped us make the call to overturn.”