Inside the NHL’s “war room”
Thursday, 17 December 2009
Originally published in Eishockey News in 2008
By Lucas Aykroyd
Yes, the NHL has a “war room.” And no, it’s not to be confused with the one in Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1964 movie Dr. Strangelove, where crazy generals nearly start a nuclear war.
The “war room” is actually the popular name for the Roger Neilson Video Room, on the 11th floor of the Air Canada Centre at NHL headquarters in Toronto. It’s named after the deceased coach who did more to pioneer the use of video in the NHL than anyone else, and it holds close to 30 plasma TV screens that show the various games taking place around the league on any given night. This is where the league checks the validity of goals, including pucks directed in by a skate or hand or struck by a high stick.
Although each NHL arena has its own on-site video goal judges, the final say on whether a goal counts or not goes to the team of seven or eight reviewers in this room, including well-known names like NHL Vice-President of Hockey Operations Mike Murphy and former NHL tough guy Kris King. This system has been in place since 2002-03.
“Our job is to watch the games and monitor the games,” said Murphy. “It’s also to hold officiating accountable for calls on the ice.”
Of course, even with centralized video review, not everyone is going to agree with the decisions all the time. When the New Jersey Devils lost their second straight game on December 11, 2007 with a 3-2 defeat versus the Washington Capitals, the Devils had a potential Mike Mottau goal disallowed because the “war room” determined that the defenseman made a distinct kicking motion toward the puck. However, New Jersey coach Brent Sutter argued that the puck had actually gone in off Mottau’s other skate and therefore should have counted.
“Some nights it’s pretty hectic in here,” said King. “Other nights, it’s just watching hockey games. My friends think I have the best gig, getting paid to watch hockey games.”
Additionally, the “war room” has eliminated the need for teams to send in videos of controversial incidents to the league for review. For instance, in 2006, when Donald Brashear of the Philadelphia Flyers went after Darius Kasparaitis of the New York Rangers late in a game, NHL justice minister Colin Campbell was able to review the play immediately, assess a one-game suspension for Brashear and a $10,000 fine for Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock, and phone the two teams with his decision.
Referees who persistently make bad calls or linesmen who drop the puck sloppily on faceoffs can be reprimanded after their work is reviewed in Toronto.
Overall, the “war room” is actually one of the best ways to keep the peace in the NHL by reducing the number of blown calls in a sport that’s notoriously hard to officiate.