The integrity of the game.
That's the issue at hand in this incident between FSN Pittsburgh, their producer Lowell MacDonald Jr., and the NHL's video replay system. The network deserves kudos for suspending MacDonald, showing that they won't accept the egregious violation that occurred when the FSN technical crew covering last Thursday's game decided not to broadcast replay that conclusively proved Simon Gagne scored a goal until after an irreversible decision was made on the play.
MacDonald's decision kept that replay from NHL officials in Toronto, leaving them only with video that couldn't prove Gagne scored.
The NHL also deserves praise for investigating the matter and promptly and swiftly seeing that action was taken. But while action was taken effectively in this one situation, there are still vast concerns about the state of video replay in the NHL and the violations that could potentially go unseen in the future, and those that may have happened in the past.
What we've learned in this case is that the NHL's 'War Room', where decisions are made each night on potential goals, is reliant upon video from networks covering games, and that they don't have cameras of their own located in every arena.
Would it be possible to outfit all 30 NHL arenas with five or six league cameras to cover the action? Once you start to think about the cost the league would have to incur to take on such an endeavor, you realize that it's not really possible at all. So, it's a necessary evil that the NHL must rely on the video from these networks, which is problematic for many reasons.
First and most importantly, most of this video is coming from local affiliates who have close relationships with the teams they cover. As we learned in this most recent incident, often times the people running the telecasts for these networks also have close relationships with the team and are even fans of the team, which really should come as no surprise when you consider the tight-knit nature of the hockey community.
There's nothing wrong with that, just as there's nothing wrong with the fact that MacDonald is the son of a former Penguin player who shares his name. The elder Lowell MacDonald played for Pittsburgh from 1970 to 1978. It's when these people allow their inherent biases to affect the way they do their jobs, and consequently the integrity of an NHL game, that we get the problem.
CSN Philadelphia opted not to use their own video at the game, instead taking the video FSN Pittsburgh had. This is a common practice in covering road games for almost all local sports networks as it saves them the money of transporting equipment, wiring the arena for just one game, and paying the extra staff. With that, though, CSN couldn't send video to Toronto, meaning the video officials in the 'War Room' were at the behest of the Pittsburgh video crew and the video that crew opted to televise.
Let's be clear, though: this isn't just a Pittsburgh thing. This issue could happen in any city in the league, and that's where the concern is magnified even more. It's extremely disconcerting that local bias can apparently have so much of an impact on the outcome of the game. It may not have effected it too much in this one, as the Flyers won the game comfortably and it even allowed Gagne the chance to score his 500th career point in front of the home crowd on Saturday. Who says we'll be so lucky next time?
The NHL has to do something aside from a meager fine and making sure responsible parties are suspended.
They must demand all available video from all networks covering the game, local or national. Make it a rule. As of now, the league only has access to the video that's actually broadcast, not the raw video from each camera. The NHL should demand that they have access to the live feed coming from each camera into the control room to be sure they're getting every available look. Now, they're just guys in a room with Center Ice, a bunch of TV's, and a bunch of DVR's. Anybody can do that with the right amount of money.
They must create oversight in making sure networks follow this new rule, as well. Standardize where cameras are located in arenas and have a map of each arena that shows exactly where each camera is located. Make sure that each and every camera is accounted for, even if one of them was pointed at a fan picking his nose when a reviewable call is made.
News came out in this FSN Pittsburgh situation that the league cannot discipline that network because FSN works with the Penguins, not the league. In that case, the NHL should discipline the Penguins. If you discipline the team that contracts a network to cover their games by imposing a hefty fine or, even better, taking a draft pick, you will make that organization question their relationship with that network. If that network feels that their actions will jeopardize their contract with a team, and therefore a ton of money, they will make sure their actions are compliant.
Under the current system, there is way too much wiggle room for television crews to impact the outcome of the game. These crews cover just about every game for a single team and it's inevitable that they become fans of their teams. We can't stop that from happening -- nor should we have to -- but we must limit any chance these people have to be disingenuous in their coverage of the game.
After all, this is the integrity of the sport we're talking about here.