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Inside the NHL: 'Toenail challenges' need to go

It's time for the offside challenge to go. To the moon. Into the ocean. Out of our sight. Out of the rulebook. Enough already.

It's no secret this corner has been against this whole charade from the sad day it snuck up on us in 2015. Remember Evander Kane's tying goal vs. Ottawa wiped out in last season's opener? People barely knew the rule existed. Now we can't get away from it at all.

When I asked Gary Bettman about it at the Stanley Cup final last year in Pittsburgh  -- he wasn't happy with my use of "toenails" as the standard -- he said the issue is it's black and white in the rule book and they have to get it right or people will complain even more than they already were.

Why the NHL plans to stick with the controversial offside challenge

Think of what this causes now. Nobody can celebrate a goal anymore. Not players, not coaches and most important, not the fans. Every goal is subject to this lunacy. We even had a goal wiped out in the All-Star Game because Connor McDavid was in the zone too soon. Think of Kane's wraparound goal in the third period of the Sabres' game Tuesday against San Jose. Now it's 4-3 and the crowd is buzzing.

But nooooooo. We have a challenge. The Sharks wondered if Tyler Ennis had put himself offside bringing the puck into the zone -- 32 seconds before the goal was scored! Ennis' was not offside and the goal was allowed to stand after a lengthy look.

We're rolling back time that long. Does that even matter. How ridiculous. Why are we doing this?

It's simple really. There was a terrible blown offside in 2013 when Colorado's Matt Duchene scored against Nashville and it became a sort of Internet joke.

But the momentum for change blew up when Tampa Bay's double-overtime game-winner in Game One of a 2015 playoff series in Montreal was offside. And you don't cross the Habs. Particularly in the Bell Centre.

So the rule was put in, ostensibly to make sure obvious calls aren't missed. But instead, we're stuck parsing toenails. Making determinations of offside by centimeters with linesman watching on a tablet in a penalty box.

It's even worse this year. The league put monitors on the floor behind the benches so coaches -- who already have more than enough to do -- can watch and stall time and try to decide for themselves.

Wednesday night in Minnesota, a Wild goal was allowed to stand in a nationally televised game against Chicago even though it was clearly offside. The play was ruled inconclusive because the league said you couldn't actually see the puck on Wild forward Charlie Coyle's stick. It was comical. If they can't get that one right, they should scrap the whole system.

Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said after Tuesday's game he was hoping the challenge against Ennis would be proved "inconclusive" and the Sabres would get that call for once after going 0 for 3 on offside and goal reviews last month in Dallas. I thought the whole point was to "get things right." Now we're rooting for inconclusive?

Here's another problem: Thursday against Anaheim, the Sabres had two clearly legal rushes called back on offside, including a 3-on-2 led by Jack Eichel. Linesemen are clearly getting more and more spooked. If it's close, they seem as likely to blow a play down and not deal with it getting reviewed if a goal is scored.

"There's debate about that. I think the linesmen take exception to that and are calling exactly what they see," Bylsma said. "They're not making calls because of the possibility of review. The plays you're talking about were darn close plays."

That's true. Still, now we've determined that offside, perhaps by a millimeter that hasn't been caught for decades, is a sufficient reason to take away goals in a league that needs more offense. But we're not cracking down on the holding, hooking and obstruction that is the real root cause of the problem.

Many general managers, including Sabres boss Tim Murray, think complaints about offside challenges are a media fascination. When the GMs meet next month, they should think long and hard about that point because it's wrong. Fans hate this. It's bad for the game.

The answer to that is always: But what if we don't have offside challenges and a Stanley Cup is decided that way? Well, then we have to live with it. Just like a certain city did in 1999 when a foot was in the crease when it wasn't supposed to be. One blown call in Montreal shouldn't be enough to hurt the entire sport this much.

Shark tales in Buffalo

Blowing a three-goal lead against the Sabres here Tuesday night is just the latest bizarre tale of the San Jose Sharks' trips into Buffalo in recent seasons. While compiling a 2-17 record against the Sabres at the Aud and KeyBank Center since entering the NHL in 1991, the Sharks have been the opponent for several games that have touched the community for deeper reasons that just what happens on the ice. Consider this list:

---Feb. 13, 2009: The teams meet one night after Continental Flight 3407 crashes in Clarence killing all 49 aboard. The Sabres report for the morning skate still stunned because the tragedy took place a mile or two from many of their homes. After one of the most poignant but haunting moments of silence I've ever seen, the teams played a thriller. The Sabres blew a 4-1 lead, tied the game on a Jason Pominville goal with less than three seconds left and won, 6-5, in a shootout. No question people wanted to gather and scream out their sadness. I still say the roar on the Pominville goal, a deflection of a shot by captain and former Shark Craig Rivet, is the loudest I've ever heard in the building during a regular season game.

---Feb. 13, 2010: On the one-year anniversary of the crash, who was in the building again? The Sharks. Another remembrance of the victims and a 3-1 Sabres win. The teams did a great job both years understanding their roles and helping Buffalo fans grieve.

---Feb. 28, 2014: Goalie Ryan Miller, the Sabres' all-time leader in wins, and captain Steve Ott are suddenly no-shows for the pregame warmup after skating in the morning. With rumors growing, a deal to St. Louis is announced and the two players struggled to say their good-byes while meeting the media in the first intermission. With Jhonas Enroth in goal, the Sabres post a 4-2 victory for their third win in a row. With Miller and Ott gone, they finish the season just 3-17-2 to complete a 52-point season that was their worst since 1972.

---Nov. 18, 2014: Nearly nine months later, the Sharks return early in a stretch that saw the Sabres win 10 out of 13 that had fans rooting for a Sabres tank in an uproar. Buffalo wins the game 4-1 and it's played with only a few thousand fans in the house on the "Wall of Snow" day that sees 7 feet fall in some parts of the area. The snow wall is visible just outside the area looking toward South Buffalo but never makes it downtown. Several San Jose players, including star Joe Thornton, were joking here Tuesday morning that they were looking for the snow wall again entering the arena.

Burns' remarkable streak ends

Speaking of the Sharks, defenseman Brent Burns' road scoring streak ended at 14 games during Thursday night's win in Boston. He had two assists in San Jose's losing effort here Tuesday. The loss to the Sabres, however, snapped Burns' road goal streak at eight games, a record for an NHL defenseman.

"He’s dominant. He’s having a dominant year. He’s obviously a huge part of our team,” said coach Peter DeBoer. “Like him, we don’t look a lot at the comparisons at the records or the streaks. He’s just showing up and playing his game. When he does that, good things happen and that other stuff kind of takes care of itself. Night in and night out, he’s as dominant as anyone in the league right now.”

Julien deserved better

The Bruins gave Claude Julien the gate last week and it was probably deserved, especially when you consider they are 8-0 against the Sabres and Florida -- and went 18-23-6 against everybody else. But GM Don Sweeney left Julien hanging for far too long and then tried to dump him under the cover of the Patriots' Super Bowl parade, which was even on broadcast partner NESN instead of the hockey team's press conference that was deviantly held at the same time.

What a gutless, cowardly thing to do. The Boston media pounced.

Wrote Dan Shaughnessy in the Boston Globe: "The Bruins should never be forgiven for the stunt they pulled Tuesday morning ... This goes beyond weak, beyond cowardly. It’s disrespectful to the winningest coach in franchise history — a guy who has been on the job for 10 years — and it’s an insult to the great sports/hockey fans of Boston.

"Do the Bruins think we are stupid? Did owners Jeremy and Charlie Jacobs, and hockey bosses Cam Neely and Don Sweeney, think nobody was going to notice if they axed the coach during the parade?"

Sweeney said it was done to give new coach Bruce Cassidy practice time before Thursday's game against San Jose. Riiiiight.

Around the boards

---The top three in points per 60 minutes entering the weekend are no surprise. Among players with at least 20 games, it's Sidney Crosby (3.94), Evgeni Malkin (3.73) and Nicklas Backstrom (3.42). Who's No. 4? It's Thomas Vanek at 3.40, as the former Sabre has resurrected his career in Detroit and is suddenly one of the top unrestricted free agent forwards teams might be able to add at the deadline.

At age 33, Vanek entered the weekend with 13 goals and 35 points in 42 games. You'd think he'd get a two-year deal from someone this year in free agency after getting one year and $2.6 million from Detroit last summer.

---Patrick Kane scored his 269th career goal Friday in Winnipeg, breaking a tie with Tony Amonte for the seventh most by a Blackhawks player. It pulled him into a tie for 243rd place all-time with Sylvain Turgeon -- the Ottawa forward a 5-year-old Kane is pictured watching on the lap of his father sitting in the front row at the Aud in a scene captured on a 1994 Pinnacle hockey card.

---It's sad to see the end approaching for Lindy Ruff in Dallas. The Stars had perhaps their lowest moment during Thursday's 3-2 loss in Ottawa, as one of the goals against came when Jiri Hudler back-passed the puck into his own empty net on a delayed penalty.

Said a dejected Ruff: ""I think we've picked almost every way of losing so far, including shooting one in your own net."

If the Stars miss the playoffs, Ruff will almost certainly get the gate but he didn't give Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen nearly $11 million to combine for an .896 save percentage. General Manager Jim Nill did. Dallas fans and media are already putting the GM in their crosshairs as well.

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