Goalie interference rule needs revisiting
By Stu Hackel
After watching these unpredictable and bizarre Stanley Cup playoffs unfold through the weekend, one thing is certain: the numerous incidents involving the question of goaltender interference demands that the NHL rethink adding it to the league's list of goal/no-goal calls that are reviewable via video.
UPDATE: On TSN Monday night, Darren Dreger reported the NHL GMs will discuss adding goaltender interference to the video review situations at their next meeting and predicted it would pass (video).
There have been 11 goalie interference penalties called so far and at least five goals have been scored in which invoking the rule would have nullified the goal. Each game on Sunday featured at least one goal that deserved further review because the goaltender didn't seem to get the protections afforded him in the NHL Rulebook. It's Rule 69 "Interference on the Goalkeeper" -- and if you prefer not to click on the link, here are the relevent passages:
"Goals should be disallowed only if: (1) an attacking player, either by his positioning or by contact, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely within his crease or defend his goal; or (2) an attacking player initiates intentional or deliberate contact with a goalkeeper, inside or outside of his goal crease. Incidental contact with a goalkeeper will be permitted, and resulting goals allowed, when such contact is initiated outside of the goal crease, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact....
"For purposes of this rule, 'contact,' whether incidental or otherwise, shall mean any contact that is made between or among a goalkeeper and attacking player(s), whether by means of a stick or any part of the body.
"The overriding rationale of this rule is that a goalkeeper should have the ability to move freely within his goal crease without being hindered by the actions of an attacking player. If an attacking player enters the goal crease and, by his actions, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to defend his goal, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.
"If an attacking player has been pushed, shoved, or fouled by a defending player so as to cause him to come into contact with the goalkeeper, such contact will not be deemed contact initiated by the attacking player for purposes of this rule, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact."
There's a lot more in the rule, with more detail, but what is excerpted here is the essence of it (and we've highlighted that in boldface type). The point of this sport is to shoot the puck past the goalie, and to physically impede, obstruct or run over the goalie or prevent him from stopping the puck so the shot can go in is plainly against the rules.
So let's look at Sunday afternoon's overtime winner scored by the Flyers' Danny Briere. Here's the video of the NBC telecast, and at the very end, you'll see an overhead camera angle in which the Flyers' James Van Riemsdyk cuts across the top of the crease, his leg moving the stick held by Devils goaltender Marty Brodeur, who is still in the crease as the puck goes through them both.
And here's the CBC video of the same play. You can see that the Devils did protest the goal (although analyst Garry Galley -- who apparently didn't have access to the overhead angle -- was wrong to say that Brodeur or Van Riemsdyk was well outside the crease. Brodeur certainly wasn't -- and even if JVR was, according to the rule, it wouldn't matter anyway because the goalie has the right to make the save regardless of where the opponent is in relation to the crease if contact is made.)
Now, there's little chance that the referees were going to wave off that one, having disallowed Briere's kick of the puck that went into the net shortly before in overtime. And the contact is far less obvious than if Van Riemsdyk had plowed Brodeur over. It's hard to detect this contact from ice level. It's also true that the Flyers had more jump and were winning the battles, grabbing the loose pucks, and playing with superior speed and puck movement from the second period onward. You can make a case that had their goalie, Ilya Bryzgalov, not sprung a few leaks, this game never would, or should, have gone to overtime. So the hockey gods prevailed and the better team won.
But after you've seen the contact on the video, that game-winner might not be any more within the rules than Briere's kick. perhaps it shouldn't count, either. Would I want to be the referee to disallow another Flyers goal in Philadelphia during a playoff overtime? Not on your life. So I sympathize with the guys who let it stand.
And that's exactly why this sort of play should be subject to video review, to take the heat off the referees and linesmen. If the point of officiating is to get the call right, this is a tool that will help, as it does in all the goal/no goal decisions that are currently reviewed.
Let's move to Sunday night and the Predators-Coyotes game. The Coyotes are proving to be tougher than a cheap cut of beef and Nashville may be guilty of thinking Phoenix was as soft as filet mignon, and not taking them seriously enough after playing so well while dispatching Detroit in the opening round. The Preds lost men in coverage, committed uncharacteristic turnovers, failed to dig deep and hustle on the backcheck, and generally looked nothing like the club that some observers have said is the best team remaining in the postseason.
That lack of sharpness was pretty evident on this goal by Radim Vrbata. Nashville's David Legwand inexplicable batted the puck with his hand right in front of the net -- he should have batted it anywhere but there -- and Vrbata whacked it home over a fallen Pekka Rinne. But why had Rinne fallen? He had his legs taken out from under him by Martin Hanzal
And you can see a good reverse angle of the play at 2:40 of this segment from the TSN on NHL panel.
This one is also not very obvious. Hanzal is given a little shove in the back by Kevin Klein, but was that shove forceful enough to cause Hanzal to flop forward and then lock his legs with Rinne? Was that making a reasonable effort to avoid contact with the goaltender or a convenient opportunity to cause additional havoc in the crease?
Again, video review of these sorts of calls would help clarify the situation immeasurably and remove a good deal of doubt about whether the goalie was the victim of interference.
The Joel Ward goal that eliminated the Bruins from the playoffs was yet another that deserved to be reviewed and perhaps overturned. Watch Mike Knuble drive to the net with the puck and try a backhand shot on Tim Thomas. The B's goalie makes the save and Knuble’s momentum forces him into Thomas, driving him back in the goal crease and unable to move for the rebound. The puck quickly bounced to Ward, who put it into the net.
Now, one part of the rule might imply that there was nothing wrong with this play. That's 69.6 Rebounds and Loose Pucks. It reads, "In a rebound situation, or where a goalkeeper and attacking player(s) are simultaneously attempting to play a loose puck, whether inside or outside the crease, incidental contact with the goalkeeper will be permitted, and any goal that is scored as a result thereof will be allowed."
But watch Knuble closely. Is he making an effort to avoid Thomas? Is that contact truly incidental or does he keep skating into the goalie?
Former NHL referee Kerry Fraser, who has long advocated adding goaltender interference to the video review situations, wrote about his play on his TSN blog. "Knuble was not pushed, shoved or fouled by a defending player so as to cause him to come into contact with Thomas," he wrote. "It matters not if the contact on Thomas by Knuble was deemed to be deliberate or incidental other than a minor penalty that might result. What matters most is that all the elements of rule 69.1 were violated and the goal should have been waved off."
Fraser calls goaltender interference a "most difficult call to make for the on-ice officials" and suggested that referees were also reluctant to enforce it because it can be unpopular. “It takes much less courage to make the call after looking at a video review, and the right call will ultimately be made,” he added.
What has developed, however, is a situation where these dubious goals just end up being allowed. It's the simple thing to do, but there exists a tool for getting a better handle on whether they should or should not count according to the rules. Sure, there are already too few goals scored in the league, but that's not a reason to allow bad ones. It's that kind of generous approach to enforcing the rules that allows things that aren't beneficial to the game to creep in and become accepted. It's how all sorts of obstruction tactics became epidemic and dumbed down the game in the '90s, and, until recently, how head shots and boarding became a legal part of the game. The pragmatic approach to the rules never works to the benefit of the game.
As one of the people who helped develop and institute the NHL's video replay system a couple of decades ago -- and a guy who, in his advanced years, still straps on the big pads once in a while -- I've always thought it would be a mistake to add too many situations for review. It would slow the game and take too much out of the hands of the guys on the ice. But right now the goalie interference rule includes the clause "The rule will be enforced exclusively in accordance with the on-ice judgment of the Referee(s), and not by means of video replay or review."
That needs to be reconsidered.
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