Clarity and consistency have been the two biggest buzzwords surrounding goaltender interference in recent months and NHL GMs have voted “overwhelmingly” in favor of centralizing the decision in an attempt to add more defined shades of black and white to a rule that has been draped in grey this season.
As this week’s GM meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., approached, changes to the goaltender interference rule were believed to be one of the most pressing topics of discussion, particularly with what has felt like near nightly controversy surrounding the rule in recent weeks. Since the beginning of the season, fans, players, coaches and pundits have voiced their dislike for the current review process surrounding goaltender interference, in large part because similar plays have been met with differing verdicts. The irregularity in the decisions, which have been made by on-ice officials, has resulted in several post-game rants and repeated calls for the league to find a way to repair the process with the playoffs in the offing.
The NHL officially delivered its response Wednesday, stating that the league’s GMs have decided to take the call out of the hands of the on-ice officials and give the final say to the NHL’s Situation Room. No changes have been made to the rule itself or the “criteria governing whether on-ice calls should be overturned,” but the hope is that by centralizing the decision and giving the Situation Room the final say, players and coaches will have a better grasp of what will and what won’t be ruled goaltender interference upon review.
“While, since the adoption of the Coach’s Challenge, there have been relatively few controversial calls on goaltender interference, perhaps half a dozen of approximately 170 challenges this season, the objective is to be as close to perfect as possible,” said NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in a statement. “However, goaltender interference ultimately is a judgment call. The video review process was designed to enable our referees to determine, upon viewing video replays, whether to overturn their original calls. In the vast majority of cases, their final decision has concurred with the Situation Room’s view.”
The current system sees the referees assigned to the contest making the final say on what is and isn’t a good goal as it pertains to a goaltender inference review. The change wouldn’t remove them from the process, but adds further input from the league. And in addition to centralizing the calls, NHL GMs voted to incorporate a former referee into the process. However, before the change can be enacted, the NHLPA and the league’s competition committee will be asked to sign off, and approval by the NHL’s Board of Governors will be required.
As well as potential changes to the review process for goaltender interference, there was talk entering the meetings that GMs could vote to make changes to the offside rule ahead of the post-season. As with goaltender interference, there has been more than a handful of controversial decisions made following offside reviews, with the most recent example being a play involving the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Evgeni Malkin. No changes will be made to the rule at this time, however.
PROJECTIONS PEG SALARY CAP TO RISE INTO $78-82 MILLION RANGE
Teams with salary cap concerns as the off-season approaches will be breathing a bit easier following the GM meetings as current projections for next season’s salary cap would see the spending limit rise significantly from its current level of $75 million.
According to The Athletic’s Craig Custance, the low-end projection for next season’s salary cap is $78 million, which would represent a $3-million increase, and the upper limit could rise as high as $82 million depending on a number of factors, one of which is the NHLPA’s decision to exercise their five-percent salary cap escalator clause. Regardless of the clause, however, if the cap reaches the low-end, $78-million projection, it would mark the largest season-over-season increase that the salary cap has seen since rising $4.7 million to $69 million in 2014-15. The salary cap was set at $64.3 million the season prior. If the cap meets the high end of the projection, the $7-million increase would be the largest since the salary cap was introduced ahead of the 2005-06 season.
There is no shortage of teams that would benefit from even a modest increase, either. There are nearly a dozen teams with more than $60 million in salary cap commitments next season, but the Nashville Predators, Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks all find themselves with $65 million-plus in projected cap hits as the off-season approaches. The rise in the upper limit stands to impact the Penguins and Blackhawks the most, however, as the two teams have their respective $70.2 million and $68.1 million in cap commitments locked up in 17 players. The additional cap space will afford both teams the wiggle room necessary to re-sign restricted free agents and potentially add to their roster. The Predators (18 players), Lightning and Kings (19 players) have fewer roster spots to fill with what money will be available.
Depending on how much the salary cap rises, the so-called spending floor will also be impacted. Presently, teams are required to commit at least $55.4 million towards the cap, or roughly 74 percent of the spending limit. A similar percentage would see the floor rise to $57.7 million with a $78-million cap or potentially as high as $60.7 million if the cap increases to $82 million for the 2018-19 campaign.
SEATTLE TO BE DEALT SAME HAND AS VEGAS
One other piece of business to come out of the GM meetings could impact how each respective team architect approaches team-building in the coming seasons. According to Sportnset’s Chris Johnston, if the suspected Seattle franchise gets the green light, the expansion draft to build the NHL’s 32nd franchise will follow the same rules as this past June’s Vegas expansion draft.
Ahead of the expansion draft, teams were given two options as it pertained to protecting their rosters. One method allowed teams to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender, while the other gave a team the chance to protect eight skaters of any position, as well as one goaltender. In addition, players with no-movement clauses at the draft automatically chewed up a protection slot unless they agreed to waive the clause, and players who had just completed their first or second season in either the NHL or AHL were exempt from selection by the Golden Knights.
There were also exposure rules for each team: one exposed defenseman was required to have a contract that ran through 2017-18 with at least 40 games experience or 70 games across the past two seasons; two exposed forwards needed to follow the same contract and games played parameters; and one exposed goaltender needed to have a contract for 2017-18 or status as a restricted free agent.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.