Thou Shalt Not Enter The Blue Paint!

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In a season filled with talking points across the NHL, perhaps the biggest point of contention, outside of the Olympics, is goaltender interference. Games have been turned, and one could argue the 2014 Stanley Cup is a prime example, because of a goal that was allowed or disallowed based on the (poor) judgment of the referee. This needs to end, and there are a couple of simple solutions to this problem.

Join The Rest Of The World

Until the turn of the century, the rule in the NHL had been that if a goal was scored by a player standing in the crease, the goal would be disallowed. Should the NHL choose to go back to this rule, it would eliminate the biggest issue with the current rule: the gray area. Because the referees are human, each one will have a different interpretation of what constitutes “significant contact” to disallow a goal. By saying that if a player is in the blue paint the goal will be automatically nullified, regardless of any contact with the goaltender, it makes life easier on the referees, coaches, and players, who now have a black-and-white rule to follow.

In addition to the fact that the NHL has already used some version of this rule before, all of the other leagues outside of North America have this rule. The IIHF rulebook says that play is stopped if an attacking player is standing in the goal crease and the face-off comes out to the neutral zone. This isn’t to point out that the NHL is different than every other league; that’s a given. But all international tournaments are played under these rules, and a good portion of the league’s talent grows up playing by these rules. 

I am not saying that I want to see this rule revert to the “old days” where the crease was considered sacrosanct. It certainly wasn’t a foolproof rule as the hockey world saw in the 1999 Stanley Cup final; sorry Sabres fans. But in a game where everything is happening so fast, a rule as clearly defined as this makes the game run just a little bit smoother. 

Define The Rule

As Eric Duhatschek points out in his piece for The Athletic, the current rule at first glance is pretty concise. “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.” (NHL Rulebook) And if the NHL would’ve stopped there, it would have been enough. But then they went in and added a whole bunch of qualifiers like if a player is pushed into the net, who initiates the contact, and so on. This mucks up the rule and forces the referees to make split-second decisions on a variety of different factors. Which leads me to my next point.

Review Or Not To Review?

When video replays were introduced in the NHL, the idea was that referees would be able to overturn the egregious errors that were made and “get the call right.” But when it comes to goalie interference, and all the gray area surrounding it, no two referees are going to have the same idea of interference, even on review. So one suggestion will be to have goalie interference reviews go the way of the dodo bird. The reviews aren’t going to show much that isn’t going to have been seen in real time.

As long as players are allowed in the crease, the NHL will have to deal with defining goalie interference and being consistent in calling it correctly. As I said earlier in this article, I do not want to see the crease become a “No-Go zone,” but if the NHL wants to take away the controversies that seem to come up almost every single night, these are the ways to go about rectifying it.

Side note: This topic also caused quite the fuss on the MSG Hockey Show this week. Also, my thoughts were read and reacted to by Arda, Anson and Will.


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