Goalie Interference Question? Call Toronto

Just a month from the start of the NHL playoffs, it appears NHL GMs want to limit the discretion of individual referees when it comes to goalie interference. Proposing an in-season rule change speaks to how serious the situation has become.  In addition to the offside rule, no rule has led to more complaints or less certainty. There has been an average of one goalie interference review every night NHL teams play. Some of the rulings have been controversial.

For example, this season Nick Schmaltz scored a game-tying goal for the Blackhawks. It came as Artem Anisimov toppled over Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen. The call on the ice (a good goal) was upheld. Did it amount to less “obstruction” then when a recent Auston Mathews goal was overturned for what seemed to be far less contact? As NBC Sports highlighted, by comparing each goal side by side, no one seems to know what the rule is.

Related: Goalie Interference Rule Needs Consistency 

Limiting Discretion

GMs are proposing that instead of having 34 different referees render final decisions of goalie interference, Toronto-based situation room should decide.

hockey rule changes
NHL officials

There were just 170 coach’s challenges for goaltender interference through the first 1,100 games this season. The league says referees only landed on a call the video room didn’t agree with on five or six occasions. It is just a handful of calls the league would like to address.

The proposal is to shift the task of these reviews to Toronto and Colin Campbell, Mike Murphy, Kris King, Rod Pasma and Kay Whitmore.

“What I’m hearing from the managers is they want consistency,” said Colin Campbell this week. “It’s not who is doing it, it’s that we’ve got five guys in there that participate in it, two that do 90 percent of [the guys] and in the playoffs, we’ve got one individual that does them all.”

A Better Alternative

One suggestion that didn’t get much traction at the GM meetings was either shrinking the goal crease or adopting the IIHF rule by making the blue paint completely off-limits for anyone but goalies. This could mean adopting a version of IIHF Rule 184i, which states: “If an attacking skater establishes position in the goal crease, play will be stopped and the ensuing faceoff will take place at the nearest faceoff spot in the neutral zone.”

This rule would eliminate much of the grey area that exists in time-consuming review challenges for goaltender interference because, before any interference even took place, the play would be whistled down once the offensive player established position in the crease.

This week Phil Housley became just the latest coach to state that he doesn’t understand the goal interference rule and refer to the blue paint.

Buffalo Sabres head coach Phil Housley
Buffalo Sabres head coach Phil Housley (Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

Following a 4-0 loss to Nashville, Housley contended that the Sabres outplayed the league’s best team until the Predators’ first goal was brought up. On the play, center Mike Fisher’s skate had gone through the blue paint prior to the goal and appeared to hit the skate of Buffalo netminder Linus Ullmark.

Housley immediately issued a coach’s challenge for goaltender interference.

“Their skate went into our goalie in the crease, in the blue paint,” said Housley, his voice rising in the KeyBank Center media room. “I would call that 100 out of 100 times. To me, that’s goalie interference. His skate hits Linus’ skate, which doesn’t allow him to get down into the butterfly and make the save.”

The referees and NHL Hockey Operations denied the challenge.

Consensus Needed

The GMs are seeking to promote consistency by shrinking the number of voices involved in the final call. The GMs are pushing to have that happen before the end of the regular season. There is no guarantee it will happen, however.

NHLPA and NHL board of governors sign off on the proposed change. However, the views of the referees must be considered as well.

This might be the major limiting factor. After having the final call on offside challenges taken away, accepting this proposal would amount to yet another way in which the role of referees has been reduced in the NHL. Even if a consensus emerges, don’t expect the controversies to end.

There is no clear definition of what counts as a goaltender in the crease. Officials are not required to provide a more detailed explanation in its official review videos. The result may be instead of  “the Referee confirmed no goaltender interference infractions occurred before the puck crossed the goal line,” the official statement will read “After further review (in Toronto), no goaltender interference infractions occurred before the puck crossed the goal line.” This is insufficient.

Perhaps these gray areas are simply impossible to clarify.

“My opinion on that is you can put the King of England in there … the team, the coach, the players, the fanbase are not going to like the answer,” Colin Campbell said Tuesday. “My opinion is it doesn’t matter who is giving you the answer, they’re not going to like the answer if it’s something in a key game.”