Jets Hellebuyck Right to Speak Out After Controversial No-Mask Goal

Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck’s comments were measured a day after a controversial goal Friday night — one that came against him when he had no mask and was lying prone on the ice, covering his head in pain — but those comments highlighted poor officiating, the shortcomings of a rule, and the NHL’s laissez-faire approach to player safety.

Hellebuyck Bowled Over and Loses Mask; Goal Stands Anyway

All of these came together to put Hellebuyck in a dangerous situation Friday night.

The play in question occurred in the last minute of the Jets’ matchup with the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Center. The Jets were clinging to a 4-3 lead and the Stars had pulled Jake Oettinger for the extra attacker.

Jamie Benn, with the puck near the side of the net, made solid contact with Hellebuyck’s head, knocking the goaltender’s mask off and him to the ice.

Every member of the officiating crew — referees Mitch Dunning and Garret Rank and linesmen Jonathan Deschamps and David Brisebois — kept their whistles in their pockets despite the fact Hellebuyck appeared to be possibly unconscious or seriously injured. The play continued; Joe Pavelski and Tyler Seguin teamed up to get the puck back to above the circles, where Jason Robertson shot it into the now-vacated cage.

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After a review for goaltender interference — the officials’ decision to not whistle the play down is not reviewable — the situation room determined Josh Morrissey pushed Benn into Hellebuyck, which caused the contact. If one watches the video, it seems Benn was destined to contact Hellebuyck regardless of whether he was pushed, but that’s another conversation altogether about the ever-changing definition of goaltender interference in any given game.

“The explanation was our guy caused it to happen but regardless our goalie’s down on his stomach with no mask,” Rick Bowness said after the game. “I’m as confused as anybody.”

The goal stood and Hellebuyck was able to stay in the game. In overtime, the Jets managed to regroup and prevail thanks to Morrissey, who scored his second overtime breakaway game-winner of the week.

Hellebuyck Speaks Out: “They Put Me in Danger”

The play put Hellebuyck in a position where he could have easily sustained a serious injury. On a maintenance day Saturday, he pointed out that skaters have to go off the ice immediately when they lose their helmet, but for some reason the officials deemed his not having a mask no issue.

“When a goalie’s mask is knocked off or comes off, if it’s not immediate — like I mean the puck’s going in, getting tapped in — that whistle needs to be blown,” Hellebuyck said.

“Those refs made a mistake, but I feel that the rule needs to change so that the war room and the refs have the opportunity to realize they make a mistake. They put me in danger. There’s a lot of bad things that could have come from that.”

Thankfully, Hellebuyck was not seriously injured, but he was not o.k. in the moment: he said he was in shock from the impact.

“The amount of force that went into my head was very scary; the feeling in my neck was very scary… it’s a no-brainer for me that that needs to get blown dead and looked at,” he said.

Referees Misinterpreted Rule 9.6; Scoring Play Wasn’t Immediate

Rule 9.6 of the NHL Official Rules covers helmets. It reads:

When a goalkeeper has lost his helmet and/or face mask and his team has control of the puck, play shall be stopped immediately to allow the goalkeeper the opportunity to regain his helmet and/or face mask. When the opposing team has control of the puck, play shall only be stopped if there is no immediate and impending scoring opportunity. This stoppage of play must be made by the Referee. When play is stopped because the goalkeeper has lost his helmet and/or face mask, the ensuing face-off shall take place at one of the defending team’s end zone face-off spots.

There was no immediate or impending scoring opportunity when Hellebuyck’s mask was knocked off. When contact occurred with 22.9 seconds left, the puck was behind the net.

It wasn’t until 19 seconds that the puck was worked to a place where a shot could be generated, nearly four entire ticks later. Hellebuyck noted it took two passes to get the puck to that position.

The correct course of action for the officiating crew was to whistle the play and have a faceoff in the Jets’ zone.

Connor Hellebuyck Winnipeg Jets
Hellebuyck said rule 9.6 falls short in keeping goaltenders safe. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Benn, who made contact and had the puck behind the net when the contact occurred, did not even get an assist on the goal.

The way the rule is written currently — with play only stopped during opponent possession “if there is no immediate and impending scoring opportunity” — means if a goaltender wants to prevent a cheap goal, he will have to jump back into the crease with no mask and face a potentially 100 mile-per-hour drive.

That’s ludicrous on its face. This is not the 1950s.

“They’re expecting me to get up, go to the post, and then square up to a point shot,” Hellebuyck said wryly. “For me, that’s just way too long. No one’s going to do that with no mask on!”

Hellebuyck reiterated he’d like to see the rule changed so there is no gray area.

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“Last (NHL Competition Committee) meeting, we talked about how we need to protect the goalies’ heads, and how we’re being hit there and nothing’s being done about it…” he said. “What I would like to see happen is if that puck’s not on its way into the net — or in the crease with a guy finishing in the net — the play gets called dead. I think the rule needs to be changed where the war room can say ‘that needed to be blown dead.'”

Jets and League Are Lucky This Didn’t Turn Out Worse

Sportsnet reported the Jets plan to speak to the league about this issue and that’s a good idea. It was bad enough the play gave a point to a Divisional opponent the Jets are chasing, but it could have been much worse: they could have lost their star goaltender in a critical campaign where they’ve been competitive and sit near the top of the Central Division.

Related: 3 Winnipeg Jets That Have Improved under Bowness

General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, in that conversation with the league, should advocate for what Hellebuyck suggests. When a goaltender loses his mask, play should be stopped immediately with no exceptions — no goaltender should have to play without a mask for even a second. Out of this, we’ll see how much the league truly cares about player safety.