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Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Why NHL Rule 69 Sucks by @ChicksDigHockey

There are several rules I’d love to see changed or modified in the NHL. One that I found particularly frustrating on many occasions last season was Rule 69 which addresses “Interference on the Goalkeeper”. The rule is long, difficult to interpret and seemingly impossible to enforce with any degree of consistency.

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

Goaltender Interference ended up being a huge point of controversy after the Rangers' loss to the Kings in double OT of game 2 during the Stanley Cup Finals.  In Henrik Lundqvist’s opinion, Dwight King’s third period goal for the Kings should have been disallowed.
There was clear contact between King and Lundqvist before the goal and even more after. There was no call made on the ice, and the goal stood. King's goal was allowed by referee Dan O'Halloran despite complaints from New York Rangers goalie Lundqvist that he was interfered with on the play and was not allowed the proper room in his crease to make a save.

One of the main issues with goaltender interference is that it isn’t eligible for video review. Situations involving goal/no goal, high sticking and ‘distinct kicking motion’ are all eligible for review but goaltender interference is either called or not called on the ice and the call is final. If the official is out of position, major interference may be missed. Even if the official is in perfect position, the wording of the rule is so convoluted that, when he makes his judgment by the letter of the rule, the call may seem unjust. 

"We've talked in our [situation] room in Toronto many nights and we'll debate it ourselves, [and] we'll disagree," Colin Campbell said. "No, the defenseman didn't push him in. Yes, the defenseman did push him in. No, the puck wasn't past him. Yes, the puck was past him. No, the goalie's embellishing. No, this goalie plays deep in his crease, the player can come in there, there's some blue paint available." 

Former NHL referee Kerry Fraser wrote of Rule 69 : “Players, coaches, former players and fans don't fully understand the rule application or the standard by which the referees are instructed to enforce rule 69. “ 

Taking a look at the Killorn/Price goal from game 3 of the TBL/MTL series may illustrate the point better. 

If a goalkeeper, in the act of establishing his position within his goal crease, initiates contact with an attacking player who is in the goal crease, and this results in an impairment of the goalkeeper’s ability to defend his goal, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed. 

Killorn technically interfered twice with Price; The first time on the initial collision and then when he and Price made contact when the Montreal goalie got up and skated to his left. Fraser confirmed, referee Francis Charron followed the letter of the law in waving off the goal. Fraser futher wrote of the situation:

 “Price knows this rule better than most goalies in the NHL and that is why he threw himself into Alex Killorn inside the blue paint. Price has utilized this rule to his advantage on at least three occasions in previous games.” When the players are able to manipulate the rule to their advantage to change the game over and over, it’s time to change the rule.

The possibility of expanding video review was discussed by the Competition Committee this summer. However, the five players and five executives who comprise the Competition Committee did not make a recommendation to expand video review to include goals scored off plays that potentially involve interference with the goaltender. The worry among the group in the meeting was that expanding video review in any manner could do more harm than good because of the accompanying expectation of getting the call "right" on what, by its very nature, is a subjective call.  The league has vowed, in lieu of rule modification, to provide more education for coaches, players officials and fans concerning what is and what isn’t Goalie Interference.

The King/Lundqvist goal discussed above was mentioned specifically when the Competition Committee met earlier this summer. It should be noted that the committee does not include anyone responsible for making the call. No on ice officials are included on the committee.  It makes no sense to debate the application of a specific rule without those responsible for enforcing it being involved.

The Penalty portion of the rule, 69.2 reads: 

In all cases in which an attacking player initiates intentional or deliberate contact with a goalkeeper, whether or not the goalkeeper is inside or outside the goal crease, and whether or not a goal is scored, the attacking player will receive a penalty (minor or major, as the Referee deems appropriate). In all cases where the infraction being imposed is to the attacking player for hindering the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely in his goal crease, the penalty to be assessed is for goalkeeper interference.

In exercising his judgment, the Referee should give more significant consideration to the degree and nature of the contact with the goalkeeper than to the exact location of the goalkeeper at the time of the contact.

Many think goaltenders are coddled in the NHL. One remedy suggested to the conundrum of Goalie Interference is to make goalie-instigated interference calls eligible for video review and to institute a coach’s challenge to make sure it’s enforced. On the one hand, goalies need to be protected in the paint in order to be given a chance to defend. On the other hand, as NHL VP Kris King told NHL.com. : 

"There were just too many situations that were brought up that would potentially slow the game down………If we rule on goalie-interference plays, we are going to take more goals down than we are going to put up in a game where we want more scoring chances. Once we played devil's advocate with a lot of their questions, they just didn't feel that now is the right time to implement a coach's challenge." 

Sports Illustrated’s Stu Hackel answered that best when he wrote, "If the overriding idea is to get calls right, and the technology exists to assist the officials in getting more of them right than they do under the current review system, why not work to figure out a way to harmonize a coach's challenge with the game's flow and the officials' on-ice judgment? There are enough dedicated and intelligent people in the game to devise parameters that would meet whatever objections were raised at this meeting."

In short, the league needs to get it’s stuff together. Close the loopholes that allow the goalies to take advantage of Rule 69. Too many big games have been affected by missed calls as well as manipulated calls. I vote for a coach’s challenge as well as video review.

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