NHL Rulebook: Friedman on Goalie Interference, Offside "Audits"

An unintended consequence of video replay may have referees potentially trained to pay attention to areas of the ice other than the net.

Elliotte Friedman in his latest 30 Thoughts column talked about something that the NHL didn't announce along with its rule changes from last week. As part of the expansion to video replay, the NHL has decided to essentially spend the upcoming season filing away video evidence of two rules infractions where missed calls have led to controversial goals: goaltender interference and offsides.

Goaltender Interference

"Interference on the Goalkeeper" is covered by Rule 69 of the NHL Official Rules, and also by Table 18 in the back of the rulebook. Both sections go on and on trying to identify every possible instance of contact with the goaltender and prescribe an appropriate course of action to respond (or not respond) to such contact. We haven't covered it here yet as we're still a ways away from it, but suffice it to say that as with many things in the current iteration of the NHL rulebook, goaltender interference is a minefield the NHL and its referees wade through every season to try to maintain consistency because while the rules clearly define what should happen in specific instances, identifying which should apply becomes difficult if the referee also has to watch the puck going into the net.

The NHL is apparently finally aware of the problems with the enforcement of the current goalie interference rule. They're looking to make a file of plays to look back on to "see if 'incidental contact' and 'interference' can be strictly defined" to make it easier to enforce. As the new system and filing to try and note patterns is going into effect only starting this season, it's difficult to see how exactly things will proceed. For the first time in a long time, however, the NHL may actually be taking positive and impactful steps toward improving their own rulebook.

[NHL Senior Vice President Mike Murphy said,] We’re trying to discover if it is realistic to have a coach’s challenge for this. It would be a mistake to do it at this point in time.

Based on the current talk of implementing this new system to try and improve enforcement of goaltender interference, it's clear now that the new expanded video replay rules will not cover goalie interference. As for the talk of a coach's challenge, it's difficult to see where Murphy gets away with calling current goalie interference rules "subjective." The rule defines what "contact" with the goaltender is and then runs its scenarios and consequences based on that definition. It even spells out exactly what should happen in so many specific instances in Table 18 of the rulebook that I have a hard time understanding why it would be a mistake to not only make it a reviewable play now (while still looking to improve the rule itself) and also allow a coach's challenge.

As part of this plan, the on-ice officials were asked to make a change in focus during their recent pre-season training camp. With more cameras around the net, Murphy and NHL VP/director of officiating Stephen Walkom asked the two referees and two linesmen to focus on the action in front of the crease more than normal.

At the same time the NHL is trying to improve the letter of the law, its officials are also trying to step up its proper enforcement. Tomas Holmstrom certainly wishes he could have been the beneficiary of what will hopefully become improved standards for enforcement because hopefully future referees looking at the front of the net will notice when players' skates are in the crease or not when screening the goaltender.

In addition to having the referee's eyes on the front of the net, the NHL will now allow the linesmen to "help make" goalie interference calls. Linesmen can now have a conference with the other officials to convey what they saw and determine whether goalie interference occurred or not. The NHL is now allowing more eyeballs to see what happens in front of the net and hopefully improve the outcomes of many goaltender interference calls and non-calls.


Getting a bit less prominence but still maintaining a level of importance is the NHL wondering how to address missed offside calls.

There is large internal debate about this, because of varying opinions about how long a missed call is relevant. "The question will be, ‘How was it scored?’ Murphy said. "Was it on the rush? Was it five seconds later? Was there a cycle after offside? What if the goalie makes a save and then there’s more play before a score? Is there a way to make a rule?"

All of this will be tagged to see if there’s an answer. "My personal opinion is if they don’t score off the rush that’s it, but our legal people disagree. They say the play is tainted," Murphy said.

I wrote in the post about rule changes last week that certain missed calls should just stay missed, lest the NHL get too review-happy and check everything in the prior five minutes to make sure a goal is good and allowed to stand. I think the NHL currently gets it mostly right in allowing only goal frame integrity, timing, and puck propelling methods to be subject to review on potential goals. I certainly wouldn't complain if they decided to add goaltender interference to its list of situations subject to review, but I would hate to see offside situations reviewed.

I would rather live with the "tainted" plays and goals because the alternative is that certain situations would get reviewed and then very similar situations won't. It would only be a matter of time before the Red Wings found themselves on the wrong side of a video review because an extra second passed.