Friday, June 11, 2021

Read this post and you’ll understand (almost) every goaltender interference review

You know the refrain by now. Nobody understands goaltender interference. It’s a coin flip. The rules make no sense. Once the ref gets that headset on, your guess is as good as mine because nobody has any idea what’s going to happen.

But here’s a secret: It’s just not true.

OK, it’s a little true, in a few cases, and we’ll get to that. But the rules around goaltender interference aren’t that hard, and if you understand them then you’ll rarely be surprised by how a ruling works out. If fact, give me a few minutes right now and I bet I can get you there by the end of this post.

But first, let me declare my biases up front: I think replay review for interference is a bad concept. The rule isn’t all that complicated, but it’s filled with areas that are subjective instead black-and-white, which means some plays are still going to be arguments even when you break them down frame-by-frame. The league has told us we have review to “just get it right”, but “right” gets hazy on the tougher calls, and that just leads to more frustration. There’s really no way around this, which is why we should scrap replay review for interference altogether, or failing that, make the bar to overturn the call on the ice significantly higher. The current system is bad and shouldn’t exist.

But it does exist, so let’s make the best of it. Let’s spend a few minutes learning how goaltender interference actually works, and why those confusing reviews aren’t really as confusing as you think.

Let’s start with the good news: The dreaded Rule 69.1, which governs pretty much everything that would get a goal called back, is only a few hundred words long. It’s not simple, but the basics are fairly straightforward. Put it this way, if you’re smart enough to have even a basic understanding of analytics or the salary cap or expansion draft rules, you can absolutely get your head around this.

So let’s try to do that. I didn’t understand this stuff either a few years ago, but eventually I got tired of posting shrug emojis on twitter and put in some effort to figure it out. Around the same time, the NHL started to get more consistent on these plays (and if anyone wants to tell me what happened behind the scenes to make that happen, I’m all ears). These days, I don’t find most of these calls to be all that difficult to predict. Come join me.

My goal here is to help you understand goaltender interference in a way that will have you confidently predicting the result of a review maybe 80 or 90% of the time. That’s probably the best we can do, because again, some of this stuff is still very subjective and there are cases that are genuinely hard calls that won’t ever satisfy everyone. If you’re going to demand 100% certainty, I have bad news for you about how sports officiating works.

But we can get you almost all the way there. Give me the next five minutes of your time, and let’s see if we can reduce your stress levels on the next review.

We’ll start with a very basic point that a lot of fans and media seem to miss. If you don’t feel like reading a whole post and just want one quick takeaway you can remember before you move on, here it comes.

The rules are completely different depending on whether the alleged interference happens in the crease or outside of it.

On some level, you already knew that. But I’m amazed at how often I see commentators or fans or whoever skip over this part when trying to decide if an attacking player has interfered. They’ll go right to how much contact there was, or how the goalie reacted, or where the puck was. That stuff matters, but not anywhere as much as one simple question: Did it happen in the crease?

Note that there’s no “almost” or “close enough” here. One inch inside the crease and one inch outside the crease are two different worlds, with very different sets of rules.

Put simply, the crease belongs to the goaltender, and with very limited exceptions, the attacking team goes in there at their own risk. Almost anything an attacking player can do to bother the goalie is interference if it happens in the crease.

Is there contact, but it’s clearly accidental? Doesn’t matter, you can’t be in the crease.

Is the contact initiated by the goalie as he’s trying to work around or through a player? Doesn’t matter, that guy can’t be in his crease.

Is there no contact at all? It still may not matter, because even screening a goalie isn’t allowed if you’re in his crease.

You’re getting the picture. Don’t want a goal called back for interference? Stay out of the crease. When there’s a review and you see those first replays, tune out all the noise and look to see if the attacking player is in the crease. If any part of him (not just his skates) is in there, and he’s impacting the goalie’s ability to make the save, the goal is probably coming back.

Let’s take the call from round one that a lot of fans were confused by.

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1 comment:

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