Why the NHL should adopt the IIHF’s goalie interference rule

Watch as Connor McDavid is guilty of goaltender interference in overtime negating a goal by Ryan Strome.

The hockey world doesn’t exactly have a history of welcoming change rapidly and with open arms. That’s not always a bad thing. Most leagues have been around for a long time and, for the most part, they work, so carefully considering potential rule changes is a good thing.

Usually the way eventual rule changes play out is resistance, followed by wariness and then finally acceptance, followed by a feeling it was a good thing to do.

Think of goalie masks (Jacques Plante’s character was publicly questioned by his coach), or helmets and visors. And rule changes can generally be slow to percolate from the international game to the NHL and vice-versa. Look no further than no-touch icing for an example. A staple in international hockey for as long as I can remember, the NHL was slow to adopt it because too many thought we’d lose the drama of two players racing for a puck as it trickled to the end boards.

But the main thing no-touch icing does is protect players from slamming into the boards at full and uncontrolled speed. Tell me how much the game misses this kind of thing:

It was a good change when the NHL finally adopted its own version of no-touch icing (so-called “hybrid icing”), but why did it take until the 2013-14 season for it to be implemented?

It’s not just the NHL that can be slow to adopt change, though. The IIHF can drag its feet as well. The NHL first introduced video review for goal/no-goal situations in 1991-92, which was a great idea. So why didn’t the IIHF jump on board until 1997? The NHL also experimented with a two-referee system for a couple seasons before taking it full-time in 2000-01. The IIHF didn’t follow suit until 2008.

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There are many other examples of either organization being slow to adopt change, too.

With that in mind, and with all the recent discussion around controversial goalie interference calls, I believe the NHL should adopt 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.”

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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.

It works almost as hockey’s equivalent of soccer’s yellow card. There is no actual penalty per se, but it would cost the offensive team territory and possession.

There would still be some grey area here for the officials as they rule whether or not the offensive player was pushed in the crease by a defender.

In a conversation I had with a Director of Officiating for one of Europe’s top leagues, he explained that referees dealt with this in a few ways.

First, the onus is always on the offensive player to get out of the crease and if he doesn’t make an effort immediately, the play is whistled dead.

Second, referees are extra-diligent in calling any number of infractions – high-sticking, cross-checking, tripping, interference, holding – on a defensive player who moves an attacking player into the crease. If there is no infraction, but the offensive player is moved into the crease by a defender, play is allowed to continue and any goal scored would count providing that the offensive player is in the process of getting out of the crease when the goal is scored (IIHF Rule 95 or 185).

It was stressed to me the offensive player must immediately make that effort to vacate the crease, or play is whistled dead. With the best officials in the world, you would think they could make that distinction quickly and accurately.

If this rule is called correctly, several hockey people I spoke with say you’d eliminate most, if not all, of the grey area in goaltender interference. It would also eliminate many of the coaches challenges and ensuing delays.

In short, it would make our game even better and faster. Let’s do it.


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