CHICAGO — By his own admission, Connor Hellebuyck had time to collect his thoughts and get his emotions in check, but that doesn’t mean the Winnipeg Jets goalie was about to change his tune or keep his mouth shut on an issue he feels strongly about.
As Hellebuyck spoke with reporters inside the bowels of the United Center on Saturday afternoon, he made it crystal clear that he’d done plenty of research on the topic and had come to the conclusion the play should have been stopped after Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn sent his mask flying off after a strap came unbuckled in the final minute of regulation time of Friday’s frenetic finish.
Hellebuyck then went a step further, saying he hopes the play in question leads to a rule change and eliminates some of the grey area that’s surrounding the discussion about the sequence of events that allowed the Stars to score the equalizer with 20 seconds to go in the third period — the Jets goalie down on the ice and covering his unprotected head with his glove hand and his blocker as Jason Robertson shot the puck into the vacated net.
“That play needs to be blown dead,” said Hellebuyck, who made 37 saves as the Jets regrouped to earn a 5-4 overtime victory over the Stars. “There was not an immediate scoring chance after there. There were two passes made and a shot from the point. Those refs made a mistake, but I feel like the rule needs to change so that the war room and the refs have the opportunity to realize they made a mistake. They put me in danger. A lot of bad things could have came from that. Plain and simple, when a goalie’s mask gets knocked off, the play needs to get blown dead.”
That seems like a pretty straightforward and sensible way to solve one of the issues at the forefront of the debate raging on around the hockey world.
For the sake of clarity, Hellebuyck fully understood that neither the NHL situation room nor the officials on the ice were able to look at the rule that pertains to players or goalies losing their mask or helmet as the play went to video review.
“NHL Rule 9 – Uniforms – 9.6 – Helmets – When a goalkeeper has lost his helmet and/or face mask and his team has control of the puck, the 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.
When a goalkeeper deliberately removes his helmet and/or face mask in order to secure a stoppage of play, the Referee shall stop play as outlined above and in this case assess the goalkeeper a minor penalty for delaying the game. If the goalkeeper deliberately removes his helmet and/or face mask when the opposing team is on a breakaway, the Referee shall award a penalty shot to the nonoffending team, which shot shall be taken by the player last in possession of the puck.”
Hellebuyck knew the only thing that was fair game was the goalie interference element, which was nullified when it was determined that the actions of Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey — who conceded that he pushed Benn in the direction of Hellebuyck (even if he was already heading that general direction).
Since it was ultimately not ruled goalie interference on Benn, the goal was allowed to stand.
Still, Hellebuyck was at a loss for what he was supposed to do in that situation.
“What I saw was I had made a save, I am in the crease, I leaned maybe a hair outside the crease and the crease isn’t very wide. Maybe I leaned a hair outside, but my balance and my weight was in the crease, and he was coming right by my face,” said Hellebuyck. “Maybe he wasn’t going to hit me but he was close enough where any play on him forced him into my head. I think Josh did hit him. I don’t know how hard he hit him, that’s not for me to judge because I’m not the one who put the hit on him.
“But he hit him, and the amount of force that went into my head was very scary. The feeling in my neck was very scary. I’m glad I’m OK, I’m glad I’m having a maintenance day (Saturday). But the force that went into my head is a no-brainer for me that it needs to get blown dead and looked at.”
Sure, Hellebuyck was trying to protect his head from the potential of it being hit by a shot as the play continued.
But he was also trying to come to grips with taking a shoulder to the mask from one of the strongest players in the NHL. That’s why it took him so long to get to his feet, long after the goal had been scored.
“Definitely, a little bit of that (protecting himself). It was more of the shock of what I had just felt and I didn’t know if I could get up,” said Hellebuyck, who stayed in the game after he was checked out by Jets head athletic therapist Rob Milette. “The way the play goes, they’re expecting me to get up, go to the post and square up to a point shot? For me, that’s just way too long and no one’s going to do that with no mask on. We don’t want any goalie in this league, we don’t want that for us, we don’t want to see that anywhere in this league. So, the fact that happened (Friday) night is very eye-opening and, hopefully, we can get better and get this rule changed.”
Hellebuyck is part of the competition committee and isn’t afraid to have his opinions heard on issues such as this one.
He isn’t about to go quietly into the night or wait for someone else to advocate for him.
“I’m the goalie on (the committee). I get my voice out. I hate complaining without doing something about it,” said Hellebuyck. “We talked about it last meeting. We talked about how we need to protect the goalies’ heads. How we’re getting hit there and nothing is being done about it. So, the refs are supposed to be looking for it.
“Obviously, I’ve said the refs made a mistake. It’s OK. All we need is for them to honour that mistake, or even in games when they all talk together instead of just saying, ‘OK, we made a mistake, it’s a goal,’ let the war room take care of it because that’s kind of what sometimes they do. They need to be able to get together and say, ‘OK, this is the actual way we need to call this.’ 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. That’s immediate. I think the rule needs to be changed where the war room can say, ‘OK, that needed to get blown dead.’”
Things happen fast in real time and you fully comprehend why the officials want to be 100 per cent sure about blowing a play down in a one-goal game in the waning seconds of regulation time.
Points are of the utmost importance in a league where the margins are incredibly slim, but player safety needs to be the top priority here.
Under no circumstances should Hellebuyck or any other goalie in the NHL (or any level for that matter) be asked to get up quickly just to ensure that the whistle is blown, provided there is no immediate scoring chance for the attacking team.
Roughly four seconds elapsed from the time Benn had made contact with Hellebuyck to when Robertson scored the goal.
For the sake of comparison, that’s roughly the amount of time it took Morrissey to race up the ice, take a pass from Blake Wheeler, pull away from Robertson and beat Stars goalie Jake Oettinger through the five-hole for the OT winner.
That scoring chance was only imminent once Morrissey had taken a stride or two beyond the offensive goal line and broken in alone, not while accelerating through the neutral zone.
Which brings us back to Hellebuyck’s argument.
“When a goalie’s mask is knocked off or comes off, if it’s not an immediate – and I mean like the puck’s going in, getting tapped in – the whistle needs to be blown,” said Hellebuyck. “Just like a player who loses his helmet has to go to the bench. He’s allowed to finish the motion of the play but he has to go to the bench. The same thing should apply for a goalie. I think there (were) two passes and I don’t even know if Jamie Benn got a point on that play (he didn’t). And that was the initial guy who hit me and got the puck.
“So four seconds. I’m pretty sure we could have got a shot on the other net in four or five seconds. That tells you how much ice you can cover. Immediate is, like I’ve been saying, the puck needs to be going in the net or on its way into the net or a guy is in the act of finishing a puck and there was none of that.”
Seeing Hellebuyck sprawled out face down late in Friday’s game was a far greater concern than giving up the goal that allowed the Stars to erase a two-goal deficit and earn a point by getting the game to overtime.
“It’s a scary situation when your team’s MVP goes down and is laying motionless on the ice with no helmet and pucks are coming to the net,” said Jets centre Adam Lowry, who had a goal and three points on Friday, including an assist on the overtime clincher. “As players, for the longest time, any time it goes to the situation room we don’t really have a whole lot of clarity on instances where the goalie is impacted. You’d like it to be cut and dry.
“I just think in these situations, there’s always going to be one side that’s upset. At the same time, we remember just how dangerous it is if someone gets a puck in the head, just how fast that things can change. Whether you’re the team that kind of feels like you get screwed out, you want player safety to be at the forefront. That’s going to be something that is going to get brought up and hopefully dealt with.”
Jets head coach Rick Bowness, who expressed his frustration and confusion with the call on Friday, was taking the turning the page approach when he was asked to revisit the topic on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s the same. We disagree with the call, it’s as simple as that,” said Bowness, who wasn’t ready to reveal whether it would be Hellebuyck or backup David Rittich starting in goal against the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday as his team closes out a three-game road trip against Central Division opponents. “You can’t ask a goalie to get in there and make a save without his mask on. Anyways, that happens. We’ve moved on. I don’t talk to the league about those things. (Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff) does. Chevy has been in constant contact with the league. That’s all we can do is voice our opinion and go from there.”