Few rules have caused as much stress to NHL players and fans alike as Goaltender Interference (GTI). Ask any NHL fan and they will bitterly relive a bad GTI call on or against their team. The rule is written so vaguely in the NHL Rule Book that even refs can’t seem to come to a consensus. GTI seemed to be one of the most talked about and frustrating topics of the 2016-2017 season.
GTI is a game-deciding rule. Rarely does a mistaken icing call or a missed off-sides result in a goal. But a missed GTI call can, and has cost a team a game. There’s no need to remind Blackhawks fans of the Game 3 goal scored by Filip Forsberg on Corey Crawford.
In the NHL Rule Book, rules 69. 69.1, 69.3, and 69.4 cover GTI. They are approximately 13 paragraphs of convoluted language that leave the reader more confused on the rule than before reading. Here are the parts of the rule in short:
69.1 says that an attacking player’s position is not the key factor to determining interference. A goal is going to be disallowed if either the offensive player impairs the goalie’s ability to move freely (whether by contact or not) or the offensive player initiates contact with the goalie (whether inside or outside the goal crease). Incidental contact with the goalie is allowed outside of the goal crease if the offensive player tries to avoid contact. If the offensive player was pushed by a defensive player, it is not interference. If a defensive player is pushed by an offensive player, it is interference. Finally, 69.1 states that all of this is at the discretion of the ref.
69.3 goes into further explanation of contact inside the crease. Goals are supposed to be disallowed if an offensive player has any contact with the goalie in the goal crease. If a goalie “in the act of establishing his position within his goal crease” creates contact with an offensive player and it impairs the goalie’s ability to defend the goal, the goal is to be disallowed. An offensive player must vacate the goal crease to allow the goalie to establish his position. Finally, if a player “establishes a significant position within the crease” for longer than an instant, it is goal tender interference. And guess what: this is all at the ref’s discretion.
69.4 covers contact outside the crease. Goals will be disallowed if there is contact that is not incidental outside of the crease with the goalie. The rule clarifies that the goalie does not become fair game outside of the goal crease. However, the goalie is held accountable for his actions outside of the crease if he impairs the ability of a player.
While at a glance the NHL appears to have created an extensive rule, Rule 69 is about as vague as it can be. A player can’t touch the goalie… unless he doesn’t mean to. A player can be in the crease… but only for “an instant”. This is when interference should be called… unless the ref disagrees.
The problem with the rule is not what the rule states, but how the rule is interpreted. Show every ref in the league the same goal and there will be no consensus on whether it was GTI or not.
One of the most infamous reinterpretations of the rule came in Game 3 of the 2017 Playoffs. The goal in question can be found at time marker 1:14.
Corey Crawford was established in his net when Viktor Arvidsson interfered with him. There is no way to interpret this play except as interference. The refs got it wrong. The rule was misinterpreted. It may seem like I’m splitting hairs but this goal cost the Hawks the game. In a sport where every goal matters, it is important that the goals are treated as such.
The Arvidsson-Crawford call is made even more ridiculous when comparing it to a call made in a Leafs and Capitals game, which can be seen here.
The refs decided that Nicklas Bäckström‘s contact with Freddie Andersen was illegal, calling back the goal. For anyone watching, it is clear that Andersen initiated the contact with Bäckström. More importantly, the contact did not prevent Andersen from properly defending his net.
The list of videos of bad GTI calls goes on and on. All readers have seen enough of these calls live to need more examples.
Something needs to be done. Either the rule needs to be rewritten, the refs need to be ensured that they are all on the same page, or every questioned GTI call needs to be sent to Toronto to have the powers that be review and make the final decision.
Let’s hope that this season there is clarity and understanding when it comes to Rule 69. But this is the NHL, so maybe we shouldn’t get our hopes up.