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Clarification: Why the rules near the crease need to be fixed

Welcome to The Clarification, the first part of an ongoing series in which Yardbarker will take a look at rulings that have players, coaches and fans a bit puzzled. Whether it is regarding old “unwritten rules” or a new subsection IV schedule, these are some rules in which we would like to get more clarification from the leagues.

Call it déjà vu — the San Jose Sharks had seen this play before.

It was the post-Thanksgiving Saturday night rumble with the division-rival Ducks, in which a tying goal in the first frame was under an extended review. Not long after the Sharks mounted an early 1-0 lead, a rushing goal attempt by Anaheim’s Ryan Garbutt saw the forward go crashing into netminder Martin Jones, knocking the goal net off its moorings and taking the puck with him.

After a long review, the officials announced that the puck crossed the goal line before interference with the goaltender had occurred, and the goal stood. Sharks’ bench boss Peter DeBoer challenged the call, under the league’s “Coach’s Challenge Rule,” putting the play under further evaluation. The NHL’s situation room eventually concluded that Garbutt had been pushed into the crease by Sharks defenseman Brent Burns, and therefore the goal still stood, tying the game 1-1.

Call it déjà vu — the Sharks had been at the bad end of such a play before.

It was just about six months ago, during a triple-overtime thriller against the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference Semifinals. In that battle, San Jose captain Joe Pavelski was pushed into Nashville’s goal by Paul Gaustad before nudging the puck over the line with his stick despite still being tangled with goaltender Pekka Rinne. After the situation was deliberated for a long while, the Toronto war room concluded that Pavelski should have made an attempt to stop and made “incidental contact” with Rinne. The goal wasn’t counted.

The allowed goal during the game against Anaheim brought the controversial disallowed goal from May back to light. Two very similar plays, two very different outcomes. Coincidentally, it came against the same team, although the Sharks are far from the only team in the league to have exited a game confused by a similar call. There have been grumblings for some time now when it comes to what Toronto ends up deeming “goalie interference” whether a coach challenges the call or not.

One thing is for sure: These are rules around the crease that need to be clarified.

“It’s a rule, I guess, that I’ll never understand,” Sharks forward Logan Couture said matter-of-factly after the tilt with the Ducks. “Last year we were told, in the Nashville series, that Pav was pushed in and he should’ve made the effort to stop. And tonight, they just said that (Garbutt) was pushed in, even though he didn’t make an effort to stop.

“I mean, I don’t understand what the league is doing with that rule, so maybe some more clarification is needed.”

The effort to try and clarify questionable goal calls and non-calls has taken shape over the last couple of seasons with the addition of video review and coach’s challenge. Heck, there are more cameras on the game than ever as the NHL tries to get more calls right. Yet, there are still decisions that leave us perplexed. One of those is the circumstances surrounding goalie interference and how the ruling is being determined.

For starters, taking a look at the two instances with San Jose, it should be recognized that the two calls from the two Sharks games, while they looked very similar, were decided on using two different rules. The play during the game against Nashville came under automatic review, not as a result of a coach’s challenge. As pointed out by, reasoning behind waiving off Pavelski’s goal attempt is explained under the goalie interference rule, Rule 69, (which is located on page 120-something of 226 in the online version of the NHL’s rule book, for those curious):

If an attacking player has been pushed, shoved, or fouled by a defending player so as to cause him to come into contact with the goalkeeper, such contact will not be deemed contact initiated by the attacking player for purposes of this rule, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact.

Now this is different than the rule applied during the Anaheim game, Rule 78.7, which breaks down the coach’s challenges. explained that Brent Burns pushed Ryan Garbutt into Martin Jones, thus nullifying the goalie interference claim:

The decision was made in accordance with Note 2 of Rule 78.7 (ii) which states, in part, that the goal on the ice should be allowed because “the attacking Player was pushed, shoved or fouled by a defending Player causing the attacking Player to come into contact with the goalkeeper.”

The two rules, while making sense on their own, appear to contradict each other.

This could be in part because the coach’s challenge is still a very young concept, having only been added to the league last season. While there has been no immediate talk about changes being made to the newer rule — the expansion draft and the issue of participating in the next Winter Olympics are hot-button topics these days — it wouldn’t be surprising if, at some point, the rules regarding the coach’s challenge are tweaked a bit.

But the similar scenarios for San Jose are also examples of how many questions there are regarding the goalie interference call in general.

The Ducks had their own questions regarding the ruling just a couple days before their meeting with San Jose. In round 12 of what became a 14-round shootout with the New York Islanders, it was ruled Isles’ skater Thomas Hickey scored a goal, although it came after Hickey nudged Anaheim goaltender Jonathan Bernier’s pad and the puck over the line after it had been stopped. The ruling did not go in the Ducks’ favor, with the Toronto war room reportedly concluding that “no goalie interference infractions occurred” — although perhaps the most glaring infraction was how Hickey had pushed the puck over the line. Nonetheless, the call opened the door for the Islanders’ victory after two more rounds in the shootout.

This might leave you thinking that only the team on the losing end of the call is having an issue. Surprisingly, that is not the case. Anaheim’s Southern California neighbors, the L.A. Kings, recently dealt with their own goalie interference call against the Chicago Blackhawks. Despite winning the game in the end, Kings head coach Darryl Sutter still voiced his displeasure with the call, telling the LA Times: “If that’s goalie interference, then they don’t want any goals scored… Then you’re going to have to figure out how to win nothing-nothing if they want no goals.”

And to think that these are just the complaints made over the last couple of weeks.

Sure it’s clear when a skater full-on tumbles into the goaltender, but determining whether a skater was pushed and had the opportunity to stop and prevent making incidental contact remains a bit tricky. SB Nation’s Defending Big D tackled this at the start of the 2015-16 season, noting that incidental contact can be missed in video review due to crowding in the crease, (among a handful of issues.)

It comes down to the fact that, even with many in-house officials and the addition of cameras and review techniques, the final ruling around the crease can still be very subjective. Going back to the Joe Pavelski no-goal against Nashville: Seeing Pavelski collide with Rinne was visible on video review, but determining how forcefully Paul Gaustad pushed him, and whether or not Pavelski had the ability to make the effort to stop, is not an exact science. With all the good that the rules around the crease are supposed to do, it appears that rules are, as Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said last season, “clear as mud.” The hunt for clarification and consistency for rules around the crease continues.

“You just look for consistency,”  Pavelski said in November. “That’s all.”

Chelena Goldman grew up on a street where the boys played street hockey and yelling at baseball and football over the radio was a standard — making life as a sports geek the perfect fit. She believes in dominance on the blue line, good red wine, and the theory that you can never be too overdressed for any occasion. You can find her gabbing away on Twitter at @ChelenaGoldman.

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Yardbarker: NHL