What the heck is goaltender interference, anyway?

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 10: Conor Sheary
TORONTO, ON - MARCH 10: Conor Sheary /

There are a few great mysteries in sports — what constitutes a catch in the NFL, when will FIFA allow video review, what is an “amateur” in the Olympics, and now, what the heck is goalie interference in the NHL?

With a whole slew of differing opinions popping up over the NHL’s most recent controversial no-goal call on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Brian Dumoulin last week against the Maple Leafs’ Frederik Andersen, the NHL finds itself in a bit of a kerfuffle over what exactly is considered to be goaltender interference.

Pens coach Mike Sullivan was flabbergasted after the game and went to pains to admit to media after the game that he had no idea what exactly is goalie interference and what isn’t:

The league has had its hands full with the recent controversies.

For the record, the NHL defines goaltender interference as “all cases in which an attacking player initiates intentional or deliberate contact with a goalkeeper, whether or not the goalkeeper is inside or outside the goal crease, and whether or not a goal is scored, the attacking player will receive a penalty.”

The wording is somewhat vague in the definition of what can be called “intentional or deliberate,” and the wording and interpretation has been taken to task in recent examples.

Consider the Dumoulin no-goal above. Dumoulin does make contact with Andersen’s head in cutting through the crease; however, whether or not that contact is deliberate and intentional is very, very debatable.

With that in mind, have a look at Johan Larsson’s goal against Toronto earlier this month:

And this goal by David Krejci on Jake Allen:

Again, the intent of the player is debatable, but Dumoulin has his goal pulled back and is assessed a two minute penalty on what appears to be incidental contact; Larsson slew foots Andersen and pulls him out of the net until he can deposit the puck in a yawning cage and is rewarded with a goal. DeBrusk and Spooner quite literally move Allen out of the net for Krejci to score. Something doesn’t add up.

With the broad interpretation of the rule that is possible under the current wording, and the NHL’s referees wanting to keep their authority and not to have others breathing down their neck, the issue has become an emotional one for those making the calls — a view that is illustrated by the visibly upset Dean Morton after the Dumoulin call:

With everyone on edge and confusion abounding, the NHL needs to do something to look into this issue and clear up the animosity building between coaches, players, referees and league officials.

Bill Daly and Colin Campbell have indicated that the rule will be up for discussion at the general managers meetings set to go down this month in Florida. Every team in the league seems to have some grievance to air about a goal called back or awarded at some point in the season so here’s hoping that they are able to bring some clarity to the issue before the playoffs. Horror of horrors would be that a team loses in overtime to be eliminated on one of these calls — we all remember Brett Hull’s winner in 1999:

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The league certainly doesn’t want a repeat of that outcome.