At this point, you almost expect the NHL’s Situation Room Blog to devolve into a Tumblr of crying GIFs.
As much as the league focuses on the minutia of offside goal reviews, the confusion around what does and does not constitute goalie interference is the elephant in the room. On Thursday, that elephant trampled all over the furniture.
Truly, this has become the NHL’s answer to the NFL’s high-profile headaches about what counts as a catch. Such situations seem to have the same potential to bewilder and ruin the fun.
You can see an especially bad example in the video above this post’s headline. Erik Haula‘s 2-1 goal for the Vegas Golden Knights counted even though James Neal broke his stick bumping Connor Hellebuyck in the head. That contact wasn’t as malicious as it sounded … but should that goal really count?
Blake Wheeler strongly disagreed with the decision, even getting profane. Here’s a censored version:
“Well, now it’s bad,” Wheeler said. “It was bad before but come on, (he) [expletive] breaks a stick over his head. That’s not a goal.”
You can see Wheeler’s full take, with the salty (also censored) part coming around the 1:15 mark:
Not surprisingly, Hellebuyck agreed that it was the wrong call.
Now, it’s one thing for players on the wrong end of the review process to comment, but it’s far from just Wheeler and Hellebuyck griping about that tally. Consider what highly respected St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong had to say about what is, frankly, a huge mess:
Yikes. The comment was likely prompted by this Bruins goal:
… But it doesn’t really invalidate such an opinion, right?
Hockey fans can probably go way, way back to other times when goalie interference seemed to inspire some very “mystical” interpretations, and there are plenty of notorious “goal or no goal?” moments. You can make a Buffalo Sabres fans insta-cringe if you merely utter the phrase “foot in the crease.” Tomas Holmstrom’s entire career felt like a field experiment for goalie interference calls.
Still, the angst seems to be rising, with even NHL executives admitting that the process is one big ¯_(ツ)_/¯. Scroll through some of the decisions from Thursday, and it all seems subjective, at best.
At least it opens the door for jokes?
Naturally, the league would likely respond with a reasonable point: yes, it’s confusing, but fans won’t be happy if bad goals count, either.
After that Golden Knights win against the Jets, Paul Maurice provided some interesting insight on a memo that went out around the league about goalie interference.
“The memo came down they were going to let more go. We can’t have people swinging at our goalie’s heads. You can’t allow that to creep into the game,” Maurice said. “The whole thing started to protect the goaltenders. I would have thought that one, yeah, OK bumping a goalie might be one thing, rubbing him a little bit, pushing him a little bit, but if you hit him in the head with your stick and break it, we probably don’t want that in our game.”
Maybe a night like this will inspire the NHL to change course on, allegedly, letting more go?
It’s not an easy situation to deal with, but more and more, it seems like the league needs to find a way to arrive at some satisfying answers.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.