Rule 69: An Explanation & A Concern

Because I keep reading comments (seriously, so many of them) and hearing all kinds of talking heads blow off what happened at the end of Game 4 due to Martin Brodeur being out of his crease, I feel it is necessary to do a little close reading of Rule 69 of the 2008-09 NHL Official Rulebook: Interference on the Goaltender.  This rule and all of the other official rules of the NHL are available at NHL.com and it's a handy resource any kind a tough call is made.

I also feel that it is necessary to harp on this one more time because based on the logic of the decision made at the end of Game 4, it sets a very poor precedent and it could very well come up again to decide a game.  I understand that the Devils lost the game regardless of what happened.  I understand that the final goal was a deflection of Jussi Jokinen's skate. I understand that even if the Devils held on, they could have lost the game in overtime.  Again, my main point with this is to fight against a major misconception as well as argue against this precedent.

If this doesn't interest you, don't worry, there will be more up soon.

First, the big misconception being made is that since Brodeur was out of his crease, any contact is "fair."  This is simply not true according to Rule 69.4 - Contact Outside the Goal Crease:

If an attacking player initiates any contact with a goalkeeper, other than incidental contact, while the goalkeeper is outside his goal crease, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.

A goalkeeper is not "fair game" just because he is outside the goal crease. The appropriate penalty should be assessed in every case where an attacking player makes unnecessary contact with the goalkeeper. However, incidental contact will be permitted when the goalkeeper is in the act of playing the puck outside his goal crease provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such unnecessary contact.

Right there, in the very first sentence of the second paragraph, it destroys the falsehood that any goaltender can be touched in anyway outside of the crease. An attacking player is not allowed to run the goalie or intentionally hit him because he's not in the crease.  Ever.  It doesn't matter if it's one foot from the crease, behind the net, or at the blue line.  According to Rule 69.4, the goalie is still protected.  If you learn nothing else from this post or disagree with everything else, at lease understand that it doesn't matter where the goalie is when it comes to intentional or deliberate contact. The only exception is for incidental.

Whether contact is incidental is the vague part about Rule 69 in general.  Incidental is being defined here as whether the attacking player made a reasonable effort to avoid unnecessary contact.  This is the only area of Rule 69.4 where it a judgment call on the referee takes place.   If the attacking player was deliberate in hitting the goaltender and if it was unnecessary, it's a violation of the rule and a penalty.   That's pretty clear. 

However, the key is a reasonable effort to avoid contact.   Even if it is a judgment call, it seems pretty clear to me.  The attacking player has to show that he tried to avoid contact. If he did, you could argue that's enough effort and so any play that resulted from it is acceptable.

Did the attacking player - Jussi Jokinen - try to avoid contact from being made?  Let's take a look at this video of the FS Carolinas feed uploaded from Youtube.  Pay attention to seconds 0:44 through 0:49. That's the incident in question. 

From what I see, Brodeur is out  (maybe 1-2 feet at the most, but that doesn't matter) to playing an angle for a possible shot at the point - a common tactic for goaltenders. Jokinen, being the smart forward that he is, goes to the slot.  In doing so, he hits Brodeur as he comes across sideways, Brodeur stumbles, and Jokinen does not - continuing to glide to the left side of the crease.  The referee may disagree, but I do not believe Jokinen attempted to avoid the contact.  If anything, he benefits as he gets to his position quicker than Brodeur.

Now what is stated Rule 69.1 - Interference on the Goalkeeper comes into play along with Rule 69.4. This is the general clause for goaltender interference, so let's break this down bit by bit.

This rule is based on the premise that an attacking player’s position, whether inside or outside the crease, should not, by itself, determine whether a goal should be allowed or disallowed. In other words, goals scored while attacking players are standing in the crease may, in appropriate circumstances be allowed.

Right there, this establishes that the attacking player can be where ever he wants to be - it does not matter as to whether a goal is allowed or not with respect to goaltender interference. That wasn't an issue - so far, so good.

Goals should be disallowed only if: (1) an attacking player, either by his positioning or by contact, impairs the goalkeeper’s ability to move freely within his crease or defend his goal; or (2) an attacking player initiates intentional or deliberate contact with a goalkeeper, inside or outside of his goal crease.

We now have two ways a goal could be disallowed. While you could make a case that Jokinen bumping Brodeur impaired his chances at getting to the goal.  However, according to Brodeur via Gulitti last night, the ref told Brodeur - and this is likely a big part of what got him upset - that he had time to "reset himself." This is very questionable as Brodeur had little more than a second to do just that, but that's the ref's reasoning. 

For the sake of argument, let's focus on #2.  It seems pretty clear that if the contact  on the goaltender is intentional or deliberate, any goal scored would not count. Again, it doesn't matter where the contact happens.  But we didn't see anything deliberate - we were arguing that it was incidental contact.  Rule 69.1 addresses this directly afterwards and this is where it gets a little confusing at first due to a change in tone:

Incidental contact with a goalkeeper will be permitted, and resulting goals allowed, when such contact is initiated outside of the goal crease, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact. The rule will be enforced exclusively in accordance with the on-ice judgment of the Referee(s), and not by means of video replay or review.

This is a "positive" clause in the rule in that it explains when a goal is allowed  after contact and it comes right after two big "negative" clauses regarding contact.  Because of the change in tone, it must accepted that if contact is initiated outside of goal crease and the attacking player - again, the onus is on the attacker - did not make a reasonable effort to avoid contact, then how can it be called incidental?

And if it's not incidental contact, what else could it be other than intentional?  There really isn't a middle ground for this contact and most other infractions:  either the bump was a mistake or not a mistake.  Just like a player is either holding an opposing player or they aren't; or either they have just cross-checked someone or they didn't.

Basically, with respect to contact, Rule 69 can be summed up as it's a penalty/goal disallowed if contact wasn't incidental or contact is incidental and so no penalty/goal allowed.  Note that at this point of the rule, the issue being discussed is allowing a goal or disallowing a goal.  The ref has every right to disallow the goal but without assigning a penalty - that is left up to the referee's discretion according to Rule 69.2:

In exercising his judgment, the Referee should give more significant consideration to the degree and nature of the contact with the goalkeeper than to the exact location of the goalkeeper at the time of the contact.

But that is a bit of an aside.

Again, let's go back to the video tape, helpfully uploaded by our Hurricane friend.  The big question: Did Jokinen's bump hinder Brodeur's ability to defend his goal? 

Mind you, from my view, I've seen this replay several times and I think it clearly shows that Brodeur's ability to get to where he thought the shot was going to go was affected.  How can any goaltender, from Alex Auld to Simeon Varlamov, be able to defend his goal if he's knocked back for a precious bit of time? Brodeur was not able to get to that side of the crease to be ready for the shot.  While Brodeur was hustling to go across the crease, Jokinen - who wasn't at all hindered - was already set up for the screen or deflection.

Lastly, the ref has this final out - this is not a reviewable penalty.  The ref can't stop the game and look at some tape to see if a penalty was made.  Fine.  But given that it was a crucial component to how the goal was scored, I personally think the rules should be amended to look for infractions if and only if they could have played a role in the goal in question being scored.  That's just a personal opinion of mine. A second personal opinion that I have is that had the ref ust told Martin Brodeur, "Sorry, I can't review interference according to the rules," maybe Brodeur doesn't get as upset.

Regardless, based on what I've just described and comparing it to what I've seen, I think it's a clear violation of Rule 69 and the goal should not have been awarded.  Martin Brodeur, calmer today in discussing it with the press (via Gulitti), even stated that it wasn't worthy of a penalty, but definitely a disallowal of the goal.  I understand that it has been and it will never be unawarded. Eric Furlatt told Brodeur he had time to "reset" and so he has made his decision.

And this is what I'm most concerned about, other than the gigantic lack of understanding of Rule 69.  Essentially, Furlatt told Brodeur that contact with the goaltender is allowable if the goaltender can get into a position later on. That's a pretty big precedent!  Nowhere in Rule 69 does it mention whether the goaltender could get into position or whether he had time to do so!  There's no time limit called out anywhere. It's either the contact is incidental (attacking player tried to avoid it) or it isn't!  It doesn't even need to impair the ability to defend the net, just look at #2 in Rule 69.1 for ways to disallow goals - intentional or deliberate contact with the goaltender is clearly forbidden.

I suppose as long as the ref sees or can convince himself that the contact is incidental - not that it actually is incidental, but whether or not it looks that way - and the goalie can keep moving, he's not calling interference.  If this is the interpretation he and the league are going with, every team in the league needs to know this now.  It means, say, if Henrik Lundqvist is brushed and a shot goes off (and in) a second or two later, he's not getting that call despite what the rulebook says. If Marc-Andre Fleury gets backed into by a Flyer but Fleury is still able to move, then there will be no whistle if the Flyer makes it look good.  It may seem like just an interpretation, but it could have a very large effect as games are called - as we saw in close ones like last night's Game 4!

I still believe it was an awful call by Eric Furlatt and the NHL really needs to provide some clarification on this rule if that is how they are going to allow contact as long as the goaltender has some time to "reset," whatever that means.

Even if you disagree from what I thought about the goal, I hope you all have at least learned that whether a goaltender is in the crease is clearly irrelevant as to whether contact is deserving of a whistle.  It's all about whether the contact was intentional or deliberate, or if it was incidental - a decision which has to be either or without a middle ground.

NHL Playoffs Blog Coverage, Schedule and Scores - SB Nation

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