Upon Further Review, How Big An Impact Did Kicked Goals Have On The NJ Devils And The NHL in 2011-2012?

April 29, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; NHL referee Wes McCauley (4) waves off goal by Philadelphia Flyers center Danny Briere (48), not pictured, during the overtime period of game one of the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals at Wells Fargo Center. Briere would score the game winner a few minutes later. The Flyers defeated the Devils, 4-3 to take a 1-0 lead in the series. It would be the only game the Flyers would win in the series. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE

With the recent rule change in the Swedish Elite League (SEL), all goals deflected off a player's skate will now be counted as good goals provided the player's skate blade remains on the ice during the play. The NHL currently utilizes a rule that is a little more subjective, what is known as Rule 49.2. The rule states:

.... A goal cannot be scored by an attacking player who uses a distinct kicking motion to propel the puck into the net ... A puck that deflects into the net off an attacking player's skate who does not use a distinct kicking motion is a legitimate goal....

There are a couple more details included in the entire text of Rule 49, but the main determining factor in whether or not a goal will count is if there was a "distinct kicking motion" by the player.

So, I want to take a look back and see how big of an impact kicked goals had on the Devils season in 2011-2012. Obviously, these are plays that usually stick in the minds of a fan, but are kicked goals as prevalent as one might think? Would the Devils results from last season have been different if the NHL had a rule similar to the new SEL rule? Or, what if the league decided to go in the other direction and disallow all goals that deflect off the skate of an offensive player?

In an attempt to answer these questions, we will review all of the potential kicked goals involving the NJ Devils over the course of last season. Please follow along with me after the jump.

The only available data I could find regarding Situation Room reviews for the 2011-2012 NHL season was provided by the NHL.com Situation Room blog . My caveat is that I have no way of knowing how complete of a list they provided. They claim that it is the place to find out about every review as it happens. I have my doubts that the list is 100 % complete, as I believe I turned up four missing cases from their list just involving the Devils. That leads me to wonder how many other reviews were not added to the list.

Obviously, I would much prefer to have what I know is a complete set of data, ideally covering several seasons minimum. But as far as I know, there is nothing of the sort available. Still, the list provided is pretty comprehensive, and I am inclined to believe it encompasses the majority of events for the 2011-2012 season. Also, it is the only data available covering this topic, as far as I know.

By my count, the Devils had 24 NHL Situation Room reviews of plays during the 2011-2012 regular season. Let's see the breakdown of what those reviews entailed.

Reviews: 24

Possible Kick: 11

No Kick: 3

Good goal: 6

No goal: 2

Of these 24 reviews, 11 (or 47.8 %) involved a potential puck kicked into the net, and 8 (34.8 %) involved an actual skate deflection by the offense. This was actually a bit higher than the league average I calculated. I imagine there is wide fluctuation from team to team. I'll get into that after the review of the Devils specific plays.

The 3 plays that I put under the category "No kick" means that as a result of the play, the puck was determined to enter the net legally through some other manner, such as off a defenders skate, stick or body. Also, if the puck went into the net off of the body of an offensive player, but not off a skate, it would fall into this category. Here are the 11 Devils Situation Room Reviews of potential skate deflection goals that I found for the 2011-2012 season. In this chart, the SEL category at the end means, do I think the goal would have counted under the new SEL rule, with GG meaning "good goal".

Date

Opponent

Decision

Link

SEL

10/21/11

San Jose

Clowe (SJ) No distinct kicking motion - good goal

Link

GG

10/27/11

Phoenix

O'Sullivan (PHX) Kicked puck deflected off Sal's stick and in - good goal

Link

-----

11/23/11

Columbus

Boll (CBJ) No distinct kicking motion - good goal

Link

GG

11/26/11

Islanders

Parise - distinct kicking motion - overturned - no goal

Link

GG?

12/3/11

Winnipeg

Kane (WPG) No kick involved - good goal

Link

-----

12/6/11

Toronto

Kessel (TOR) No distinct kicking motion - good goal

Link

GG

1/4/12

Boston

Campbell (BOS) No distinct kicking motion - good goal

Link

GG

2/2/12

Montreal

Clarkson -no kick; off leg - good goal

Link

-----

2/17/12

Anaheim

Getzlaf (ANA) - distinct kicking motion - no goal

Link

GG

2/24/12

Vancouver

Clarkson - no distinct kicking motion - good goal

Link

GG

3/17/12

Pittsburgh

Cooke (PIT) - no distinct kicking motion - good goal

Link

GG

Out of the 6 goals determined to be "good goals", 5 were for the Devils opponents and only 1 was for the Devils. This total is lower than I anticipated before starting to collect the data. The only goal that went in the Devils favor ended up not meaning much (Clarkson vs Vancouver) as the Devils lost that game anyway.

The 5 goals that counted against the Devils had varying effects on the results of those games. The Clowe goal for San Jose came in a game which went to a shootout and the Devils eventually lost, so it was certainly an important decision. The Kessel goal for the Leafs and the Boll tally for Columbus allowed each of their respective teams to get one point, but the Devils still won both of those games. The Cooke goal for Pittsburgh and the Campbell goal for Boston both came in games where the Devils were thoroughly whipped, and probably had no effect on the outcome of either game.

The two disallowed goals, which were both initially ruled good goals on the ice, were huge. I'm sure we all remember the Parise kick against the Islanders which would have tied the game as regulation expired. The interesting thing about this no-goal is that I'm not 100% sure it would even count in the SEL with the new rule changes. I *think* it would be a good goal, but if you notice in the video his skate blade comes up shortly after he propels the puck forward with his skate. It appears to me to be two slightly separate movements where he first pushes the puck forward, and then his skate blade comes up afterwards, but I'm not 100 % sure. This would come down to a judgment call not too different from what we deal with now. In fact, there are a couple other plays I noticed league wide which I feel might not be goals regardless of if the NHL adopted the same rules as the SEL. I'll get into that more when I discuss the overall numbers I found for the NHL at a whole.

The other disallowed goal the Devils faced this year was a potential overtime game winner from Ryan Getzlaf. The Devils ultimately won that game in a shootout. If you watch that video, I have no doubt Getzlaf's goal would be allowed under new SEL rules, and the Ducks would have come out victorious in that particular game.

So, how consequential are these kicked goals?

The Devils only having 1 good goal off of a skate this entire season was initially surprising to me. It certainly felt like there were more during the course of the season. I was amazed how little the team and their results overall were affected by these events. The one goal scored by Clarkson amounted to nothing. At first glance, it would seem with the five goals against, they would have made out better if no skate deflections were allowed whatsoever. In actuality, the Devils probably lost only 1 point in the standings overall as a result of the 5 goals kicked in against them.

What if all goals were allowed, as per the SEL? The kicked goal by JP's son against the Islanders probably (maybe?) would have counted. This would have tied the game and surely sent it to overtime, earning the Devils an extra point. Ryan Getzlaf's overtime goal against the Devils would have counted, taking one point away from the Devils. The overall result is a wash and there would have been no difference to the Devils standing. Possibly, they could have added one point if they went on to beat the Islanders in overtime.

On the other hand, what if no skate deflected goals were allowed at all? Against Boston and Pittsburgh, the Devils were thoroughly owned in both games, and would have almost certainly still lost both. The Devils could have gotten an extra point from the San Jose game. And finally, the Devils still won both games against Columbus and Toronto anyway regardless of the skate deflected goals. The net difference for the Devils in standing if all skate deflections were disallowed would be + 1 point.

So, overall the Devils were very minimally affected in both Goals Scored and Overall Points. I wanted to get some sort of idea how results for the Devils season compared to the NHL as a whole.

On the NHL Situation Room blog, I counted 291 overall reviews, with 90 of them (30.9%) pertaining to a possible kicked puck, and 71 of those (24.4%) actually involving a skate deflection. If you remember, however, I mentioned that I know of 4 Devils Reviews that were not on the blog. So, what if there were other reviews missing as well? It would seem there probably are, but tough to say how many. I decided to use the difference of 4 I found researching the Devils as a basis for estimating a new total of all reviewable plays. I then make all of my specific projections based off of the percentage ratios of the counted numbers. So, although it is a rough estimate, I think it is the best I can do given the available data.

Counted

Estimated

Reviews:

291

~351

Kick Reviews:

90

~109

No kick:

19

~23

Good Goal:

45

~55

No Goal:

26

~32

Once again, I was surprised by how few good goals there actually are deflected off skates. My estimation ranges from around 1.5 GF - 2 GF per team PER SEASON. I expect there is a good deal of variance here from team to team, but the totals are what they are. To put this number of goals into perspective, there were 6726 goals scored in the entire NHL season in total. Probably around 55 of them went in off of a skate and were ruled good goals upon review. This is an incredibly small percentage (0.82 %). The one thing I realized for sure is no matter how rough my estimates may be, this is a very small relative number, regardless of how largely those individual plays stick in our collective heads.

Interestingly, I found a goal ruled a good goal under current NHL rules which I am not sure would have counted in the SEL under the new rule. Most of the goals ruled currently as "good goals" in the videos I watched would still have counted. So, the rule change will certainly add some goals to the overall total. But this shows that when the hockey gods giveth, they also taketh away...maybe.

The game in question here is between Florida and Toronto on 12/27/11 , As you can see, Grabovski sort of falls down and his skate blade and his skate come completely off the ice as he propels the puck into the net. By my understanding of the new rule, this would not be a goal. Does it matter that he is falling down? I'm not sure, but I'm inclined to say it doesn't matter and there would be no goal.

Onto the "no goals". Roughly 32 goals were ruled "no goal" upon video review. This works out to barely over 1 per team over the course of the season. I'm sure there is a good deal of variance from team to team on this one as well. In fact you may notice my other two examples below also happen to involve Toronto. Of the ~32 goals ruled "no goal", we cannot just assume all would automatically have counted if the NHL had the SEL rule in place. Although I was not able to watch all of the videos, I still found several "no goals" which I think would have also not counted in the SEL due to the skate blade coming off the ice during the kicking motion. At the very least, some plays would be questionable.

This first example is from a Pittsburgh- Toronto game on 2/1/12. It seems Chris Kunitz's entire skate leaves the ice as he kicks the puck in the net. You can see his blade off the ice in the slow motion replay. My thought is this play would be ruled a no goal regardless of any rule change.

Here is one more interesting example, which was ruled a "no goal". This game is between Toronto and Ottawa on 3/17/12. Watch Jason Spezza's skate as he kicks the puck into the net. Does it totally leave the ice? I'm not really sure. My first thought was yes. As he kicks, the blade of the skate completely leaves the surface of the ice, but I can't be 100 % clear on this. This play illustrates, once again, that interpretation and judgment will still play a role in the decision making process.

One of the arguments made by the SEL officials in changing their rule is that they want to increase scoring. If we use the estimated totals from last year's NHL season as an indicator, the effect on scoring will not be that great. Maybe somewhere around 1 goal per team PER SEASON, or about 30 total goals ( ~0.45% of all goals scored last year).

For arguments sake, lets say my totals are low and there were actually 50 goals that would be allowed, not 30. ( I don't think this to be true, btw). This is still only 0.7% of the 2011-2012 NHL goal total, and still less than 2 goals per team over the course of an entire season. While technically, yes, it almost certainly would add to the goal total, the amount added is very small. The argument for adding goals and increasing scoring, although technically true, seems weak given the overall picture. .

IF the NHL adopted the new SEL rules, there would still be judgement calls. The officials would be judging something less subjective and open to interpretation than the current system, however.

In fact, I think an argument can also be made for ruling out all skate deflection goals en masse, regardless of the motion of the skate or proximity to the ice. I am not necessarily in favor of that change personally, but I think a legitimate case still exists.

The main argument against eliminating skate deflected goals is usually a scoring based argument. My approximations put the total of skate deflected good goals at around 55 for last season, less than 1% of the entire total goals scored in the league. If we are talking about a total number of goals that averages out to probably a little less than 2 per team per season, how much is it really helping with scoring? Should those 2 goals / team be sacrificed for clarity and fairness?

Perhaps the judgment system the NHL currently has in place is the most subjective of the 3 potential options discussed.. But, how much does it really matter? We saw that making a change either way had at most a +1 or -1 point difference on the Devils season. The difference in goals scored for the Devils was the same , also +1 or -1. I would love to know how each individual team was affected, as I imagine there were some widely varying experiences from team to team.

So, I'd like to know what everyone else think on this issue. Should the NHL just stick with the rule they have now? Should a change be made? If a change should be made, should the rule be more inclusive or exclusive? Thanks for reading and please sound off with any comments and questions below.

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