Goalie interference is one of the most controversial rules in the NHL. Brian MacLellan knows that and he also recognizes the problem.
The call now is an inherently subjective call. That means what qualifies as interference to one referee may not meet the standard of another, leading to the call being officiated differently from game to game.
There are a lot of calls in hockey that are subjective, but considering each coach’s challenge has the potential to take a goal off the board, the fact that no one can agree what is and is not goalie interference on any given night is a significant problem.
The NHL general managers tried to fix the problem by giving the final decision on challenges to the situation room in Toronto rather than the referees on the ice. While MacLellan applauded the move, he also thought it did not go far enough to fix the problem.
“I think there could be more clarification on parts of the rules, which they haven't addressed yet,” MacLellan said Friday in an interview with the media. “Things such as incidental contact by a puck-carrier versus a non-puck-carrier. You know, blue paint versus white paint. I think the rules could be tightened up a little bit where there's some incidental contact allowed and some that shouldn't be allowed.”
As a general manager, he is acutely aware of the issue that whatever he may deem to be interference is very different than many of his colleagues.
MacLellan noted that the general managers look at goalie interference challenges whenever they meet to try and determine if a consensus can be reached.
“They're just judgment calls where half the guys in the room will vote one way and half the guys will vote the other way,” he said. “People measure goalie interference different."
And that’s the problem.
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We have seen goalie interference calls in the regular season essentially determine the outcome of a game. Now that the playoffs are here, those games are more significant. This rule could potentially determine series and even championships.
But before you panic or declare the league should get rid of coach’s challenges altogether, MacLellan cautioned that the rule is in place to prevent such mistakes from happening, not to cause them.
"I think the goalie interference call gives the referees a chance to reverse a call, to make it right,” MacLellan said. “In theory, it gives a chance not for that to happen. Hopefully, that's the way it works out."