Coaches' frustrations prompts review of goalie interference

The NHL general managers meetings were dominated by talk of the goalie interference rule Monday.

NHL GMs get demonstration on difficulty of reaching consensus on what is and isn't a penalty

Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan and his brethren say they are confused about what is and what isn't goalie interference. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)

Much like the varying opinions that bubble to the surface after controversial goalie interference rulings, there's a divide among NHL general managers about how to move forward on the contentious issue.

The league's 31 GMs spent the entire first session of their three days of meetings tackling goalie interference, with some seeking clarity and others wondering about the decision process altogether.

While it's unclear what will come out of the gathering that wraps up Wednesday, it seems as though a declaration is coming down the pipe with the playoffs just over three weeks away.

"I think something positive will certainly come out of it," Toronto Maple Leafs GM Lou Lamoriello said after Monday's meeting broke. "We also have to be really careful in dwelling on that something is majorly wrong."

Habs get burned by two goalie interference calls 0:41

Lamoriello's team has been at the centre of a couple of the calls in question, with head coach Mike Babcock openly questioning refereeing decisions as they related to goalie interference.

"We've had several isolated incidents that maybe were flagrant and people disagreed with, and I think they sort of upstaged everything," Lamoriello added. "So we have to be careful of that, but in saying that there should be a change and there will be.

"It's just making sure it's the right thing."

Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin, however, stressed any alteration should be minor.

"Overall there's nothing major wrong with the system," he said. "It's working well. The few (controversial) ones make it more difficult to judge."

And therein lies a lot of the problem for the NHL.

Coaches were given the option to challenge for goalie interference this season, with referees looking at a tablet by the penalty box while communicating with the league's hockey operations department via headset.

But with the on-ice officials getting the final say in the heat of the moment, some decisions have left more than a few high-profile players and coaches, including Babcock, furious.

Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman wants to see a more uniform process.

"You can clarify the standards, but each referee, you and I, everyone has a different opinion," he said. "It's subjective, so no one's ever going to agree 100 per cent on the vast majority of the calls."

"Having maybe a smaller group make the final decision, get more consistency to it," Yzerman added when asked what he'd like to see done to shrink the grey area.

Philadelphia's Jordan Weal was called for goalie interference on this play against Ottawa's Craig Anderson. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said there's no way to make everyone happy.

"You're always going to have that element of judgment because goaltender interference is inherently a judgement call," he said. "The constant conversation is always there to try to make it better, that's obviously what we spent a lot of time on.

"Define the criteria, feel comfortable with the criteria, and then in the end accept the judgement call."

The NHL provided hard numbers to GMs on Monday to show that, from its point of view, the system is indeed working.

Through 1,114 games this season, the league had 170 combined challenges from coaches and the situation room in Toronto.

Of those instances, referees stayed with the call on the ice 119 times and overturned the ruling on 51 occasions.

Sometimes 'a lot of noise'

"There may have been a handful ... where we weren't on the same page internally and we wish the ref would have made a different call and he stuck with his call on the ice," said Colin Campbell, the NHL's senior executive vice-president of hockey operations. "A lot of noise is made of this sometimes, depending on the market you're in and the players involved."

NHL referee Dan O'Halloran also spoke to managers Monday, while Campbell, senior vice-president of hockey operations Kris King, and senior vice-president and director of officiating Stephen Walkom went over 14 videos of calls with the GMs in a boardroom at the posh Boca Beach Club.

The trio had managers vote on whether they thought the call should have been goalie interference or not as a way to demonstrate how much is left to interpretation.

On some of the plays in question, there was a significant divide.

And the same was true for a couple of the videos shown to media members after the managers headed for lunch.

"There's no two plays that are the same ... each play is uniquely different and has to be judged differently," Walkom said. "It's amazing that we're down to a small number where our compass is right on. We're not saying we're perfect either.

"We've made some mistakes this year that we want to correct."

Campbell said the NHL recently started sending out videos to all 31 coaches and GMs explaining each challenge and why the call was either upheld or changed by 5 p.m. the following day, much the same way the league's department of player safety does with suspensions and fines.

Campbell added there has been talk of adding a referee to the situation room, but such a move wouldn't impact the playoffs because that's basically what happens already with six retired officials on the phone as managers during the post-season.

"The challenges have corrected a lot," Lamoriello said. "Whatever we look at that hasn't gone well, there's been more positives."