Fraser: What rights does Thomas have outside the crease?

Kerry Fraser

6/3/2011 10:35:58 PM

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Hi Kerry,

What rights does Timmy Thomas have outside the crease?  I would assume that it would be the same as any skater.  I'm very skeptical of the play where Burrows was called for tripping in Game 1.
Additionally, Thomas was quoted as saying "If I'm out of the paint, and I'm set, I also have the right-of-way to get back to the crease."  Does he have a right to a direct path back to the crease if an opposing player is already standing there in possession of that ice?

Seattle, WA


I haven't seen Tim Thomas' quote but I will take your word as gospel on it.  My response is, "Timmy, Timmy, Timmy; the 'only right of way' that you are entitled to when returning 'home' is under the Motor Vehicles Act of Massachusetts when  driving from the Boston T.D. Garden and not under the NHL playing rules when returning to your crease!"

 If there is a stationary obstruction such as a player that is occupying a piece of ice in your "direct path," no different than wondering animals or children playing in the streets when you are behind the wheel, my advice is don't just run them over but avoid contact or you will be held liable.
Have you ever heard the expression "possession is 9/10'ths of the law?"  If another player occupies that real estate, he owns it and you can be charged with trespassing! Location, location, location.

A couple of columns ago I answered Jeff Gendel's question about the trapezoid and highlighted the extensive protection (especially within the crease) that the goalkeepers are entitled to under Rule 69-Interference on the Goalkeeper.  As such, we know (as Timmy does) that any "intentional or deliberate" contact with the goalkeeper whether he is inside or outside his goal crease will result in a penalty to the offender.

We have often seen this potential Vezina Trophy winner venture far and wide outside his "house painted blue" to challenge shooters and cut down the angle  (Some replays show him so far from home that he should drop bread crumbs just to find his way back.)  Let's look at the goalkeepers rights.

First and foremost, the goalies job is to stop the puck and not engage in the general physicality of the game.  He can position himself and attempt to stop the puck in any way he chooses, short of throwing his stick or piece of equipment at it. Goalkeeper risks are relatively low when they venture into traffic because of all the "full bundle of rights" that they enjoy.

Here is the standard of enforcement that is applied with regard to contact outside the goal crease; whether you like it or not.   I can assure you there are elements of it that I don't like either but we aren't going to change it here. It's open for debate though.

If the goalkeeper, outside his crease, is set (stationary/not moving) to play a shot and he is bumped (interfered with) then you can bet that an interference penalty will result unless the attacking player was pushed, bumped or checked into the goalkeeper by a defending player.

(To recap: Goalie action & purpose-set to stop puck; Player action & purpose-usually moving with contact designed to interfere.  Result = Interference Penalty!)

Alym, your assumption that Tim Thomas is granted the rights of any other skater when he is outside the crease is fairly accurate; notwithstanding verbiage of Rule 69.1 relative to "incidental contact" outside the crease which sets the goalie apart from a normal skater (Incidental contact with a goalkeeper will be permitted, and resulting goals allowed, when such contact is initiated inside or outside of the goal crease, provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact).  That's a pretty big exemption granted to the goalkeepers union and one that resulted in the penalty to Alex Burrows penalty.

Let's leave the goalie alone for a moment and examine a couple of scenarios that would involve contact between two skaters. 

Situation #1: Often on a power play we see a forward cutting across and straddling the blue line behind a defenceman who is backing up.  If the forward makes contact causing the  defenceman to fall then an interference penalty is assessed to the forward - he must give way to the defenceman who isn't looking behind him and is unsuspecting of the impending contact.

Situation #2: If one player knocks another player to the ice without possession of the puck then interference is also called unless a legitimate battle between the two players has been established. 

So in the case of a goalie that is "set" and positioned squarely to a shooter in an attempt to stop a shot he will be afforded the right to do so without being interfered with.  Unless it was Ron Hextall on Chris Chelios, goalies don't engage players in a battle!

While being "set" outside the crease does allow Timmy Thomas the right to stop the puck without being interfered with the rest of his quote ("I also have the right-of-way to get back to the crease") is just wishful thinking on his part. 

 If I were coach Alain Vigneault, I would instruct a forward to position himself behind Tim Thomas when he was out of the crease to set up a stationary "road block."  So long as the "pylon" didn't make himself bigger (extended elbows, stick, legs) but occupied his ice, Timmy would have to find an alternate route to get past the detour.  Tim is usually so far out of the crease that the first shot is stopped anyway so the second or third one will be the one that might find the mark; especially if nobody's home?  Knowing Tim Thomas as I do, I'm sure he would find a way to stop it regardless.
Let me share one last thought for consideration as we move forward.  It comes from an arrangement I made with NY Islanders Hall of Fame goalie Billy Smith from the time I was a rookie referee.  Smitty was known for using his stick for more than stopping shots or clearing away pucks.  He was a scary individual and never hesitated to take law and order into his own hands; something I wanted him to avoid when I was working Islander games.

The first time Smitty whacked a guy in his crease I approached him and said, "I want to make a deal with you.  I promise to penalize every player that interferes with you when you are in your goal crease. If you touch them with your stick though, I guarantee that you will get the penalty. Do we have a deal?"

Billy Smith said, "Deal. That's all I want, is to be able to stop the puck without being interfered with."

I wasn't finished negotiating yet and wanted to cover all the bases with this guy.  I then asked him what "protection" he expected when he was "outside of his crease."

Smitty grinned as he pointed his 'hatchet' into the end zone and said, "Don't worry about me when I'm out there, I'll take care of myself --then you can give me a penalty!"

Goalies of today are looking for the "Right of Way"… Billy Smith cleared his own path; straight to The Hockey Hall of Fame.