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Fraser: When obstruction is not interference

Kerry Fraser

1/13/2014 1:59:26 PM

Got a question on rule clarification, comments on rule enforcements or some memorable NHL stories? Kerry wants to answer your emails at cmonref@tsn.ca.

Hi Kerry,

As I'm sure you've seen, in Sunday's game in Chicago between the Blackhawks and the Edmonton Oilers, Chicago made an unfortunate gaffe resulting in an own goal with their goalie out of the net for an extra attacker.  As the puck slid toward the open net, Oilers' forward Mark Arcobello gave chase while Blackhawks' defenceman Nick Leddy tried to prevent it from crossing the goal line. Arcobello, unable to touch the puck because of the Oilers' delayed penalty, changed course to slow Leddy down enough to ensure the puck went in the net.

Leddy really didn't have a chance at stopping the puck, so his being slowed down made no difference.  But I was wondering, had it been a close play, where Leddy's path to the puck would have made the difference between a goal and a save, would Arcobello have been penalized for going out of his way to prevent Leddy from accessing the puck?  A disallowed goal?  Interference penalty (in addition to the delayed one)?  Or would that have been a legal play?

Josh Bernier
Winnipeg, Manitoba

Hi Josh,

It was a bizarre play when Patrick Kane put the puck into his own unguarded net during a delayed slashing penalty called against Oilers goalie Devan Dubnyk. Kane's intended back-pass to the blue line travelled the entire length of the ice and split the wicket well before Blackhawk's defenceman Nick Leddy could reach the puck. 

You bring up an interesting point with regard to a potential interference call on a play such as this when Mark Arcobello sprinted across the path of Nick Leddy. You correctly stated Josh, that Leddy was unable to get to the puck in advance of it crossing the goal line in spite of Arcobello's minimally invasive action. The fact that Leddy could not have gotten to the puck in time however, should have no bearing on whether an interference penalty was warranted.

As I am sure you recall, the standard of enforcement for Rule 56 (Interference) changed drastically in the 2006 season following a return from the first NHL lockout in a concerted effort to eliminate what was then referred to as "obstruction". Let's examine the language and application of Rule 56 as it might apply to this situation.

• A strict standard on acts of interference must be adhered to in all areas of the rink.

• Body position shall be determined as the player skating in front of or beside his opponent, traveling in the same direction.

• A player is allowed the ice he is standing on (body position) and is not required to move in order to let an opponent proceed. A player may "block" the path of an opponent provided he is in front of his opponent and moving in the same direction. Moving laterally and without establishing body position, then making contact with the non-puck carrier is not permitted and will be penalized as interference.

• A player is always entitled to use his body position to lengthen an opponent's path to the puck, provided his stick is not utilized (to make himself "bigger" and therefore considerably lengthening the distance his opponent must travel to get where he is going).

• A player delivering a "pick" is one who moves into an opponent's path without having body position, thereby taking him out of the play. When this is done, an interference penalty shall be assessed.

On this play, Arcobello executed a perfect, legal, "moving pick" when he sprinted to gain the ice in advance of Leddy and continued to move through that ice with very minimal alteration to his speed and direction.  It was especially important that physical contact with the Hawks player did not result. These were crucial components with regard to the legality of the play since Arcobello cut laterally across the path of his opponent as opposed to travelling in front of or beside and in the same direction of Leddy.

If Arcobello, after deliberately moving laterally across the path of Leddy, had slowed considerably, stopped or made contact with Leddy, an interference penalty would have been deserved whether Leddy could have prevented the puck from entering the net or not. If that were to have taken place, the referee should immediately blow his whistle and assess a penalty to Arcobello for interference in addition to the delayed penalty signaled to Dubnyk. The subsequent goal would then be disallowed.

As we moved forward from 2006, the 'expected' standard of enforcement regarding interference is that the illegal act should be penalized in all cases as opposed to the result or consequence to the play!