NHL needs to adjust its rule book for goaltenders without equipment

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Game 5 between the Phoenix Coyotes and the Los Angeles Kings was exciting and controversial. We’re not here to talk about Dustin Brown’s knee and whether or not it clean or dirty. Instead, we’re here to analyze an incident involving Brown and Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith. As Smith was reaching to cover a puck with his glove, Brown used his stick to pry the puck loose, dislodging Smith’s glove and leaving him barehanded. Play continued with LA threatening outside Smith’s crease, leaving the goaltender exposed without his catching glove.

Should play have been blown dead? What do the official NHL rules have to say about such an incident and do we need to change the rules moving forward?

According to the NHL Rules page on the NHL’s official site, the play was supposed to continue until a normal stoppage in play, which is exactly what happened. Nothing in the rules says anything about a goaltender losing his catching glove, but it does mention a goaltender’s helmet. 

“When a goalkeeper has lost his helmet and/or face mask and his team has possession of the puck, the play shall be stopped immediately to allow the goalkeeper the opportunity to regain his helmet and/or face mask. When the opposing team has possession of the puck, play shall only be stopped if there is no immediate and impending scoring opportunity. This stoppage of play must be made by the Referee. When play is stopped because the goalkeeper has lost his helmet and/or face mask, the ensuing face-off shall take place at one of the defending team’s end zone face-off spots.

When a goalkeeper deliberately removes his helmet and/or face mask in order to secure a stoppage of play, the Referee shall stop play as outlined above and in this case assess the goalkeeper a minor penalty for delaying the game.”

As you can see, there is no mention of a catching glove which means play is supposed to continue as normal. However, this is flawed logic. Play continues normally when a forward or defenseman loses his helmet but it comes to a halt when the goaltender loses his helmet. For gloves, play continues when a forward or defenseman loses a glove and also continues when a goaltender loses his. This logic doesn’t make sense. It’s as if the NHL went halfway with their theory, suggesting that while a goaltender needs protection if he loses his lid he is not protected if he loses another piece of his equipment which could result in serious injury.

The NHL has been beating the drum of player safety all season long. Here they need to make an easy rule adjustment in order to avoid any serious injuries that could occur from a goaltender trying to stop a puck with his bare hand. If a goaltender loses his glove and it’s not deemed deliberate, play must come to a hault unless there is an immediate and impending scoring opportunity. With this new rule in place the Game 5 incident would have played out with Smith losing his glove, LA failing to score on a wrap around attempt and then the play being whistled down as the puck drifted out of the area around the crease. LA would still have had their scoring opportunity, one we would judge was an “immediate and impending opportunity”, but then the play would stop as soon as this chance ended. 

This rule adjustment needs to be put in place. If a goaltender broke his hand trying to stop a shot early in a playoff series, the NHL would have some serious problems and some seriously angry fans. In the past, the NHL has typically been reactive in making rule changes following injuries. Here it’s time to be proactive and adjust this rule in an effort to prevent an unnecessary injuries that could have dire consequences on a team’s season or playoff destiny. 

David Rogers

About David Rogers

Managing Editor of the NHL blog Puck Drunk Love and contributing writer for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. Firm believer that Ray Hudson is the most entertaining commentator in sports.

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