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NHL Goal Controversies: What's a kicking motion? It depends.

Behind the Confusion: Apparently the NHL governs "kick" goal reviews based on direction from general managers who don't even agree on the direction to give.

Vanek prepares for kickoff.
Vanek prepares for kickoff.

Elliotte Friedman's 30 Thoughts column this week raised a topic that is still a sore one for Islanders fans:

Check out Alex Galchenyuk's goal from Montreal's 2-0 win over the Rangers on Oct. 28. NHL senior vice-president Colin Campbell sent video of it to 11 GMs the next day and the vote came back 6-5 on whether or not it should have counted. What the league is looking for is a way to make it so that the rule is clearer, that we can all look at it and know the answer -- without, of course, guys recklessly swinging their skate blades.

Oh, 6-to-5 vote you say? As if no one really knows what's supposed to define a good goal off an attacking player's skate?

Not surprised. We joke around here that no one knows what the real governing rule is, that each goal review from a scorer's skate appears to be decided by coin flip. The league may believe that they've defined it, but it's clear the people who make the decision and the people supposedly guiding them either don't follow that definition or have differing views about how that definition relates to actual decisions.

As that 6-5 vote suggests, it seems it changes over time. What can we learn from reviewing some examples?

Aucoin 'Scores' vs Senators March 19, 2013

Let's recall Keith Aucoin's disallowed goal for the Islanders against the Senators last season, where Aucoin slid to a hockey stop and had the on-ice goal call overturned:

Something distinct there, apparently -- though certainly not a "kick" by any sense of the word.

Alex Galchenyuk Scores against the Rangers, Oct. 28, 2013

The following is video of the goal Friedman mentions, which made that game 2-0 late in the third:

Good goal, apparently. No issue with Galchenyuk turning his skate to redirect the puck in the net (though he was clearly worried, judging by how he swatted at the puck with his stick as it was going over the line, as well as by his muted celebration afterward).

Zuccarello vs Devils, Jan. 26, 2013

In the first outdoor game at Yankee Stadium, Mats Zuccarello similarly redirected the puck in with his skate while trying to get his stick on it. This one was a little faster, with a little less reaction time for Zuccarello.

But just the day before, there was this:

Vanek Disallowed OT Goal vs. Blues, Jan. 25, 2014

Thomas Vanek scored in overtime against the Blues, except the league (and whoever was manning the War Room on a sleepy Saturday afternoon before the featured games began) claimed that he "used a distinct kicking motion to propel the puck into the net," which is hilarious given that his and Alex Steen's skates were together, moving as one when the puck was redirected toward the net:

At 3:45 of overtime in the Blues/Islanders game, video review determined that New York's Thomas Vanek used his left skate to kick the puck into the St. Louis net. According to Rule 49.2 "A goal cannot be scored by an attacking player who uses a distinct kicking motion to propel the puck into the net."

Earlier in the season, after two consecutive controversies involving the Rangers (Surprise! That seems to create movement!), the Post was able to get NHL exec Mike Murphy on record about the issue. He wrote the criteria they use:

1. Was there a distinct kicking motion?

2. Did the distinct kicking motion propel the puck into the net?

3. What direction was the skate/ player facing?

4. Did the puck have enough inertia/ force to go into the net on its own and the skate just changed the direction of the puck?

5. Did the skate just change the direction of the puck?

What they didn't say was which questions require a "yes" or a "no" to remain legal (and question 3 is not a yes/no question), which keeps everything hilariously ambiguous:

  • Question two shouldn't matter, as a "yes" to question one should end the inquiry before you get to question two.
  • Question three seems irrelevant in its application, since Galchenyuk clearly repositioned his skate on his allowed goal, while Aucoin (and arguably Vanek) just continued his existing momentum on his disallowed goal.
  • Questions four and five seem to be key ones, at least based on the video examples considered in this post.

About those last two questions: If I were to conjure a theory based on the above video examples, I'd say the focus is on "propel" rather than "kick" -- i.e., the pucks in Aucoin's and Vanek's non-goals would not have had momentum to "propel" anywhere if not for their skates, while the pucks on Galchenyuk's and Zuccarello's goals already had plenty of momentum to be propelled, their skates just happened to redirect that momentum toward the net.

Of course, Murphy also added this, which basically gets to the source of the confusion, such as the 6-5 GM vote Friedman alluded to above:

Murphy also added the league sends difficult reviews to a group of eight or nine GM’s, "to get their feedback to be sure we are clear in the direction they are giving us."

Oh. Okay then. The GMs are giving the War Room direction, but they don't agree on the direction, and the questions used to test that direction have an unknown amount of influence on each other.

Dear NHL, you just let us know when you have it all sorted out. In the meantime, we'll stick with coin flips.