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State of the NHL: Bettman talks goalie interference ‘refresher,’ Olympics and Seattle expansion

At his annual all-star weekend address, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said goalie interference is a work in progress as the league seeks clarity and consistency on controversial reviews. Other topics: Olympics, expansion and the World Cup of Hockey.

TAMPA – In the more than two decades that Gary Bettman has been NHL commissioner – in fact, he’ll celebrate 25 years on the job on Feb. 1 – he probably hasn’t had an easier state-of-the-union news conference. Things are going pretty well for the NHL. The Seattle expansion plans are coming together quite nicely and the hockey world has pretty much reached the acceptance stage when it comes to non-participation in the Olympics.

But there is the small matter of goaltender interference and the fact that nobody – fans, coaches, players, referees, hockey operations – seems to be able to come to a consensus on what it constitutes. In the past week, two of the league’s brightest young stars, Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews, have essentially showed up on-ice officials over disputed goaltender interference calls, and confusion reigns. There will never be unanimous agreement, but frustration over the consistency has been an issue. In fact, it has been such an issue that the league will issue a directive to referees that it hopes will help clear things up.

Hockey operations director Colin Campbell convened a meeting on Saturday involving officials, coaches and GMs to remind them to not get over analytical about these things.

“I think we’ve gotten to the point where everybody is overthinking the review,” Bettman said. “The intention, particularly on goaltender interference, is, ‘Did you miss something? Was there a glaring oversight?’ Not, ‘Can you search for something that might overturn the call?’ And I think the consensus of the meeting was really more, ‘We need to give a refresher.’ We’re going to send a memo to the officials. ‘Take a good look, a quick look, but don’t search it to death.’ The presumption should be the call on the ice was good unless you have a good reason to overturn it. And you shouldn’t have to search for a good reason.”

The coach’s challenge falls under Rule 78.7 and is pretty clear when it says, “If a review is not conclusive and/or there is any doubt whatsoever as to whether the call on the ice was correct, the original call on the ice will be confirmed.”

That should be music to the ears of fans, and players, who seem to have no idea what constitutes goaltender interference anymore. Earlier in the day when asked about goaltender interference by THN.com’s Matt Larkin, McDavid made it clear through his body language that he wanted nothing to do with it. “I said my thing about it the other night,” he said, “and I think I’ll leave it at that.”

The Olympics is also a sore point between the players and their employers. They have made no secret of their displeasure with the league for pulling out of the 2018 Winter Games. When he addressed the media at the World Junior Championship, deputy commissioner Bill Daly said that the players had “turned the page” on the matter, something with which NHL Players’ Association executive director Don Fehr disagreed. “If he means by turn the page they’ve come to terms with the fact that they’re not going to PyeongChang, I think he’s right,” Fehr said. “If he means turn the page permanently, I have zero indication that’s true.”

And Fehr reiterated that there’s little chance the players would leverage Olympic participation as a concession in collective bargaining. “The notion that the athletes ought to be paying somebody in terms of contract concessions or something like that in order to go to the Games, when they’re not being paid anyway, is a bit much,” Fehr said. “Especially when you’re asking the 80 percent of the players who are not going to go, to do it too.”

In other matters, Bettman did not have much of an update on the Seattle situation, but reiterated that if the city does get an expansion team, it will get basically the same parameters when it comes to the expansion draft that the wildly successful Vegas Golden Knights received this year. There will be games in Europe and China, the latter of which Fehr said the players have not approved and the international calendar is in flux. If the World Cup of Hockey were to follow a regular cycle, something that has never been done, the next one would be in 2020. But the league has already said it wants to avoid the embarrassment of 2004 when the league awarded the World Cup, then locked the players out hours later. Fehr said 2019 would be logistically impossible and 2021 would put it too close to the 2022 Olympics, should the league decide to participate. Fehr also did not rule out the possibility of holding the World Cup in February in the future.