Taylor Hall had a goal taken away last night that raised a question about what constitutes having possession in hockey.

With a penalty upcoming against the Minnesota Wild, the Wild players were trying to touch the puck and force the whistle. The Oilers kept them at bay and worked the puck to the net, and Taylor Hall swatted it in for what would have been a game tying goal mid way through the second period.


The officiating crew called the goal off immediately.  They believed Wild defenceman Jared Spurgeon touched the puck and blew the play dead before the puck entered the net.

Spurgeon does try to swat the puck…twice. He misses it both times, but that’s only obvious on the replay.  There’s actually three sticks involved when a second Oilers player tries to help, so that adds to the confusion and I don’t really blame the refs for calling what they called.

It begs the question though, is just touching the puck alone enough to blow a play dead? Does that prove possession?  I would say not on it’s own.  I like the rules of football, where to prove possession after catching a pass, a player has to make a “football move”.  A player has to prove they have manipulated the ball in some way through a controlled action.  Why can’t we ask for a “hockey move”?

This has nothing to do with the amount of time you touch the puck.  A one timer is a hockey move and it’s on the stick for less than a second.  If  you swat the puck and make contact, that’s not necessarily “possession” or a hockey move. It depends on if you actually make a meaningful manipulation on the puck.  If the puck hits your skate as you go by, that’s not possession either.  You’ve done nothing to show control over the puck.

The NHL rulebook is not this specific. Rule 56.1 on Possession of the Puck states:

The last player to touch the puck, other than the goalkeeper, shall be considered the player in possession. The player deemed in possession of the puck may be checked legally, provided the check is rendered immediately following his loss of possession.

Obviously that’s not specific to delayed penalty situations, but it does mean that if a player touches the puck at all, no matter how little control they have, they can be checked legally. By inference, if they don’t touch the puck (or if the puck doesn’t touch them), any check would be considered interference on an ineligible player.

What I did find for delayed penalties was:

(xi) During the delayed calling of a penalty, the offending team cannot score unless the non-offending team shoots the puck into their own net. This shall mean that a deflection off an offending player or any physical action by an offending player that may cause the puck to enter the non-offending team’s goal, shall not be considered a legal goal. Play shall be stopped before the puck enters the net (whenever possible) and the signaled penalty assessed to the offending team

So if a deflection by the offending team counts as enough possession to call a goal off by the team getting the penalty, I suppose we have to accept that any contact at all with the puck, controlled “possession” or not, would be enough to negate a goal the other way as well.

Like I said, I can understand the call on the ice, even if I don’t agree with it. I think they should consider clarifying the rule and coming more in line with football as far as the definition of “possession”.