NHL Trapezoid Rule Explained (The Ultimate Guide)

Most NHL goalies remained in their creases until the mid 1980’s when those with puck-handling and passing skills suddenly started playing like a third defenceman.

Ron Hextall of the Philadelphia Flyers became the first NHL netminder to score a goal by shooting the puck into the opponent’s net on December 8th, 1987.  Billy Smith of the New York Islanders was credited with scoring in 1979, but the goal was a result of an opposing player accidentally shooting the puck into his own net.

Because so many netminders became adept at playing the puck outside of the goal crease, the NHL introduced a new rule to hamper their abilities and this was why the trapezoid was introduced to the game.

What is the Trapezoid in Hockey?

nhl trapezoid location

The trapezoid is an area on the ice behind each net which is signified by two-inch thick line markings on the ice. The on-ice lines form a geometrical trapezoid area which consists of four sides with two of them being parallel to each other, along the boards and goal line.

NHL goalies are allowed to handle the puck in this area without being penalized. The trapezoid area is 11 feet in depth behind the net to the boards and 28 feet wide.

NHL Trapezoid Rule Explained

nhl trapezoid rule location allowed and not allowed

Goaltenders can legally handle and play the puck within the trapezoid area, but if they handle the puck anywhere else on the ice behind their goal line they will be assessed a two-minute minor penalty for delay of game.

Goalies are allowed to play/touch the puck in front of the goal line as well.

When Was the Trapezoid Rule Introduced?

The NHL introduced its trapezoid rule in the 2004/05 season. However, that campaign was cancelled due to a labour lockout so the trapezoid rule was first used in the 2005/06 season.

Why Did the NHL Implement the Trapezoid Rule?

The NHL introduced the trapezoid rule to restrict goalies from playing the puck in a certain area behind the net as the league believed that offensive zone entries by the opposition were being impeded.

This was particularly true when the dump-and-chase tactic was implemented and goaltenders simply left their net to play the puck behind the goal line after it was dumped in. The basic idea of the rule is to help create more offense in the game.

Why is the Trapezoid Rule also Called “The Brodeur Rule”?

At the time the NHL implemented its trapezoid rule, goaltender Martin Brodeur was regarded as the best puck-playing netminder in the league. He often acted as a third defenceman by trapping the puck behind the goal line in a corner and then dishing it off to a teammate.

Therefore, Brodeur can more or less be blamed or credited for prompting the league to introduce the controversial rule.

How Does the NHL Trapezoid Rule Impact the Game?

Since goaltenders are allowed to play the puck behind the goal line legally in the trapezoid area only, it restricts their puck-handling and passing ability. Before the trapezoid was introduced, goalies could skate into the corners of the rink to trap the puck on shoot-ins and then clear it out of the defensive zone or pass it off to a teammate.

With the goaltenders now being limited to where they can play the puck, it enables the offensive team to apply more forechecking pressure on the defending squad.

Some hockey fans and officials feel the rule places defenders in danger though as they now have to retrieve the pucks themselves without help from their goasltender. This means they’re often vulnerable to body checks from forecheckers, especially when they’re facing the boards with their back to the opponent.

In addition, the rule is meant to create offense, but good puck-handling goaltenders can also help create offense if they’re allowed to play the puck anywhere behind the goal line and feed it to a streaking teammate to begin a counterattack. Their ability to do so is now diminished is due to the trapezoid rule.

It could also be argued that the trapezoid rule has a bit of a negative impact on the sport as it encourages teams to simply dump the puck into the offensive corner rather than carrying or passing it in. The dump and chase tactic is rare now however as most teams prefer to play a skilled possession game.

NHL Trapezoid Rule FAQs

What Happens When a Goalie Touches the Puck Outside the Trapezoid?

If a goaltender touches the puck outside of the trapezoid area behind the goal line the referee will blow the whistle and give the netminder a two-minute minor delay of game penalty.

Are there Many Trapezoid Penalties?

Delay of game penalties to goaltenders for playing the puck outside of the trapezoid area are quite rare. The NHL typically hands out fewer than 10 penalties per season for this infraction.

What Can the Goalie Do Inside the Trapezoid?

When the puck is behind the goal line in the trapezoid area the netminder may legally trap it with his stick and play it in anyway he chooses, such as stick handle with it or pass it off to a teammate.

What are the Trapezoid Dimensions?

The trapezoid area is governed by rule 1.8 in the NHL rule book and it reads:

Goalkeeper’s Restricted Area – A restricted trapezoid-shaped area behind the goal will be laid out as follows: Seven feet outside of each goal crease eight feet from each goal post, a two-inch red line shall be painted extending from the goal line to a point on the end of the rink 10 feet from the goal crease 11 feet from the goal post and continuing vertically up the kick plate

This may sound a little confusing, so to simplify things, the trapezoid area is approximately 11 feet in depth from the goal line to the boards and 28 feet in width.

In addition, rule 27.8 states: Restricted Area – A goalkeeper shall not play the puck outside of the designated area behind the net. This area shall be defined by lines that begin six feet from either goal post and extend diagonally to points 28 feet apart at the end boards.

Should the goalkeeper play the puck outside of the designated area behind the goal line, a minor penalty for delay of game shall be imposed. The determining factor shall be the position of the puck. The minor penalty will not be assessed when a goalkeeper plays the puck while maintaining skate contact with his goal crease.

Final Thoughts

The trapezoid rule has always been a bit controversial as it has its pros and cons. Most fans are now used to the trapezoid areas behind each net and so are the goaltenders as penalties for playing the puck outside of the area are quite rare.

It’s possible that the NHL will increase the size of the trapezoid area in the future or perhaps do away with it all together. On one hand, goaltenders with exceptional puck-handling skills aren’t really allowed to utilize them due to the rule and perhaps fans are being cheated out of this spectacle.

But on the other hand, the average goals scored per game in the NHL has increased slightly since the rule was implemented so perhaps it has achieved the desired effect.