The Trapezoid in Hockey – What Is the Trapezoid in the NHL?

Posted on September 18, 2023 by Dan Kent
hockey goalie

Suppose you're new to hockey and noticed a red-shaped trapezoid behind the goaltender's net. In that case, you're probably wondering why they have it there.

In this article, I will go over the trapezoid, why they implemented it, its rules, and how it's made the game much better to watch.

What does the trapezoid in hockey mean?

The trapezoid is a trapezoid-shaped area behind the net where the goaltender can touch and play the puck. The goaltender is allowed to play the puck in this trapezoid and any area above the goal line. The play is legal as long as they do not play the puck behind the goal line in the non-trapezoid area.

Trapezoid

From corner to corner, the trapezoid is 28 feet at its widest point, with the trapezoid shape narrowing towards the goaltender's crease. They did enlarge it a few years back, as the initial size was quite restrictive.

Why did the NHL add the trapezoid?

The NHL added the trapezoid to encourage more offence and stop low-scoring games, particularly a trap-style strategy, during the 2005-2006 season after the NHL lockout. Before the trapezoid, teams would have strong puckhandling goaltenders that could nullify any sort of offensive forecheck or dump and chase pressure by simply skating into the corner, collecting the puck, and either playing it easily to their defenseman or chipping it off the glass.

The NHL also implemented the rule to increase player safety, although this was a minor issue overall. Goaltenders skating into the corners exposed themselves to fast forecheckers, and large collisions were common.

Initially, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) did not utilize the trapezoid. However, in 2021 they implemented the rule to harmonize the rulebooks of both leagues and encourage more scoring opportunities in the international games.

Can a goalie touch the puck outside of the trapezoid?

A goaltender can only touch the puck outside the trapezoid if they are above the goal line. Touching the puck below the goal line and outside the trapezoid is an infraction for goaltenders and will result in a two-minute penalty.

An essential element to understand is the fact that even if a goaltender legally touches the puck inside of the trapezoid initially, if they skate outside of the trapezoid, it will be blown dead. The goaltender will be assessed a penalty. It is not just the initial point of contact for the goaltender but also if they proceed to skate with the puck outside of the legal zone where they can touch it.

What is the penalty for the trapezoid in NHL?

The goaltender will be assessed a two-minute minor delay of game penalty if they are caught playing the puck outside the trapezoid. Because goaltenders cannot serve penalties, the coach will select a player to serve it for the goaltender.

With the rule being in place for nearly twenty years, this minor penalty is a rarity. However, it still does occur.

Can you hit a goalie in the trapezoid?

A player cannot hit a goaltender inside the trapezoid, nor can they hit a goaltender who has come out in front of the goal line to touch the puck. To avoid injuries to goaltenders, players must try to avoid potential contact with the goaltender. If the ref deems that they did all they could to avoid contact with the goalie, no penalty would be assessed. 

However, suppose it is determined that they didn't try to avoid a collision with the goaltender. In that case, they will be assessed a two-minute penalty for goaltender interference.

The downfalls of the trapezoid rule

The rule change to a trapezoid-type play area for goaltenders generally benefitted the offensive team. They could dump the puck into the offensive zone and create a high-pressure forecheck that resulted in more turnovers and less offence.

However, there are a few downfalls to this rule, the main one being the impact on defensemen from a physical standpoint. Before the trapezoid, a goaltender could skate into the corner and easily break up a dump-and-chase effort.

Now, the goaltender must stay in his net if the puck goes to the restricted area, and as a result, the defensemen must race back, collect the puck, and make a breakout pass. This results in them often being hit into the end boards by fast-skating forwards, which ultimately can lead to more injuries.

Remember, this is more so a downfall for the players, not the fans. There is little doubt that the fans are excited about the trapezoid rule, as it keeps more netminders in the goalie crease and generates more offence and physicality.

In addition, it also makes line changes easier for opposing teams, which could be seen as a downfall as it relieves a team under pressure. Before the trapezoid, a team attempting to dump the puck into change lines would have to do so very efficiently, as a goaltender could burn them going into the corner and making a quick breakout pass to a defenseman.

Now, with the goalie unable to touch the puck, it allows the opposing team to change freely, most of the time.

It could also be argued that although good puckhandling goaltenders killed offence due to dump-ins before the trapezoid, they also created rush plays heading the other way due to their ability to make strong stretch passes.

Is the trapezoid really beneficial?

You will often get mixed results with this type of question. Although numerous goalkeepers are still outstanding at handling the puck, the trapezoid has limited their ability to do so. There is also the idea that NHL teams have adopted the mentality of keeping possession of the puck after years of witnessing data that suggests it is the better way to play.

As a result, we do not see as many dump-and-chase-style plays as we used to. In addition to this, as I spoke about before, it does put players in harm's way, particularly defensemen and defensive players who are forced to take hits from forechecking opponents to clear out dump-ins.

I would be indifferent to them keeping or getting rid of the trapezoid. I would be interested to see how a year without it would play out in the modern NHL era, however, as the game is much different than in 2005 when it was implemented.

What is the Martin Brodeur rule?

The Brodeur rule is the same thing as the trapezoid rule, and it is not an official name for it but a nod to one of the best puckhandling goaltenders of all time. Martin Brodeur played virtually all his career with the New Jersey Devils, despite a brief seven game stint with the St Louis Blues in 2015.

The rule was said to be implemented because of Brodeur and his ability to shut down a forecheck and dump and chase offence with his puck-moving ability. His ability to go into the corners, retrieve pucks, and smoothly pass them to his defenseman to ensure they exited the zone efficiently and went back on the offence.

Why do goalies go behind the net?

Even though the trapezoid limits a goaltender's ability to play the puck, many goalies can still stop offensive players pressuring them by going behind the net to stop dump-ins, retrieve pucks and make a pass to their defenseman, or simply shoot the puck away from the opposing team and out of the defensive zone.

Even though the National Hockey League has limited a goaltender's ability to play the puck with the trapezoid, a puck-moving goaltender is still a valuable asset for a team.

When did the NHL change the crease shape?

The crease shape change in the NHL came during the 1991-1992 season and was unrelated to the trapezoid. It was changed from a rectangle shape to a semicircle shape. It increased its size in an attempt to give more space to the goaltenders to manoeuvre.

Dan Kent

About the author

Growing up in a hockey hotbed (Calgary, Alberta. And yes, I'm an Oiler fan), I decided to put my love and knowledge of the game to work. I started at five and am still playing today into my early 30s. By acquiring Brave Stick Hockey and rebranding it to Big Shot Hockey in 2023, I plan to teach people about this great game and educate them on the best equipment and history of the game. On a career level, I am in finance, running one of the largest financial websites in Canada, Stocktrades.ca.

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