What is the Trapezoid in Hockey? (with pictures)

When you go to a hockey game you will notice that their are a lot of different lines on the ice. The lines behind the goalie net are what is called the trapezoid.

What is the Trapezoid in hockey? The trapezoid is the area behind the goal line where the goaltender is allowed to play the puck. If the goaltender plays the puck behind the last red line of the rink, which is called the goal line, and outside of the trapezoid the goalie will receive a 2 minute penalty.

The trapezoid is specifically the shaded area behind the goalie net

In the diagram above the green shaded area is the area that the goalie is legally allowed to play the puck. The green shaded area behind the goal line and goalie’s net is what is referred to as the trapezoid.

The non-shaded areas of white space is what is referred to as the restricted area. If the goalie plays the puck in the restricted area they will be assessed a 2 minute penalty.


Why did the trapezoid come into existence?

Fans loved the firewagon hockey of the 1980s, which was based on scoring the highest number of goals. This was centred around players such as Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux both of whom came into the league setting point scoring records.

With the introduction of expansion in the 1990s, the talent level in the league became watered down and teams looked for ways to stop more talented teams.  To do this teams started to implement the tight defensive system known as the neutral zone trap. As the neutral zone trap was employed low scoring games became the norm and it began what became known as the ‘dead puck era’.

The neutral zone trap is a type of hockey system where instead of pushing for more goals a team would hang back and wait for the other team to make a mistake or cause a turnover and capitalize on the mistake. This type of philosophy decreased scoring immensely in the NHL seeing the goals per game drop by 30-40%. The trap era hockey was deemed to be defensive and boring for hockey spectators and players alike. The height of the trap era came in the late 1990s early 2000s.

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With the NHL lockout in 2004-2005 that cancelled the whole season, a rules committee was formed to increase offence in the NHL. Amongst the number of rule changes made to help increase scoring was the addition of the trapezoid behind the net.

How does the trapezoid increase offence?

Before the implementation of the trapezoid, NHL goaltenders had become extremely proficient at playing the puck outside of their goalie crease.  

A common strategy to create offence by a team is to shoot the puck into the offensive zone by putting the puck into the corner or shooting it around the boards. By shooting the puck in this way it would allow the offensive player to gain possession of the puck in the offensive zone by out skating the defensemen and reaching the puck before they do, or by being able to check the defensemen as they get the puck creating a turnover.

However, goalies got so good at coming out of their crease and playing the puck that they would reach the puck that was shot in and pass it off to their own defence not allowing the offensive player any chance at all in gaining possession of the puck in the offensive zone.

The goalie was essentially taking away one of two ways that the offensive team can gain possession in the offensive zone. The other way that a team could gain possession in the offensive zone is to carry the puck over the blue line themselves.

With a poor probability of retrieving the puck with a shoot in the defensive players can then ‘stack’ the blue line as teams now try to skate the puck over the blue line to get into the offensive zone. With so many defensive players lined up at the blue line it now makes this way extra difficult to gain the offensive zone.

So if a team could not shoot the puck in or carry the puck over the blue line to gain possession in the offensive zone, what can they do? Essentially, both options for gaining possession of the puck in the offensive zone had been severely diminished.

These strategies were fully deployed in what is called the dead puck era of the last 1990s early 2000s. This was an extremely defensive brand of hockey with little scoring. Many players, coaches and general managers got together during the lockout of 2004 to come up with was to break this trap system.

One way to bust the trap and take away the goalies ability to help his defence out was with the invention of the trapezoid. The trapezoid became the only place at the end of the rink – behind the goal line – where the goalie was allowed to play the puck. The goalie can still play the puck in front of the goal line but it is more difficult to retrieve pucks in just the trapezoid and not the corners.

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The offence can now shoot the puck into the corner where the goalie is not allowed to go too and increase the probability to retrieve the puck. The goalies ability to help out the defence by retrieving pucks has been limited. A forecheck by the offensive team is now easier to establish. You will still see goaltenders go into the trapezoid to try to stop shoot ins, but the goalies ability to help his defence clear the puck quickly was definitely hindered.

The NHL experimented with the trapezoid at the AHL level before implementing it in 2005-2006 season.  

The Martin Brodeur Rule

The trapezoid rule has also been called ‘The Brodeur Rule’ after Hockey Hall of Fame and two-time Stanley Cup champion Martin Brodeur. Brodeur played for the New Jersey Devils during the trap period.  The New Jersey Devils were known as one of the best neutral zone trap teams and Brodeur was known as one of the best goalies of all-time in coming out to play pucks that had been shot into the zone.

This combination led to a very successful Devils team that had much on-ice success based around low scoring games such as 2-1. This was a far cry from the firewagon hockey of the Gretzky 80s.

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So in instituting the trapezoid the NHL wanted to take away the advantage a goalie like Martin Brodeur had at playing pucks that were shot into his zone. If Brodeur could not get to pucks that were put into the corners of his zone this would allow the opponents to gain more time in the offensive zone with the puck and score more goals!

Has the trapezoid helped to increase scoring?

It is hard to say how much the trapezoid has exactly helped in increasing scoring. However, the rules that the NHL instituted, including the trapezoid change, after the 2004-2005 lockout season have led to an increase in scoring.

The NHL has continued to tweak rules that have ended up speeding up the game and ‘busting’ the neutral zone trap leading to a more exciting brand of hockey.

Are there any arguments against the Trapezoid?

Not everyone has loved the trapezoid. Here are some of the arguments that have been used against it:

  • An increase of injuries to defensemen: A goalie coming out to play the puck helps the defensemen get the puck before they are checked into the boards by their opponents. Simply, being hit into the end boards by a 200 pound forward hurts. The goalie playing the puck helps to limit the number of hits and, therefore, injuries to the defensemen.
  • Some goalies are poor at stickhandling: Not all goalies are good at handling the puck. Isn’t it fun to see a goalie who is poor at handling the puck come out and create adventures and mishaps outside of the net?
  • Who wants to watch dump and chase hockey: Do we really want to create more opportunities for teams to shoot the puck in and go and retrieve it? No, we want to see teams carry the puck and create great passing plays. The trapezoid encourages teams to simply shoot the puck in and try to bang and crash in the corners to get it – this is not as exciting as watching teams trying to score off the rush
  • Confusing: It is hard for a new or casual fan to figure out how hockey works, do we really need to make it more confusing with additional lines on the ice?

I agree in part with some of the arguments above. However, I think the trapezoid works in the overall system of hockey helping the game to be more offensive, not less. If you take away the trapezoid it simply helps teams impose a more efficient neutral zone trap.

Conclusion

So when you are at the game and you see the area behind the goalie’s net you will now know that it is the trapezoid and the only place where the goalie can handle the puck behind the goal line.

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