Understanding NHL Hand Pass Rules

The NHL rulebook is loaded with rules stating exactly what hockey players can and can’t do when they are on the ice. Some of the more obscure rules like the hand pass are called so infrequently that many fans and players don’t actually know the rule itself.

That’s why this article is on hand to break down everything you need to know about the NHL hand pass rules.

NHL Rulebooks Stance On Hand Passes

To get the best understanding of the NHL’s stance on hand passes we are heading straight to the NHL rulebook. The rulebook itself can be a little confusing but reading through the exact wording the NHL uses can be quite helpful to gain a full understanding of how hand pass rules work.

Rule 79 Hand Pass

79.1 Hand Pass – A player shall be permitted to stop or “bat” a puck in the
air with his open hand, or push it along the ice with his hand, and the
play shall not be stopped unless, in the opinion of the on-ice officials,
he has directed the puck to a teammate, or has allowed his team to
gain an advantage, and subsequently possession and control of the
puck is obtained by a player of the offending team, either directly or
deflected off any player or official.
For violations related to “closing his hand on the puck”, refer to
Rule 67 – Handling Puck.

79.2 Defending Zone – Play will not be stopped for any hand pass by
players in their own defending zone. The location of the puck when
contacted by either the player making the hand pass or the player
receiving the hand pass shall determine the zone it is in.

79.3 Face-Off Location – When a hand pass violation has occurred, the
ensuing face-off shall take place at the nearest face-off spot in the
zone where the offense occurred, unless the offending team gains a
territorial advantage, then the face-off shall be at the nearest face-off
spot in the zone where the stoppage of play occurred, unless
otherwise covered in the rules.

When a hand pass violation occurs by
a team in their attacking zone, the ensuing face-off shall be conducted
at one of the face-off spots outside the defending team’s blue line in
the neutral zone.

When Are Hand Passes Illegal In Laymans Terms

Okay now that we’ve gone through the rulebook on hand passes let’s break this term down in a way we can understand. When looking to determine when hand pass is legal there are three main factors you want to take into account.

Number one did the hand pass direct the puck towards a teammate, two how long did the player hold onto the puck and three where on the ice did the hand pass occur.

Passing To A Teammate

The most common reason a hand pass is going to be called is when the puck is passed from one teammate to another.

As you can see from the rulebook it is completely legal to bat, push and stop a puck with an open hand. But if any of these actions are down to move the puck to a teammate an illegal hand pass is going to be called.

Even if a hand pass is simply pushed into open ice resulting in a teammate skating in and picking up the puck this will still be considered a hand pass. The reason for this is because the rule states that moving the puck with your hand can not give your team an advantage.

Even if a player were to unintentionally hand pass to a teammate it would be called so long as it gave the hand passing team possession or an advantage.

Additionally, hand passes are going to be called if a player passes to a teammate indirectly or directly. This means if a player hits the puck with his hand his teammate cannot gain possession even if the puck is deflected off an opposing teams player.

The easiest way to remember the hand pass rule is to think of it in terms of benefitting your team. If a player on your team hits the puck with his hand and it positively affects your team it will almost always be called.

In other words, the hand pass rules are put in place to ensure a team does not reap benefits from hitting the puck with their hand. The only real way to effectively use your hand is to bat the puck away to buy time or to bat the puck towards yourself.

Holding Onto The Puck

Most fans know that when a puck is in the air a player can not simply catch it and hold on to it. In order to legally catch a pass with your hand, a player must immediately drop it down to the ice after catching it.

If a player does not immediately place the puck down then he will be assessed a minor penalty. When an illegal hand pass occurs the refs will blow their whistle and the play will simply stop.

If a player holds onto the puck after catching it he will receive a handling puck penalty and will go to the box for two minutes.


The final factor you want to look at to determine if a hand pass was legal is the location it occurred. The NHL rulebook states that if a hand pass occurs in a player’s defensive zone then it will not be called.

In order to determine whether the pass occurred in the defensive zone both the location of the passing players and receiving player will be taken into account.

In other words, if both the player who passed the puck and the one who received it are in their defensive zone then the hand pass is completely legal.

Can A Goalie Hand Pass In Hockey?

When reading the rules regarding hand passes in the NHL you might find yourselves wondering how goalies fit into this rule. After all, goalies often have the puck in their glove and pass it directly to their teammates.

The reason goalies are not called for hand passes is that a pass from the goalie’s glove will always take place in the neutral zone. Unless a goalie is somehow able to throw the puck past the blue line a hand pass will not be called.

Is This Call Reviewable?

Yes, throughout the many NHL seasons in which the hand pass rules have been in place several game-changing goals featured potential missed calls regarding hand passes.

Due to these missed calls, the NHL began reviewing hand pass goals in the 2020 NHL season. A hand pass cannot be reviewed in terms of calling a penalty but it can be part of the review process when determining whether a goal was legal or not.

What Happens If No One Plays The Puck?

Have you ever been watching a hockey game and notice players avoiding a puck so a hand pass will not be called? This situation occurs when the offense does not want to have a faceoff take place in their own zone.

The opposing team also knows that once their opponents touch the puck a hand pass will be called. This results in neither team attempting to play the puck as they believe not touching it is in their best interest.

The NHL has a rule for this exact situation. When this occurs the referee will simply blow the whistle and resume with a faceoff at the nearest faceoff location. The full rule regarding this situation can be seen below.

72.2 Hand Pass – When a hand pass has been initiated by one player to a
teammate and the teammate elects not to play the puck to avoid the
stoppage of play, and the opposing team also abstains from playing
the puck (perhaps to allow time to expire on a penalty), the Referee
shall stop the play and order the resulting face-off at the nearest faceoff location to where the play was stopped for this violation.

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