The neutral zone trap is a defensive ice hockey strategy used by a team to prevent an opposing team from proceeding through the neutral zone (the area between both blue lines) by forcing turnovers in that area. The strategy is generally used to level the playing field for teams that are not as offensively talented as their opponent, though the trap can also be used by teams simply looking to protect a lead late in the game.
The most recognizable implementation of the trap sees the defence stationing four of their players in the neutral zone and one forechecker in the offensive zone. As the offensive team starts to move up the ice, the forechecker (generally the centre) will cut off passing lanes to other offensive players by staying in the middle of the ice, forcing the puck carrier to either sideboard. The defensive wingers—typically placed on or near the red line—will be positioned by the boards to challenge the puck carrier, prevent passing, or even keep opponents from moving through. The two defencemen who are positioned on or near the blue lines are the last defence should the play move past the wingers and the centre.
The trap reached prominence with the New Jersey Devils' 1995 Stanley Cup victory, and has been widely criticized for reducing scoring and making the game less exciting for fans. It has, however, proven to be very effective, especially in the playoffs. During the 2004-05 NHL lockout, serious discussion about opening the game to offense was done by both the NHL and NHL Players Association (NHLPA). Because it is easier to trap when engaging in obstruction and restraining fouls, such as hooking and holding, which slow the progress of faster players who can evade the trapping team, the NHL ordered officials to call every obstruction penalty, regardless of circumstance. The prohibition on two-line passes from behind a team's blue line to the other side of the red line was also lifted. Long passes are one method for breaking out of the trap, as it avoids the need to navigate through defenders in the neutral zone.