Friday, 15 August 2014

Gentlemen, To Your Corners! - Round 3

If you're new to HBIC, you know that I enjoy a good debate. Normally, I talk hockey, but it can be on any topic when it comes to the discussion. I welcome all to bring their hockey discussion points here, and we're lucky to have the third round of the head-to-head battle between John and Neal today! If you missed Round One and Round Two, worry not! This battle for the ages rages on again today as the two men go mano-a-mano once more as they tackle a hockey topic with passion and fervor as each takes a side! Let the battle begin once more!

We all know that goalies are some of the best-protected athletes in the game. In the NHL, they wear more padding than football players in order to stop pucks fired faster than missiles, and they have rules written so that they are off-limits from any body contact. But being as protected as they are, should they be protected from that body contact if they wander from their crease? John and Neal will take a swing at this topic today on Gentlemen, To Your Corners!

Protecting the Overprotected?

Neal's Stance

My side is that goalies should not, in fact, be open game. I can think of multiple reasons why they shouldn't be. I'm going to break these down into two main reasons - one that directly affects the game play and one the effects the league in a broader sense. While hockey purists may side with the other side, I’m hoping that, given my arguments, I can begin to sway individuals on this topic.

My first argument is that, given the current goalie rules, contact shouldn't be allowed. Let's face it: the trapezoid may be one of the most nonsensical rules in the game today. It was ridiculous enough that fifteen years ago if you had a skate in a then-gigantic crease that it would disallow a goal, but this may be worse. I feel like it is terrible because in an effort to generate offense, it actually had the reverse effect. My reasoning behind this is that goalies usually aren't the best puck handlers in the world. You want the goalies to come out of the crease because you want them to mess up handling the puck. In addition, their large frames wouldn't be blocking the net as much increasing chances for shooters to snipe some goals over the goalies' shoulders. Generally, you want less of a controlled environment so the better players can take advantage of bad plays by the goalie to capitalize on mistakes.

So what does this have to do with this argument? My feeling is that if the goalie can only play the puck from the trapezoid behind the net, in a sense, it becomes part of the goalie's area. I think the part where goalies come far out of the crease to challenge shooters could be a bit more questionable, but, when in doubt, side with the goalies. Besides, the better puck-handlers and forecheckers should be easily able to strip the goalie of the puck and take advantage of them out of the crease. Of course, that leads up to the second part of my argument that I'm sure at first will have hockey purist fuming.

My other side of the argument is that the league should protect goalies because it simply is in their best interests to do so. Not only are goalies a key component of a team, but they are quickly becoming stars of the league. Sure, back in the day guys like Patrick Roy and Jacques Plante were legitimate stars of their own, but it has only grown this century. Fans identify goalies as stars of the team as men like Quick, Miller, Lundqvist, and others are almost given "rock star status" now. I'm sure Montreal fans would admit they pay money to see Carey Price play and not Dustin Tokarski, even though Tokarski played excellent in relief in the playoffs.

So how does this relate to the issue? The NHL needs to protect these guys so that its teams can remain draws both at home and on the road. It is something that may seem a little bizarre at first, but there is precedent behind the fact. Years ago, the most successful sporting league in North America, the NFL, started implementing rules that greatly protected the quarterback position. Fans (and even myself sometimes) still yell at the TV when a seemingly hard-but-clean-looking hit gets flagged. Of course, the NFL knows that an injury to a team's starting QB can alter its season and cause fan interest, TV ratings, and ticket sales to plummet. In other words the necessity to protects the stars caused the rule changes.

In the NHL, the goalie is almost like the team's QB in terms of his importance. If Cory Schneider gets hurt and the Devils begin dropping games, it could be the difference between them staying in NJ or going to Seattle. Several teams in the NHL are already on thin ice financially, so there is great incentive to make sure that the team's stars are given protection. Just for the record, I'm for making sure the stars get plenty of protection regardless of position, not just goalies. I know this argument may not go over well with the fans, but the NHL needs to do to make sure its business model is secure. Teams should also be on board because if one team's profits dwindle, it reduces HRR and, subsequently, the cap for the top spenders.

In conclusion, I feel like goalies should not be open game. It doesn't make sense in terms of the way the game is played currently and could have serious financial implications if goalies started to get hammered, resulting in injures. If it doesn’t make sense in either one of those aspects, then in what world would it make sense?

John's Reply

Who is the most protected player on the ice in terms of padding? The goalie. So why is it that whenever they get hit, it's like a Mac Truck hit them? The answer is simple: the league has been protecting them for so long that they don't prepare for impact.

Before I go much further let me state that I do not believe that goalies should be run at like any player. It is my belief that goalies should be protected inside their zone. In my NHL, I would get rid of that stupid trapezoid. Keep the crease the size that it is, and create another half circle from the red line with a ten-foot radius so the goalie can safely cut down angles and play the puck in "his zone" without having to worry about contact. Like I said above, the only reason goalies become injured from contact is because they aren't expecting it. While in this zone, they will continue to be protected.

So when isn't he protected? Anytime he leaves his zone and PLAYS the puck. I think this the phrase "plays the puck" is vitally important. People think that if you give free shots at the goalie, then anytime he is outside his zone will see players will be throwing themselves at him. However, just like any other player, if he is contacted away from the puck, it is interference. Plain and simple.

With that in mind, we can now do some speculating. First, goalies will know if they play the puck with an opposing player around, they may be checked. They will be able to prepare themselves for the hits to make it less devastating. However, the decision to pursue the puck is completely the goalie's choice. A good example would be when an opposing player is chasing the puck gets behind the defense. If the goalie doesn’t come out, it's going to be a breakaway. If he does come out, he knows he is likely to get checked, but may prevent a breakaway. The goalie has the choice in this case, and will have to decide which choice works for him.

Second, this will actually increase offense unlike the trapezoid. As Neal stated above, when the goalie plays the puck there is a chance of a mistake. This idea opens the entire ice for any goalie that is confident enough to handle the puck again, and possibly putting those turnovers back into the game. But it also will add offense another way: by having fewer goalies take control of the puck away from opposing players because they know they are protected. Let's go back to the example above of the goalie rushing out to prevent a breakaway. In today's NHL, the goalie only has to worry about if he doesn't get there first. If he's second to the puck, he leaves an open net behind him. In my NHL, the goalie will know he will likely get checked, so there is a 50/50 chance he decides to stay in the goal and attempt to stop the breakaway. Depending on your goalies, there could be more breakaways in the game. Moreover, think about all the times a goalie is behind the net and uses his body to shield an oncoming player to have time to make a play. Not anymore in this new NHL. Now he can be checked and may not go back there at all. This will result in more chances to gain control of the puck for the forechecking team.

Now that we know the goalie has the choice to get hit and the rule changes will likely create more offense, let's go back to Neal's example of the NFL and quarterbacks. First off, in the NFL the quarterback is LESS protected than the other players on the field in terms of padding - completely the opposite of the goalies in the NHL. Secondly, can anyone tell me what happens to a quarterback that "chooses" to run with the ball? He gets hit like any other player outside his protected zone.

The question now becomes one of will we see more injuries? Possibly a few more, but nothing so drastic that would affect the league. Goalies will still be run in their zone and will be unprepared and be injured. When they are hit outside the zone, they will already be preparing for a check and should lessen the chance of injury. Let's be honest, though: injuries do happen. What we all have to remember though is an injury creates opportunity. Let's jump back to 2010. The Flyers have just lost the Stanley Cup to Chicago. They were led there by the play of Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher. Shortly before camp, Leighton suffers an injury that will keep him out most of the season. The Flyers, needing another goalie, brought in a twenty year-old undrafted goalie from Russia that had never played in a North American arena. That player was Sergei Bobrovsky. Due to Leighton's injury, Bobrovksy got a long look in camp and performed well enough to split time with Boucher before becoming the starter and forcing Leighton to play in the AHL even after recovering from injury. If Leighton isn't injured, would Bobovksy have performed well on a very bad AHL team? Would he ever have been given a chance in the NHL? No one knows, bnd the list of players that have become stars out of obscurity due to filling in for an injured player is a lot longer.

I’m going to conclude with this: I'm not trying to make the goalies into crash-test dummies. All I want is for them to be subject to the same rules on the ice when outside of their zone.

Again, both men make excellent arguments in Round Three. As a hockey traditionalist, there is one fact that stands out in my mind here that will sway the argument. I'll bring this fact to light as we work through the evidence presented by Neal and John.

First off, I don't buy the NFL analogy made by Neal. While quarterbacks are protected in the NFL in terms of how they can be hit, there are still dangerous blindside hits thrown, there is still helmet-to-helmet contact, and there are still 300-pound linemen looking to throw their bodies into the 200-pound quarterback. As John pointed out, the quarterbacks wear less padding than NHL goalies do, and they still absorb a heckuva lot of punishment in their "protected" state.

I do, however, completely buy into Neal's idea that goaltenders are stars in the league. There's a reason why goaltenders have won the Conn Smythe Trophy sixteen times in its 48-year history. Players like Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek, Henrik Lundqvist, Carey Price, Grant Fuhr, Ken Dryden, Jacques Plante, Tony Esposito, and Terry Sawchuk aren't just remembered because they were goaltenders. No, they are remembered for how valuable they were to their teams and for their accomplishments in the nets. Patrick Roy is the only player who has won the Conn Smythe Trophy three times, the only player to win the trophy for more than one team, and the only player to win it in three different decades. He literally was a rock star in both Montreal and Colorado, and the star power he still holds today is a result of his legacy on the ice. There's a saying that a team will only go as far as its goaltending will take them, and these men proved that axiom correct.

I am with both men in the thought of removing the trapezoid altogether. While the idea seemed good in theory, the real-life benefits have yet to be realized. Teams used to have to prepare a game plan to play against the New Jersey Devils and Martin Brodeur because of his stick-handling skills. With the introduction of the trapezoid, the NHL actually took one of the things that caused goals away from teams. With goalies not wandering any longer because stick-handling isn't as prevalent, there are less mistakes being made. Let's get rid of the trapezoid and let the goalies wander if they like.

And that bring me to the fact I've been holding on to: there are only two goaltenders on a bench. While Cam Talbot has shown his ability in playing behind Henrik Lundqvist, do the Pittsburgh Penguins have the same faith in Thomas Greiss if Marc-Andre Fleury gets hurt off a check? Anders Lindback failed horribly for the Lightning last year in the playoffs after Ben Bishop was injured, and I'm pretty sure that's why Tampa Bay went out and signed veteran Evgeni Nabokov this off-season to ensure they have a capable backup.

Therein lies the rub. Opening up goaltenders to checks actually creates a slippery slope when the playoffs roll around. If you're the Minnesota Wild, would you have asked, say, Matt Cooke to take a run at Corey Crawford last year knowing how Crawford was playing? We saw how Montreal's playoff fortunes changed when Chris Kreider piled into Carey Price, so do we really want to open the field up by having players take runs at goaltenders? As we've seen in the NHL, if you give the players an inch of wiggle room, someone will certainly try to stretch it into a mile.

With most NHL teams having a legitimate starting goaltender that gives them a shot to win night-in and night-out plus a capable backup who can provide occasional relief, there just isn't the depth at the goaltending position to absorb injuries at that position. If, say, Henrik Lundqvist was injured in the first period off a hit and Cam Talbot was injured in the second period, how do the Rangers play the game without there being an unfair advantage? If a goalie is run and is injured, when do teams stop trying to one-up the other in terms of injuring goalies with hits? As you can see, the slope becomes quite messy once teams start using this rule as a strategy to win games.

As much as I'd like to see goalies become fair game in the NHL due to the amount of armor they wear, implementing a rule that allows this opens up Pandora's Box in a number of ways. A suspension to a fourth-line player for injuring a star goalie in the playoffs is a trade-off most coaches would make in their quests for a Stanley Cup, so we're better off keeping the status quo. In saying that, Round Three's winner is...

Maybe just get rid of that damned trapezoid?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Anonymous said...

I'm throwing my Challenge Flag. In my scenario goalies can't be run anymore than they currently are. Matt Cooke could still have run Crawford. And a player can still run a goalie subbing for an injured goalie. My position is they are subject to legal hits outside their zone. Not dirty hits or hits inside their zone. Also according to rule 5.3 if both goalies are injured the team may replace them with anyone available. So Roy or Hextall could dress. But most likely each team will carry around a 3rd goalie as equipment manager that could play in emergency if needed. But again a coach would likely tell the backup to stay in the net.

Teebz said...

Good comment, but allow me to clarify that I was going on the premise that goaltenders would be subject to being hit like any other player outside the crease. Matt Cooke could still hit Crawford, but outside the crease, that would become strategy in taking out a goaltender.

Secondly, you're only allowed to dress 20 players for a game - 18 skaters and 2 goaltenders - as per Rule 5.1 in the NHL Rule Book.

However, Rule 5.3 states, "In regular League and Playoff games, if both listed goalkeepers are incapacitated, that team shall be entitled to dress and play any available goalkeeper who is eligible. This goalkeeper is eligible to sit on the player’s bench, in uniform. In the event that the two regular goalkeepers are injured in quick succession, the third goalkeeper shall be provided with a reasonable amount of time to get dressed, in addition to a two-minute warm-up (except when he enters the game to defend against a penalty shot)." So the idea that a team carry three or four goalies would work, but you're talking about mayhem on ice if you continue to allow teams to destroy wandering goalies.