Friday, November 18, 2005

 

Goalies, cont.

So have goalies been paying the price, physically, for the NHL rule changes? There's a lot of contradictory and inconclusive information out there, but also a fuzzy notion that it's Open Season on Goalies. The recent addition of Martin Brodeur to the Competition Committee, intentional or not, reinforces this notion, indicating that maybe the NHL is worried too.

This Bucky Gleason column (├×OddMan) offers the following numbers:
In the first month, 23 had been injured, 69 had appeared in at least one game, and 85 wound up on an NHL roster... Atlanta started five goalies in its first 10 games, a first in the NHL... At least 10 goalies had suffered groin injuries.

I count four broad reasons why goalies might be getting injured. The first is described by Ryan Miller:
Miller wondered if goalies are simply getting worn down from so much activity. Scoring and scoring chances have skyrocketed, which means goalies are being forced to stretch, sprawl and scramble more than ever.

It stands to reason that if sometimes (i.e. previously) goalies get injured making saves, or in the normal course of playing their position, then more saves, more scoring chances, and more work by the goalies will result in more injuries. I can't see that there's anything to be done about this: of all the faults you might find with a more wide-open game, "goalies having to work more" isn't likely one of them.

The second is the frequently-mentioned "ice quality", especially in the case of the groin injuries. Assuming this is a problem (something I don't doubt), again, there's not a lot that can be done--certainly not in the context of "modifying the rules of the game". There are enormous expenses and engineering challenges associated with maintaining good ice. If you wanted to decree that (say) Tampa needs to put in place a scheme that provides excellent ice quality in all seasons, it would necessarily require tens of millions of dollars, reducing spectator comfort, and possibly an engineering solution that doesn't yet exist. I assume that this cost-benefit analysis has basically been completed by the NHL and its teams, and this is where we are. There is no quick or cheap fix for ice problems.

Third is the reduced size of the goalie equipment: the Gleason piece notes that some goalies were injured "while wearing smaller equipment", but this is pretty far from saying it was "because of...". This is an open question, as far as I can tell.

Fourth and finally, we have the problem of players "crashing the net", or more specifically, goalies being injured via direct physical contact with opposing players. Whatever the seriousness or extent of this problem, this is something that can be addressed by Colin Campbell, the Competition Committee, et al.--but how best to do that?

When the NHL wants to discourage some act, they can either (A) penalize that act directly or (B) make it more difficult, via other rules, for players to commit that act. Take shooting the puck over the glass to stop the play, for example: the NHL wanted to discourage this, so they made it a minor penalty. They could have made the glass 15 feet higher and achieved the same result: much fewer occasions where a player stops play by putting the puck over the glass.

Similarly, the alternatives to minimize players roughing up the goalies are as follows: (A) penalize it, or (B) let defensive players physically prevent attackers from getting near the net.

I'd propose (A), because I think it will work better, and has much fewer unwanted consequences. In fact, I think the scheme that the NHL is currently using to discourage diving is a good model. In essence, the league should initiate discipline against players (especially repeat offenders) who are physically abusing goalies, regardless of whether there was a penalty called on the play or not.

A good example of what I'm thinking of is Kirk Maltby shoving Jussi Markkanen late in regulation time of yesterday's Oilers win. Although it can be really difficult for referees to determine goalie interference, and whether an attacker was pushed or "acted alone", the ref made the right call. Now although an Attempt to Injure match penalty would have been excessive on the spot, I don't see why Colin Campbell couldn't send Maltby a warning letter, telling him that he's on a watch list of players who initiate contact with goalies, and that future instances will result in supplementary discipline (increasing fines and suspensions). The league office has the advantage of being able to review tapes from various angles to determine who's respecting goalies and who isn't, and can enforce discipline as strictly as they choose.

The other advantage of this strategy is that frankly, defensemen do a lousy job of protecting goalies. They're always shoving attackers into their own goalie, tripping attackers as they head for the net, etc. It's even worse right now, since they're afraid to step right in front of them, but they're still swiping their sticks around the attackers' feet.

The best scenario for the protection of goalies is for defenders to be confident that attackers aren't going to run the goalies; that is, to be confident that goalies are protected by the rules, and that those rules will be enforced. If Kirk Maltby knows that next time he runs into a goalie he's suspended for three games, even if he sells it to the ref (at the time) that he was pushed, he's not going to.

I hope whatever solutions the NHL comes up with, if needed, are no more nutty or convoluted than mine.

Comments:

One more consideration: How many goalies are out with groin injuries or other conditioning-related ailments? The two year break has had some effect on a lot of players, and goalies might just be more susceptible to it. It might also be bad luck.

And when isn't Brodeaur whining?
 


Apparently Tellqvist is out with his second break to the little finger on his catching hand this season. The Toronto papers seem happy enough to blame this on the new equipment, and I have no idea if it's true. But that is neither conditioning nor over-work related. How does it fit in? Couldn't say, but there it is.
 

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