Does shot-blocking do more harm than good?

Jason Kay
St. Louis Blues v Philadelphia Flyers

Ryan Getzlaf’s puck-in-the-puss last night wasn’t your classic shot block, but it has started to stir the age-old debate: is it a good idea for players to throw themselves in front of cannonading vulcanized rubber?

The issue is multi-pronged.

For starters, does it help the cause? The recent data says not necessarily and certainly not always. Take last night’s games. The Ducks topped the six teams who played, with an eye-popping 28 blocks, and held off a Dallas rally. The next three in terms of number of blocks – Columbus, Tampa and the Stars – each lost.

That small sample size mirrors the final tallies from the 2013 playoffs. None of the top five teams in shot blocks per game made it out of the second round. The champion Chicago Blackhawks ranked 12th in blocks per playoff game among the 16 participants.

Additionally, the act of putting oneself in harm’s way increases the risk of injury. Sometimes, the results are apparent, like the Getzlaf moment last night. Many other times in the post-season the real pain is masked and comes to light once teams are eliminated. How many times have we heard of guys who played at less than 100 per cent once locker clearout begins?

The act of shot blocking can also backfire, either impeding a goalie’s ability to get a clear line of sight or causing a deflection, perhaps the stopper’s worst enemy.

On the flip side, shot-blocking in and of itself is noble and brave. In the playoffs, when the stakes are amped exponentially, it can be galvanizing. The war-like, us-against-them mentality is everything for successful teams, a time when men play and sacrifice for each other. It inspires and is contagious.

So what’s the right answer?

Maybe it’s time to revisit Bob Gainey’s old suggestion of penalizing the fall-to-the-ice shot-block. Ostensibly, he suggested any defender who left his feet to get in the way of a puck would get a delay of game minor. While it’s a radical concept, it’s also one I’ve heard supported by other hockey people – guys who have played the game.

It might accomplish a couple positives. First, it would take the decision out of the players’ hands about whether to lay down and sacrifice. The result should be fewer injuries and walking wounded.

Secondly, while we can’t prove it would generate more offense, it would at least give the sense of a more open game. More pucks to the net, more rebounds and maybe more transitions the other way. While playoff hockey is deliciously good much of the time, it can also be frustrating for fans when shots are continually absorbed by defenders.

Before you go squirrely on me in the comments section, remember this isn’t the brainwave of a wing nut. It originated with a Hall-of-Famer, a guy who became famous by shutting down opponents. And it has been supported by others who’ve played at the highest level.

OK, now you may talk amongst yourselves…