Henrik Lundqvist of the Rangers played the puck away from the Flyers' Daniel Briere. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
All right, this was the plan: In an attempt to bolster the argument that the NHL should abolish the behind-the-net trapezoid, I was going to go to your YouTube there, type in ‘Goalie Fail,’ then watch the deluge of hilarious gaffes that led to goals from bumbling goalies coming out of the net to play the puck.
What I got were a lot of soccer goalkeepers doing very stupid things. I watched Marc-Andre Fleury fall face-first after stepping on the ice during the 2008 Stanley Cup final. Heh-heh. I saw Keith Ballard take a baseball swing at his own goalie’s head. Then I watched, ‘Cat goes nuts over paper towel roll,’ which led to 15 minutes I’ll never get back as I witnessed innocent pranks go horribly wrong.
Even in TSN’s Top 10 NHL Goaltending Gaffes, only four of them were a result of goalies misplaying the puck outside the crease.
The point is, the notion we have that goalies are a bunch of ham-handed morons when it comes to playing the puck might not be so accurate. It probably happens a lot less than we think it does, but, like the Grape Lady on YouTube, it can lead to spectacular results.
Those who espouse the notion of removing the trapezoid often argue that allowing goalies to handle the puck will lead to more goals because they’re so bad at it. To be sure, some of them are, but the NHL established the trapezoid in the first place because so many goaltenders had become so adept at handling the puck that the league thought they were killing offensive opportunities.
Well, we’ve had five full seasons with the trapezoid and while it might have been a concern in the pre-lockout NHL, the game has changed so much and the flow of play has so greatly improved that the league could easily abolish the trapezoid and allow goalies to play the puck with impunity without compromising offensive chances.
And who’s to say it wouldn’t lead to more scoring opportunities? Have you seen the way some of the goalies can pass the puck these days? Imagine Martin Brodeur or Rick DiPietro retrieving the puck from the corner and launching a long bomb two-thirds of the way up the ice to spring a teammate for a breakaway. Or, imagine an opponent batting the puck down before it leaves the defensive zone and having a tap-in on an unguarded net.
Either way, something interesting is bound to happen.
The fact is, the speed at which the game is played and the constant flow of the play would not be greatly impacted by allowing goalies to play the puck and there would be a number of benefits to allowing it.
First of all, the post-lockout NHL has made icons of predatory hitters such as Colby Armstrong and Jordin Tootoo, who live for nothing more than the opportunity to chase down a defenseman who is retrieving the puck or a forward who is curling around the net with his head down and knock him senseless.
You want to get rid of a lot of the headshots that have become so controversial without actually instituting a headshot rule? Then allow the goalies to play the puck outside the trapezoid and give them the protection to avoid being bulldozed while doing it. Incidental contact is one thing; skating from two zones away to make a guy one with the rinkboard advertising is quite another. There’s a clear distinction there and the guys at the NHL are smart enough to figure it out.
And really, how fair is it to inhibit goaltenders from playing the puck anyway? Knowing how valuable a skill it is, many young goalies have honed the craft of puckhandling and made it an essential part of their skill package. Why should they be penalized for doing so?
And isn’t prohibiting a goalie from playing the puck tantamount to stopping defensemen from blocking shots? The next time you watch a game and wonder why the score is 1-0 in the third period, watch closely how many shots don’t even reach the net because uber-protected players are bravely throwing themselves in front of slapshots.
And if the league is so worried about offense and game flow, there are a host of other rule changes that could be made to offset the removal of the trapezoid.
For example, ever wondered why it’s perfectly legal for a player to make a hand pass to a teammate as long as he’s in the defensive zone, but not the neutral or offensive zones? Either abolish hand passes in all zones and put the faceoff at the dot nearest to the infraction or allow them in all three zones. Simple.
Another one I’ve never been able to figure out is why teams are allowed to ice the puck with impunity when killing a penalty. First, you give a team a disadvantage for breaking the rules, then you allow it to break the rules again to mitigate the disadvantage it faced for breaking the rules in the first place.
Here are a couple of remedies: One would be to abolish the free-pass icing when killing a penalty and, just to make it more interesting, retain the rule that doesn’t allow the team that iced the puck to make a player change during the stoppage in play. That way you’d have four tired penalty-killers taking a faceoff in their own end. Another would be to allow each team a pre-determined number of icings per period, let’s say three. The first three icings would not be called, but each one after that would result in a defensive-zone faceoff, even on a penalty kill.
Sound crazy? Well, it’s no more outlandish than establishing a small, defined area in which goaltenders are allowed to play the puck. And the results might be a whole lot more entertaining than watching a feline chase around an empty roll of toilet paper.
I mean, it was kind of entertaining and all, but…
This article originally appeared in the Feb. 22, 2010 edition of The Hockey News magazine.
Ken Campbell, author of the book Habs Heroes, is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.