Pardon my cliché-ness, but I’m going to start with a quote this week.
When a door closes, a window opens.
In my mind, this statement embodies the goaltending position. The entire point of the game culminates in beating the goalie, yet 90-plus percent of the time, the goalie prevails at the NHL level. As the art of goaltending has progressed into a science, we’ve seen goalies get better, average save percentages rise and strategies and rules put in place to effectively limit the goalie’s impact.
I’d say that a majority of the new rules put in place for this purpose are focused around equipment size, and rightfully so. Peter Skudra, seen at left, made something of a mockery of the position with pads that most children could use as maritime vessels. Outside of the equipment, though, the most obvious of these rules is focused on the goaltender’s ability to play the puck, or what some would simply call the Martin Brodeur rule.
It’s no secret that a goalie with strong stickhandling capabilities can change an attacking team’s strategy. Brodeur is the best current day example of it, as he has made a career out of nullifying dump-ins and acting as a third defenseman. For as much credit as New Jersey’s trap was given for their former successes (not last year’s team, though), a great deal of it was due to Brodeur’s psychological impact. The dump-and-chase strategy was rendered less effective unless the dump-in was hard enough that Marty couldn’t get to it.
The NHL recognized the perceived defensive impact of Brodeur’s and other similarly capable goalies’ stickhandling, and implemented the trapezoid rule in 2009-10. The easiest way to put it is that the goalie can’t touch the puck behind the goal line and outside of the trapezoid. The actual crease diagram and rulebook definition can be found below:
An interesting aside is that, as long as the skate’s in the crease, the goalie can reach outside of the trapezoidal area if he’s tall enough to make that work. Once he leaves the crease, however, and plays the puck outside of the trapezoid, the delay of game penalty is called.
So, what does this have to do with doors and windows? Well, think back to last year’s playoffs. Think about how Brodeur still had an impact on the Flyers’ dump-and-chase effectiveness. My argument is that, even though he’s been restricted, he’s managed to adapt and continue to perform the primary function of acting as a third defenseman. He has found the open window, if you will.
When this rule was implemented, it was designed to improve the flow of the game and generate more scoring chances. In my biased mind, though, all it’s done is remove the offensive component from the goaltender’s arsenal while still allowing him to make defensive plays on the puck. In short, it’s done more to restrict guys like Brodeur and Turco (were he still a viable NHL goalie) from making strong outlet passes that generate offense in the other end than it has to stop them from impeding the flow of an attacking team’s offensive setup.
Since the NHL has implemented its next wave of relevancy reduction practices (aka we’re locked out… again…), now is the right time to sit down and really think about how well this rule has, or hasn’t, worked. Goalies and their coaches will find a way around screens like this to still maintain a sightline on the shot. Ultimately, the rule is antiquated based on how today’s game is called, and it’s stupid. Goalies don’t just magically wake up one day with the ability to pass and shoot like Brodeur; it’s a honed skill, just like it is for forwards and defensemen. How does an arbitrary restriction truly make sense, especially if it’s working counter to its initial purpose?
I’m hoping for some debate on this one, so let me hear it.