Crashing the Crease: Window of Opportunity

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.

Peter Skudra
Image from Scotty Wazz

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:

Crease dimensions

Image courtesy of NHL.com

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.

Image courtesy of Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America

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.

  • wheineman

    I am actually quite OK with this rule, and here’s why…

    While guys like Brodeur may be finely tuned players who are the best of the best when it comes to stick handling goalies, all of the other rules in place allow them to be invincible outside of the crease. Could any goalie truly be as good with their stick if the same rules applied to them as any other defender…ie, they could be hit!

    Before this rule, there was no fear of going after the puck outside of the trapezoid, because as long as they could skate there fast enough, the rules protected them from the opposing players. It’s rather easy (for a pro) to gain possession of the puck and make a nice play when the forward closing in on you has to stop and ensure he doesn’t bump you.

    So if this rule prevents to goalie from wandering out of the crease, I am all for it! Now if we could only add instant replay on penalties to catch goalies flopping!

    • http://www.facebook.com/justin.g.brennan Justin Brennan

      It’s a good point – If they’re going to have the rights and privileges of a defender, do they deserve additional protection?

      I would say this much: Goalies shouldn’t have a license to roam free and easy. The reason they can’t be hit is because they’re largely not moving when they’re making a pass, but if they sit on the pass, what’s to prevent them from artificially creating a breakout or slowing the pace of the game?

      The trapezoid needs to go. What should exist in its place is the right for an attacking player to make a play on the goalie’s stick, as well as a timeframe for moving the puck. In roller, we have a rule where a player cannot stand behind the goal line for more than five seconds if an attacking player is not pressuring him. Something like this could address the issue of the wandering goalie delaying the game pretty effectively.

      Outside of that, it wasn’t illegal for a goalie to make a good puck play in the corner prior to 2009-10 using his skills. You may not like it,but it was a part of the game much longer than the random shape rule.

      Also, it’s been noted by guys like Brendan Shanahan that the game is too fast for goalies to do what they used to do. They can attempt to get there, but in recent trials without the trapezoid, game pace has stopped them from even trying. A lot of that has to do with the anti-trap rules put into place, so it’s not exactly apples to apples if you look at what goalies used to do without the trapezoid and what they could do now.

      • Bob H

        I can do without the trapezoid. Goaltenders, by virtue of being the most protected players in terms of padding, should proceed at their own risk anywhere away from their crease. Remember, Martin Brodeur’s desire to safeguard his own puck-handling style influenced the rules committee, and with his playing days nearly over, a re-evaluation for all netminders is necessary. Go back to putting the judgment in the officials’ hands, let them decide if a goalie is interfered with or liable to be hit while chasing the puck in front.

        • http://www.facebook.com/justin.g.brennan Justin Brennan

          Bob, I agree, and even back to the first comment, goalies do overuse their QB-like protection to flop and draw calls (Ryan Miller, I’m looking at you…).

          I think that’s a fair call, ultimately, and that’s where my whole play on the goalie’s stick idea came from. Brodeur’s bread and butter was behind the net – that’s where he wields a lot of his influence. As we’ve watched this for a few years, let’s do the logical thing and re-evaluate, like you said. Let the goalie have the option to play the puck anywhere behind the goal line, but put the onus on him to make a play before he’s stripped of the puck or bodied off of it.

          As long as it’s not a blatant attempt to injure, which is wrong in any facet of the game, physical contact to separate the goalie from the puck may not be the worst idea. Of course, it’s all well and good in theory until a Dan Carcillo gets out there. Logic doesn’t exactly stand the heat of battle for all…