Monday, August 11, 2008

Do More Pucks In The Net Mean More Butts In The Seats?

The topic of new restrictions on goaltending equipment has risen to the surface of NHL discussion in the last week or so, due largely to the fact that there really isn't anything else to talk about right now. One item that has drawn particular attention from many (including Puck Daddy and James Mirtle) is the idea of goalies wearing pads that are proportional in size to their bodies. While this rule in itself is completely absurd, it underscores a bigger problem with the powers that be in the NHL; the NHL front office is far more concerned with the totals on the scoreboard than they are with the product on the ice.

Short of photographic evidence, there is no way you could convince me that Gary Bettman had ever seen a hockey game before he became commissioner of the NHL, and it shows. All you have to do is go watch old YouTube clips of the NHL in the 80's to see that the goalies of that era were a joke. Somewhere in the early 90's a new generation of Patrick Roy inspired goalies finally caught up with the game and shooters actually had to do more than just shoot five hole every time down the ice. Bettman and Co. are taking the game back to the 80's, and I for one am not happy about it (even if they bring back Cooperalls too).

People can spout all the "Offense sells" rhetoric they want to, I'm not buying. I saw the 92-93 San Jose Sharks in person enough times to know that more goals does not equal better hockey. Some people like to draw a parallel between hockey and baseball and how the "long ball" helped bring fans back to baseball after its strike in the mid-90's. These people want to argue that increased goal scoring will do for the NHL what Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa did for Major League Baseball. This is a ridiculous argument to make. Ignoring the fact that McGwire and Sosa were most likely juiced to the gills, the NHL restricting goalies is not the same as the power surge that took place in MLB. This is more akin to MLB making it illegal for outfielders to jump and catch a ball going over the fence. Players like Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and Jarome Iginla are proof that the NHL's skill players can still put the puck in the back of the net. There is no need to keep changing the game until fourth-line grinders are putting up 30 goals a year.

The NHL has already set a precedent for preventing goalies from utilizing their full skill set with the trapezoid behind the goal line. In a nutshell, goalies like Martin Brodeur and Marty Turco (among many others) had gotten too good at handling the puck and diffusing an attack before it could even get going, so the NHL stepped in and attached an invisible leash to them in order to hamper them. I cannot think of another sport that punishes its players for developing a skill to an elite level. The NHL has done that with their puck handling netminders.

Handcuffing goalies will not make the NHL better. Neither will bigger nets. I will not go so far as to say that goalie equipment cannot afford to be reeled in a bit, but the NHL needs to come to the realization that hockey fans do not judge the product on the ice based on the number of pucks in the net. Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals was one of the best hockey games seen in ages, despite the fact that over 50 minutes were played without a single goal scored. There is nothing better in hockey than a jaw dropping save. Nothing. I can only hope that sanity and logic will eventually win the day. Otherwise Matt Bradley may yet get his blindfolded goalies.


Mark said...

The skill level you mention of current NHL goalies is greater than those of the past, no question, but I would expect more goals if the current goalies had to do without the toll booth coin basket-sized catching gloves.

I think the pads should be smaller, too. But I imagine that goals will still be hard to come by so long as every skater on the ice go into shot blocking mode. That is the bigger difference between now and the 80s.

Look at a tape of an 80s game and look at the number of players stick checking and playing for a rebound rather than getting in the shooting lane and keeping their stick in the passing lanes.

Nowdays, even the worst team (Kings?) get in the lane, stopping most of the shots before they reach the net. The problem has been that no amount of padding has helped the Kings' goaltenders from stopping the second and third shots off rebounds.

aardvark45 said...

Please! There is nothing better than a jaw dropping save? How often do we see those? More often, we're treated to the sight of an overstuffed goalie who knows that all he has to do is cover his angles well and his equipment will do the rest. No display of a goalie's reflexes, no anticipation that a player with an intimidating ability to shoot the puck may be rewarded for his skills.

Can't think of another sport where restrictions are placed on what defenders can do? How about soccer? Not my favorite sport, but soccer goalies are limited in what they're permitted to do outside of their creases.

Some may not think that offence sells, but it does. The self-anointed purists would have us believe that we're better off with the brand of hockey promoted by the likes of Don Cherry. Lots of enforcers, referees who don't call penalties and 'allow the players to play'. All that did in the past was give us teams like the Broadstreet Bullies, and make hockey a laughing stock.

I say let's do everything we can to promote the skilled players. Full 2 minute penalties, regardless of how many goals are scored. Disallow icing the puck by short-handed teams. We'd see teams even less likely to clutch, grab and obstruct if the consequences were more likely to be a goal. We don't need to enlarge the nets so that goaltenders are forced to display their skills, just put some reasonable limits on the size of their equipment.

Simple things like these would add immensely to the overall appeal of the game.

Bettman may not have grown up on the game, but perhaps someone who hasn't been spoon fed Cherryisms since birth, someone willing to consider change, is the kind of person needed to help hockey evolve.

Loser Chris said...

I agree with a lot of what both of you are saying. I stated in this post that I do think goalie equipment could be reeled in a bit, and I specifically mentioned making penalties last the full two minutes in my most recent post (What's In My Five).

My main point in this piece was not to come across as anti-offense, but merely to point out that the goal total is not the sole indicator of if a game was good or not. I have seen amazing 6-5 games, but I have also seen 1-0 games that were just as good. That is the point I was trying to make.

As for goalies in Soccer aardvark... I think that is an apples and oranges comparison. The NHL's trapezoid is more like if soccer put in a new rule limiting how far goalies can drop kick the ball. The goal box isn't there because soccer goalies got too good with their hands, it is just a logical limitation on the game.

Thanks for the feedback though. It's always appreciated.