If goaltenders had their way, U.S. Secret Service and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police would be on standby to detain any player who made contact with a netminder during the course of a game.
OK, maybe that's a bit of a stretch, but sometimes it seems as if goalies are protected more than the president or the prime minister these days.
The number of goaltender interference calls has been decreasing in recent seasons because skaters are aware of the ramifications. Not only will they be penalized for any type of contact, but players also have to be ready for retribution from the opposition, which, naturally, wants to protect its goalie. Even goals are being disallowed when the coach's challenges and video replays show goalie contact.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, the number of total goalie interference penalties fell significantly each of the past three seasons. In 2013-14, there were 170 such infractions. In 2014-15, there were 159, and in 2015-16 there were only 113. Through March 5, 103 goalie-interference penalties have been called this season, which means we're on pace for 131, which would be an increase from last season but still not close to the totals of previous years.
"I think the one reason you see more penalties against goalies [this season] is they're trying to sell it a bit more when they get bumped," one Western Conference goalie coach said. "Because of the [coach's] challenge, if anyone's near [the goalie's] crease, they're really selling it in case the puck goes in. I've seen that a lot in the league this year -- it's just crazy."
Some players say goalies take advantage of the no-contact rule.
"Obviously you want to protect your goalie, but goalies nowadays know they can't be touched and they flop around and they interfere with guys, knowing that they're going to get a call for them," Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchandsaid. "It can be frustrating at times, but at other times it works for you."
There has been an ongoing debate in the league for years about whether players should be allowed to make legal contact on a goalie outside the crease.
"We understand that they're trying to protect the goalies as much as possible," Bruins alternate captain Patrice Bergeronsaid. "I think it's important to do so. Sometimes you get guys going after [Bruins goalie]Tuukka [Rask]and you don't like that. You have to respect [the rules] but at the same time, it's hard. You're trying to go to the net. You're trying to get the rebounds and getting to loose pucks. It happens fast."
If goalies were aware of potential contact, most would likely stay in the crease. That would allow teams to sustain a forecheck. It could create more scoring chances because the goalie would not act like a third defenseman. The trapezoid was created for that reason, but maybe it's time to remove it and allow legal contact on the goalie.
"If you allowed contact, it would keep the goalie in the net more, and you would get more forechecking. And if you were able to take the goalie out of the play, obviously you would get more goals," the goalie coach said. "The only hard part is the goalie is usually standing still, so he's subject to be hit pretty good, right? It's not like you can be agile and move out of the way like a defenseman or forward."
Here's an idea: If the league wants more goals, then it should reverse the trapezoid, and thus allow the goalie to play the puck in the corner and not behind the net.
"Goalies are breaking up forechecks all the time when they stop the puck behind the net," said the goalie coach. "If you allow them to go in the corner, you'll get more goalies caught. I don't think you should be allowed to hit them, but by getting goalies out of the net,and trying to beat [the forechecker] before the puck got to the trapezoid in the corner, you're going to have so many mistakes by goalies. You would see more goals for sure."
Goalies can be sneaky, too. When they do come out and play the puck, it's common for them to set a pick to give a teammate time and space away from a forechecker.
Edmonton Oilers forward Milan Lucic is not afraid to announce his presence with authority. When he played for the Bruins, Lucic had a run-in with then-Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller on Nov. 12, 2011. Lucic and Miller were racing for a loose puck when Lucic barreled through the goalie just as Miller touched the puck.
At the time, Miller called the play "gutless." He was concussed on the play, but Lucic did not receive supplementary discipline from the league because it was considered shoulder-to-shoulder contact.
Lucic still agrees with one justification for allowing contact with goalies -- but he admits it would quickly go off the rails.
"It would lead to more offense and goals and time in the O-zone because [goalies] would think twice about getting involved with the breakout," Lucic told ESPN.com recently. "But I think it would get too messy. Guys would just take runs at the goalies to hurt them, and come playoff time that would be a huge problem."
On Dec. 16, 2016, New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was leveled behind his net by theDallas Stars' Cody Eakin, who was subsequently suspended four games. Lundqvist had to leave the game per concussion protocol, but he was able to return.
A week earlier,Montreal CanadienscenterTorrey Mitchell made contact with Rask, who had come out to play the puck along the half wall during overtime. It wasn't a vicious hit, but Rask was knocked to the ice. No penalty was called.
In general, goalies do feel like they're being protected by the officials.
"Usually you get those goalie interference calls, but there's been a couple of suspect goals that have been scored when I think that it shouldn't have been a goal," said Rask. "It's a tough call for the ref to make when it happens so quick. So you can't blame them. But it's tough to swallow."
In a March 2 game between the Rangers and Bruins, Lundqvist drew a goaltender interference penalty on the Bruins' David Backes at a critical point in the game. New York was hanging on to a 2-1 lead in the waning minutes of regulation when Backes made contact with Lundqvist at the top of his crease. Backes was whistled for a penalty with 2:22 remaining. The Rangers held on for the win.
"I obviously don't agree with [the penalty]," Backes said. "You can watch the replay. I'm going to the net, trying to avoid contact. He comes up to initiate it, and I look and the ref's arm is in the air. I sit for the next two minutes in a game where we had a ton of momentum and we're making a push at the end. Instead they get a power play and kill most of the last 2 minutes."
Lundqvist saw it another way.
"I think guys go to the net more," Lundqvist said. "They know [that] to score, you need to be there. I don't think we have that many penalties called for goaltender interference, but it's up. It's going to happen. Guys go to the net and it's not up to me to say if it's a penalty or not. I just know he hit me."
Current NBC hockey analyst and former goalie Brian Boucher played 13 seasons in the NHL. He never felt targeted and believes the officials were trying to protect the goaltenders.
"I don't recall it being barbaric or anything like that, in my day," Boucher said. "I always felt like the referees were looking out for us."
Boucher, who holds the NHL's modern record for the longest shutout streak, at 332 minutes and 1 second, while playing for the Phoenix Coyotes during the 2003-04 season, also says goalies should be subject to legal physical contact.
"I really do feel like if a goalie does wander, then he should be fair game," Boucher said. "I know I sound like I'm turning on the goalie union, but I don't think it's a bad thing. Now, if you really wanted to stop the goaltender from coming out and playing pucks, the only way to do that would be to have them be subject to the [contact] rules of a defenseman. You still can't charge a goaltender, you still can't run him from behind, but they become fair game once they leave the crease.
"As a goaltender, you would be worried about getting hit and injured, but if you do get hit and happen to fall down, you're out of the play and you're not in the net where you're supposed to be, which is where you're most valuable," Boucher continued. "It would lead to more scoring chances, and then if a goaltender decides he's not going out, you're going to have chances where the forecheck can become more sustained and that would lead to more scoring chances as well."
The league is unlikely to allow goaltenders to become fair game, however.
"I don't think we'll ever get to that point because of the fact that goaltenders are so important to their clubs," Boucher said. "If you have any injuries because a guy hit the goaltender, it could sink a team's season."
It's common for goalies to be the first players on the ice, and in some cases, the last ones off. But goalies never participate in contact drills.
"No, that's not something we've ever worked on," said the Western Conference goalie coach. "We always talk about bracing for impact if guys are driving the net, but you see [goalies] embellish contact a lot more now because of the coach's challenge."
Ideas for increasing scoring are in the discussion at the annual GM meetings this week in Boca Raton, Florida. The one issue that wasn't broached is whether players should be allowed to make legal contact with goaltenders.
"I think they should be fair game [for legal contact], but it'll never happen," Boucher said.
Should skaters be allowed to make contact with goalies in order to spark scoring?
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