Sunday, June 8, 2008

For Crease Sakes - not again!



I received an email while I was away from a reader asking me to comment on the Penguins / Red Wings game 5. Specifically the two goalie interference calls on Detroit. I certainly wanted to write about it at the time and even though the finals are over, I don't think it's too late to discuss the issue. The crease area was a hot topic all through the playoffs and might be again going into next season as well if the league doesn't address the matter.

Attention was first drawn to the issue with Sean Avery's antics in front of Marty Brodeur. Surprisingly, veteran forward Brendan Shanahan continued it versus the Penguins. I'm sure everyone has seen the plays. That is clearly goaltender interference and it's also something most players stop doing when they are ten years old. Meanwhile, in the west, some very big bodies were making themselves at home in the crease because under the post lockout rules, the D man can't move a forward out with constant cross checks like they used too. What we're talking about here though falls into a third category; players driving the net with the puck having incidental contact with the goaltenders on the play.

The emailer sent me a link to Mike Babcock's comments on the matter at TSN.ca. I must say I agree with the coach completely. The NHL claims to be desperate for goals, desperate for more exciting plays. Going as far as implementing the controversial shoot out to decide games because according to Mr. Bettman, Americans fans need to have a winner and a double digit score. (That's just my interpretation of his past comments, not a direct quote.)

One of the best games of perhaps the past fifteen years happened this spring. Ottawa defeated Montreal 2-1 in a wide open, end to end, hit filled game. Hockey fans don't necessarily need lots of goals but they do want good hockey action. Look at the fans in Dallas during the playoffs. Standing for the entire game cheering on their usually defensive minded team.

So let's backtrack for a moment. To address this issue I visited NHL.com/rules. While there I watched a video by Colin Campbell and Director of Officiating Stephen Walkom on "rule enforcement for the 07-08 season". Some interesting things were forgotten by the referees this year. Remember hurry up face offs? The puck will be dropped with or without you if your line change isn't fast enough...anyways. Eventually it gets to goaltender interference.

"Deliberate contact with the goalies inside or outside the crease, a penalty will be called if observed by a referee. A goalie must be able to do his job."

Sounds good right? Well the examples they show are of a forward barreling in on the goalie, flipping the puck - not shooting - into the goalies pads or the crest of his sweater from close range, and then proceeding to bowl over the goalie, pushing puck and goaltender over the line and in the net. If the Cleary play was really a penalty in the leagues opinion, I may well be done watching NHL hockey. We all survived the clutch and grab of the 1990's, the water skiing hook on a player all the way through the neutral zone, one hook after another. Now you want to take away the drive to the net? The wide open rushes blowing past a slow D man?

Pierre Mcguire - TSN during That's Hockey after game 5, "...we always tell our kids and players, drive the net, make something happen..."

Well folks, don't do it in Mr. Bettman's league. You might score...By the way Mr. Walkom...What other league makes rule changes part way through a playoff series? Or makes the announcement you will be looking more closely for obstruction or interference part way through a series? How can a referee know when to blow the whistle when his boss is not even sure? Is it a penalty November 1st? Then it's a penalty on May 31st.

Every summer the league, players, general managers and officials sit in on a competition committee to examine the rules that are in place and how they have been enforced. Why are things getting more confused and muddied? Is it like politics? As soon as you strike a committee everyone immediately defends his own interests and a compromise can't be reached? Perhaps we should stop trying to fix the game before we kill it.

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