- E.J. Hradek, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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Here's a message from the NHL to all you aspiring young goaltenders: Stop practicing your stick-handling.
In the NHL's continuing effort to dumb-down its game, the league's GMs -- with the blessing of Commissioner Gary Bettman -- are attempting to pass a new rule that would prohibit goalies from handling the puck behind the net.
This suggestion, which if adopted should be called "The Martin Brodeur Rule," was one of a number of possible rule changes to come out of the GMs meetings in Las Vegas. In the coming months, the league will pour over the GMs' suggestions before bringing them to this summer's Board of Governors meeting for final approval.
Hopefully, in the interim, someone will come to his or her senses.
The idea to limit the goaltender's movement was spearheaded by Wings GM Ken Holland, a minor-league goalie during his playing days. Holland and several of his colleagues feel the new rule would encourage more forechecking, thus creating more scoring chances.
While I'm usually willing to give anything a chance, this is just plain ridiculous. What's next? Should we make the goalies play without a stick?
A handful of goaltenders -- most notably, Brodeur -- have honed their ability to handle the puck. By my count, there are no more than five or six goalies (Marty Turco, Ed Belfour, Rick DiPietro, Chris Osgood and Fred Brathwaite come to mind) that can really help a team with their puckmoving skills. And, if you watch the games, you know even they aren't a sure thing every time they stray from their cage.
This suggested change speaks to something else, though. In most sports, this kind of evolutionary excellence is embraced. In the backward world of the NHL, it isn't.
When a goalie leaves his crease to play the puck, he's taking a chance. He's taking a big chance. If he loses the puck, it could easily end up in his net. Just ask young Marc-Andre Fleury, whose wayward clearing attempt cost Team Canada a gold medal at the World Junior Championships last month in Finland.
And you have to wonder about the motivation of Holland and some of his peers. Would any of them, if they had a goalie like Brodeur on their roster, push for such a change? I don't think so.
If the GMs want to create more offense, they don't have to glue the goalkeepers to the crease and prohibit them from using their unique skills. Rather, they could suggest (or demand) that the on-ice officials be allowed to enforce the rules as they are written in the Rule Book.
In today's game, the puckcarrier can't take two strides without being hooked, slashed or held by an opponent. Those violations, unless extreme, are almost never called. If they were, there would be an opportunity for more creativity. The skilled players would have a chance to make plays, instead of being repeatedly hacked into the ice.
The GMs also suggested that the tag-up offside rule be put back into effect. Bettman said, "The sense in the room is that the tag-up offsides will lead to less whistles." Yeah, less whistles, but will it lead to a better quality of play? I doubt it. Under that rule, teams can repeatedly hammer the puck into the offensive zone without attempting to make an accurate pass. Where's the skill in that?
While I like the idea to reduce the goalie pads from 12 inches to 10 inches in width and moving the net back to 10 feet from the boards (it's currently 13 feet), it's scary to think that the league's GMs would come up with these other silly suggestions. It's especially scary when you realize they could solve many of their problems if they just consulted their own Rule Book instead of constantly trying to change it.
Around the Hrinks
Dominik Hasek's days in Detroit are over. On Tuesday, Hasek announced that he was out for the season due to a lingering groin injury. At the same time, he says he's not retiring and he'll be back to play next season (if there is a season). Well, after creating one problem after another for the Wings since coming out of retirement during the summer, Hasek will have to go elsewhere if he's going to continue his career. Hockeytown sources say GM Holland has seen enough of Hasek, who stunned the club with his latest decision. The 39-year-old stopper, who has a base salary of $6 million, played in just 14 games this season. Hasek's contract was uninsured, but Holland intimated to local reporters that the club might get some relief on his deal. Translated, that means one of two things -- either Hasek has agreed to a settlement on the remainder of his deal or the Wings will seek legal means to get a refund. Either way, Hasek is done in Detroit.
The rhetoric between Bettman and NHLPA boss Bob Goodenow heated up on Saturday in St. Paul. Without saying the words, each side called the other a liar. We can expect these eruptions from time to time in the coming months. Right now, it's a battle for the hearts and minds of the fans. That battle is being fought especially hard at the league office, where some high-profile, high-priced spin doctors have been consulting for Bettman and Co. for more than a year. Why else do you think the league has been running their Fan of the Year-type promotions in recent seasons? In the end, if the league really wants to gain the trust of the fans (and the union), they'll allow an independent audit of each club's financial records. Without such an audit, there is plenty of room for doubt when it comes to the bookkeeping of the individual clubs. And the teams have nothing to hide, right?
Small forwards, even those with 30-goal seasons on their resumes, don't have much market value, do they? You would think that 23-year-old Mike Comrie would attract more than an aging, overpriced goalie, a bottom-six forward and a prospect. But that's all the Coyotes had to give up to get Comrie, who netted 33 goals during the 2001-02 season. Two months earlier, the Oilers could get only a prospect and a draft pick from the Flyers for Comrie. It seems that teams are unwilling to give up too much to get an undersized forward, even a skilled one like Comrie.
A proposed NHL rule prohibiting a goalie from playing a puck behind the net doesn't make sense.