By Stu Hackel
It's hard being a goalie at any level of hockey, especially in the NHL. In fact, during the Original Six era when goalies were barefaced and their equipment rudimentary, people routinely called it the toughest job in sports. The gear is immeasurably better today -- obviously, because some of it is too big -- but goaltenders still have it tough and are increasingly subject to injury. Their plight is being made all the more difficult by the incessant crease crashing that is now a common practice in the NHL.
"I ran into (former NHL referee) Bill McCreary the other day," Sabres goalie Ryan Miller remarked Thursday morning before Buffalo's game in Toronto (video), and he just said if (the crease) was an alligator pit, they'd stop (before they enter it). But it's not; it's where you go to score goals...These guys have the ability to stop on a dime, turn, cut, take a hit. Just a little more attention has to be paid and the only way to (make them) pay attention is if you penalize them."
Miller certainly recognizes the whole issue. "It's hard to score goals when teams are locking things down and guys are going to go all the way to bring pucks to the net," he said. "It's part of the game on one hand. But another part of the game is knowing what to do with the puck when you get to the front of the net." And Miller thinks too many players are arriving at his and other goalies' doorsteps without any plans whatsoever.
"I think guys are just trying to cause havoc and it's a situation we'll have to pay some attention to as a group with the NHLPA and the league and see what's going on." Miller is a member of the NHL-NHLPA Competition Committee that helps set the league's rules.
"It's a little bit scary when you're standing still and a guy is coming full speed, well, usually two or three guys coming full speed," Miller added. "There's not much you can do but hold your ground and keep the puck out and see what happens from there.
"It's a league thing." he continued. "It's a trend that's going on. I don't think it's just me."
Miller pointed to a couple of incidents just this week, such as the Jets' Evander Kane barreling into the Islanders' Al Montoya on this play, which gave the goalie a concussion and knocked him out of the game.
Miller also cited the hot-blooded Vancouver-Detroit game on Wednesday, in which Jannik Hansen of the Canucks collided with Red Wings netminder Jimmy Howard on this play, which resulted in a goal that should not have counted:
To be fair to the Canucks, Hansen didn't deserve a penalty -- as even the Red Wings acknowledge -- because he lost an edge; but the play should have been blown dead right there and Alex Edler's follow-up shot should have been waved off.
As Howard said afterward, “I'm just sick and tired of getting run over. It's every single game.”
While NHL GM's took a stand on goalie protection at their November meeting, that sentiment hasn't entirely filtered down to the ice. As with all sorts of contact, when a goalie goes flying, the crowd gets excited. But that's no reason to keep these guys at risk. We pointed out in November that bad trends seep into the game in insidious ways and become accepted. It's likely going to require more action on the part of the league to get this problem under control.
Speaking on Ottawa's Team 1200 Three Guys On The Radio program Friday morning (audio), NBC and Sports Illustrated's Pierre McGuire suggested that the league revert to the old method of anchoring the nets, with the posts slipping over metal pipes implanted in the ice. "We'll see how brave guys are going to the net with the fear of career-ending knee injuries or broken legs...I don't want to see guys injured, but I can't think of anything else."
I spoke to Pierre not long afterward and we agreed that anchoring the posts will never happen and shouldn't. The NHL has taken steps during the past year to make the rink safer and this would be a step in the other direction. I suggested instead that the league should make this infraction a double minor, perhaps that's the way to go.
Miller's solution -- that the league must keep calling penalties -- is correct. But like other things the league does to discourage particular acts on the ice, the current two-minute minor is not enough of a deterrent. If stepped-up use of the minor penalty doesn't work, maybe the GMs and players should consider imposing a double minor.
Either that, or remove the goalie and put live alligators in front of the net.