Too many goalies are being run over in their crease

AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:54 AM ET

When the National Hockey League's general managers meet in Nevada in a couple of weeks, the primary issue will be the protection of goaltenders.

This is a recurrent problem in the NHL, one that was solved in the 1990s with the use of video replay -- but the solution almost destroyed the game.

After the 1999 Stanley Cup debacle, when Brett Hull scored the winning goal on a play that a number of times during the course of the season had been ruled illegal, the in-the-crease video replay was summarily abandoned.

Instead, a policy of no-harm, no-foul was introduced. It worked fairly well until this season when a host of other anti-restraint rules made it easier for forwards to crash the crease. And they have been doing so with impunity.

It's a situation the league cannot allow to continue. Goalies are the most important players on any team and often the most highly paid.

To allow them to be sitting ducks for minimum-wage plumbers whose primary purpose on the ice is to hurt people, makes no sense whatsoever.

But no one wants the return of the video rule which, after an apparent goal had been scored, left fans wondering whether they should cheer or wait for the video replay.

Most GMs feel the answer is to be found in allowing the defencemen more leeway in their treatment of encroaching forwards.

But that presents problems too. It means that different standards will be applied in different parts of the rink.

Referees could be told to crack down on players who contact goalies, but that requires a series of judgment calls. Was the player pushed? If so, was he pushed hard enough to warrant his response? Could the pushed player have avoided contact anyway? Did the goalie embellish it?

And anyway, if a plumber breaks a goalie's leg, does a two-minute penalty really matter?

Many of the new rules are successful because the need for interpretation has been taken away. A stick on the elbow is now a hook. It's black and white. Before, each referee had a different level of tugging that he would allow.

In international hockey, there is a compromise rule regarding goaltender interference. If a player steps in the opposition crease, play stops and a faceoff ensues, but there is no penalty. On contact, however, a goaltender interference penalty can be assessed.

It's a tricky issue and one that will receive the GMs' full attention in the near future.

NOTHING CHANGED

If one of the party leaders in the current election campaign promised to win one-third of the available seats, and in fact won only one seat, what would be the response?

He would be ridiculed and replaced.

Yet, because one hockey player is found to have ingested a banned substance nine months ago, there are those who somehow see this as giving credibility to Dick Pound's statement that one-third of NHL players use performance-enhancing substances.

Pound, the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, should suffer the fate of the hypothetical party leader and be ridiculed and replaced, not exonerated.

First of all, when Bryan Berard took the substance that got him suspended from international hockey, the NHL was not in operation. There was no commitment to the 2006 Olympics. Therefore, Berard was, in effect, a private citizen with no employer. He is allowed to ingest any legal substance he wants -- which is exactly what he did.

Secondly, even if the NHL had been operating, it had no relevant restrictions in place at that time.

It was not until long after Berard stopped using the supplement that the league instituted its prohibitions.

Since that time, Berard has been tested twice and was found to be clean on both occasions.

No matter what unrealistic spin some hockey detractors want to put upon the Berard revelation, Pound made an irresponsible and inaccurate statement. He should retract it and resign.

CHECK THE NUMBERS

A recent column speculated that from an economic point of view, there was no need to shut down the league for a year.

When asked about that opinion, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has taken to referring to it as an example of "voodoo economics."

The simple facts are these: The average salary for the 2005-06 season is going to be approximately $1.6 million US.

Next year, it will be higher.

In December 2004, the players proposed a settlement that would have imposed an average salary of $1.3 million.

Those are simple, unassailable numbers. No juggling. No interpretation. Straight facts.

The "voodoo economics" come from those who evade a response to those numbers and prattle on about owners' revenue sharing, allocated percentages of costs, adjusted salary caps, and so on.

It's a neat dodge to criticize the messenger and ignore the message.

MAKING IT CLEAR

Prior to the season, Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo turned down a five-year, $25-million contract offer.

Last weekend, he turned down a five-year $30-million offer, explaining that he didn't want to bind himself to a team that wasn't committed to winning.

But by midweek, he felt the need to issue a clarification.

Really, there should have been no need to do so.

While some observers decided that he was saying he had no interest in Florida, that was not the case. He was saying that he had no intention of playing for a team owned by a man who is more interested in a share of his colleagues' revenue than a Stanley Cup bonus.

When the governors' discussions got heated during their recent meeting near Phoenix, one of their targets was Panthers owner Alan Cohen who is perceived as one of the gubernatorial welfare bums.

Luongo's stance is not unreasonable. He and his colleagues in the NHL Players' Association willingly absorbed a serious economic hit and, although there were certain self-serving reasons, they also had some altruistic motives. They were concerned about the well-being of the game, not the well-being of the game's investors.

If Luongo can set an example and put pressure on owners to live up to the intent of the collective bargaining agreement and its player-owner "partnership," more power to him.

TURIN UPDATE

The Olympic management team continues to scout defencemen in case there is a need for injury replacements, but does not have a hard-and-fast list. Since changes can be made right up to the opening faceoff, there is no need to limit the choices.

Soon, the alternate captains will be announced. You can be sure that Jarome Iginla will get one, but since he is expected to be on the same line as captain Joe Sakic, there probably will be four others. Chris Pronger, Adam Foote, Rob Blake and Vincent Lecavalier are the most likely choices.


Videos

Photos