These goals leave us feeling empty

GARY LOEWEN

, Last Updated: 7:43 AM ET

Belated congratulations to the Maple Leafs' Niklas Hagman for hitting an empty net from centre ice with three seconds to play against the Boston Bruins, then revelling in the warm embrace of his linemates.

Big deal.

Empty-net goals are for wimps -- at least they are when they come in the waning seconds with the outcome of the game no longer in doubt.

There is a time and a place for empty-netters but, in the case of the Hagman goal and many others, it's gratuitous point-grabbing. In Hagman's case, it doubled his goal output for the season.

Former NHLer Al Iafrate used to speak scornfully about players who grabbed points with the opposing goalie out for an extra attacker. Faced with a Hagman-like situation, he simply would dump the puck into the corner.

A couple ideas:

The goal against isn't charged to the goalie, it's charged against the team. So why credit goals and assists for scoring into open nets? Simply award a team goal.

On the other hand, the NHL could use a fresh gimmick now that we've all become accustomed to the shootout. To challenge the shooter, put a cardboard cutout into the net after the real goalie vacates.

Or hang a cow bell from the crossbar. Ring it off the dinger and collect a goal!

Further, what is more important, Hagman's freebie, which counts, or Drew Stafford's three shootout goals for the Buffalo Sabres? That's not to advocate having shootout goals become real goals.

Let's "out" a few players who thrive when the other net is empty:

The Montreal Canadiens' Steve Begin has one point this season, an empty-net goal.

The Canadiens' Tomas Plekanec, one goal, an empty netter.

Last season (a total of 215 empty-netters):

Evgeni Malkin five EN out of 47, Ilya Kovalchuk five EN out of 52, Chuck Kobasew four EN out of 22, Boyd Gordon three EN out of seven, Kris Draper three EN out of nine, Martin Gelinas three EN out of nine, Steve Ott three EN out of 11, Sean O'Donnell two EN out of two

GRAPES' GRIPE

Don Cherry, in his continuing distaste for Ron Wilson's methods, zinged the Leafs coach on Hockey Night in Canada.

Asked about Wilson's goaltending switch prior to a shootout, bringing in a cold Curtis Joseph for Vesa Toskala, Cherry said: "I think the coach wanted to look like a genius."

RAPTORS ACHING

Calgary Flames' Jarome Iginla scores an empty-net goal as Nashville Predators' defenceman Ryan Suter slams into the post Thursday. Gary Loewen argues these goals are cheap.


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