Getty ImagesBased on their rules proposals and the causes they championed during their meetings in lovely Boca Raton, the NHL's general managers like forechecking. A lot. They'd like to see more of it, too.
No, no, no … not forechecking that's too fast, which is why long stretch passes that don't allow defenses to prepare to obstruct might be minimized with the ringette line. Not forechecking that results in injurious collisions on the end boards on icing calls, which is why hybrid icing may finally become law. They want to see forechecking that pressures the puck, causes turnovers and that's the general antithesis of the passive 1-3-1 defense propagated by coaches like Guy Boucher of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The aforementioned ringette line could help that happen, too.
Allowing goaltenders to freely play the puck without restriction, acting as a third defenseman, does not encourage forechecking. It's the antidote for it. So with the NHL GMs noodling through ways to make life more difficult for teams in their defensive zones, they sure as hell weren't going to unshackle goalies from their trapezoidial prison cell.
But is there an alternative the NHL isn't considering?
Via NHL.com, Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke said there was no traction for removing the trapezoid:
"I think it's a sense that the game is in great shape right now," Burke said. "The product we have put on the ice is the best product we have put on the ice in terms of speed. I think it's a great broadcast product. And I think there is a strong sense that this thing is working right now, let's leave it alone and see where it goes."
That said … icing's working pretty well right now, too, but the GMs still showed a desire to change the rules and find a compromise between the current model and no-touch. That's because the icing issue is framed as one of player safety.
So is the trapezoid issue, mind you: Allowing goalies to play the puck means fewer plays on which a defensemen is rendered defenseless against an onrushing forechecker, attempt to play the puck and protect themselves while contorting into an Auntie Anne's pretzel along the end boards.
But hybrid icing must have better publicists: The trapezoid is rarely discussed as part of the player safety debate; it's a way to increase offense and lessen the impact of goalies on the game. (It's a hard PR campaign to wage when "TRAP" is an integral part of the name.)
There wasn't enough traction for the trapezoid's removal, but there is growing sentiment that it should be reconsidered.
Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis thinks it's "useless," adding:
"The game is played at such a high pace now I don't think goalies have a chance to go out to the corner to get the puck. If they do they risk getting checked and so I don't think the trapezoid is that big a deal."
San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson, via ESPN:
"More and more people I think are listening to and leaning towards considering to do something with [the trapezoid],'' said Sharks GM Doug Wilson, an original proponent of taking it out. "We're not there yet. It was a very open, healthy discussion understanding the ramifications adjusting one part of the rules package that we voted in. It was healthy."
But there was not enough support to have a recommendation. "Our group was split on it," said Wilson. "My personal belief is I'm not a fan of the trapezoid. I've always been biased towards defensemen anyways ... there's a lot of different nuances of rules; when you adjust something you can have other impacts."
Interesting word there: "adjust." This would seem like an all-or-nothing issue: Either there's a convex quadrilateral behind the crease or there isn't.
But what if instead of killing the trapezoid we just … maim it.
Former NHL referee Kerry Fraser, on his TSN blog, makes the case that the trapezoid should simply be bigger than it is:
"Restricting the goalkeeper's ability to play the puck outside of the trapezoid can create additional offense through puck possession gained on the fore-check. Wandering goalies can also create the potential for additional offense when they mishandle the puck.
"I don't believe goalkeepers that develop their puck handling skills should be penalized to the degree that the current trapezoid encumbers them. I propose a compromise. Extend the markings of the trapezoid an additional three feet (3') from the outside of each goal crease to result in a distance of eight feet (8') versus the current five feet (5'). The additional space will still keep the goalkeepers out of the corners but allow for the decision to wander and demonstrate their specialized puck-handling skills in a more expanded area."
Question is, would they even take advantage of it?
Back in the NHL Research and Development Camp last summer, NHL Dept. of Player Safety guru Brendan Shanahan said that the speed of the game and lack of obstruction meant that goalies couldn't do what Marty Brodeur did during the trap years:
"We took out the trapezoid rule and yet the goalies still had no time to come out and play the puck," Shanahan said Wednesday afternoon. "I think the idea of goaltenders coming out and having all day to set the puck up, tee it up are gone simply because of the lack of the defenseman's ability to hold up the forecheckers now and clutch and grab through the neutral zone. So even though we said to the goalies go play the puck, they had no time."
As Shanahan and Mike Gillis both said, goalies aren't going to be as adventurous because the forecheck is so aggressive — and could be made even more so with further rules changes. But that doesn't mean the trapezoid should remain, or remain unaltered. In fact, as Gillis said, it renders it pointless.
Again: Allowing goalies to "demonstrate their specialized puck-handling skills" isn't a campaign for which many will sign up. It conjures visions of Brodeur joining Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer as a de facto defenseman, setting a trap for the rest of the National Hockey League.
If it's ever going to be eliminated, it needs to be framed as a factor in player safety and/or as a relic from a time before obstruction was considerably lessened.
The notion that a player's abilities or movement should be restricted on the ice violates the spirit of hockey. If the trapezoid is now immaterial and a hindrance to greater player safety, then why keep it?