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The NHL doesn’t need to further coddle, overprotect its goalies

NFL quarterbacks and NHL goaltenders share several traits — elephantine contracts and impressive dental preservation, for example — but chief among them is the fact that they're less professional athletes than considerable investments.

In case of an injury to a starter, there's usually a capable backup that's able to lead the team; but the drop in talent and the decline in success is considerable. Ask the Colts.

Jhonas Enroth(notes) is a damn fine goaltender for the Buffalo Sabres. He's outplayed Ryan Miller(notes) this season. He's also appeared in one more Stanley Cup Playoff game than Ryan Nugent-Hopkins(notes) has; which is to say that the Sabres need Ryan Miller healthy when it counts, or else the entire scope of their season changes.

For those that felt Milan Lucic(notes) was a thuggish miscreant for plowing over Miller on Saturday night, that's likely what went through your mind: Franchise goalie, not expecting the hit nor equipped to receive it, tumbling to the ice and now suffering from (another) concussion, according to the team.

At the NHL GM meetings in Toronto, there was discussion about how to better protect the investment. If it leads to more coddling of goaltenders, it's a mistake.

Goalies are not currently "fair game," according to Rule 42.1 Charging:

A goalkeeper is not "fair game" just because he is outside the goal crease area. The appropriate penalty should be assessed in every case where an opposing player makes unnecessary contact with a goalkeeper. However, incidental contact, at the discretion of the Referee, will be permitted when the goalkeeper is in the act of playing the puck outside his goal crease provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact.

And according to 69.4 Interference On The Goaltender:

If an attacking player initiates any contact with a goalkeeper, other than incidental contact, while the goalkeeper is outside his goal crease, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.

A goalkeeper is not "fair game" just because he is outside the goal crease. The appropriate penalty should be assessed in every case where an attacking player makes unnecessary contact with the goalkeeper. However, incidental contact will be permitted when the goalkeeper is in the act of playing the puck outside his goal crease provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such unnecessary contact.

Daniel Wagner of Backhand Shelf notes that many believe goalies are "fair game" when they leave the crease, which isn't the case. Lucic received a penalty, probably deserved a misconduct for being petulant, but the NHL was correct in giving him nothing more. Check out Barstool Sports for more on that.

This is because — difficult as this is to admit — the goalie/investment for the Buffalo Sabres put himself in harm's way. Hockey Hall of Fame writer Kevin Paul Dupont of the Boston Globe said on Twitter today:

"Note to NHL GMs: to protect goalies, have them play their position, stay in net, let skaters play puck. Wasting time on this."

It's not just Bruins writers seeing the incident in that light. Justin from The Goalie Guild, a blog that covers goaltending issues from the keeper's perspective, wrote:

An important lesson comes from this incident! Goaltenders must learn to focus on controlling what they can control, and eliminating decisions that put them in a position to lack control of the situation. By going out to play that puck, regardless of right or wrong, Miller put himself in a position where he couldn't control the circumstances.

It's kind of like riding a motorcycle. If it's my bike, and I get to drive, and I get to wear my helmet, I'm down to cruise around Castle Rock. But if my buddy rides up to my front door, and I don't have my helmet with me, I think twice. As much as I love to ride, I'm not going out, because I don't have the same trust in the driver and I don't have control of the bike.

Again, I am not faulting Miller for his decision. It was a natural instinct, a play where he read and reacted accordingly. It's so easy to say that, if Miller stays in his crease, he can control the situation by relying on his vision and technique to make the save. Thus he is not in a prone position to get hurt, and things happen naturally.

That said, Justin is a goalie, and as such believes that its "crucial for the NHL to adjust the literature and language found in the rulebook so that goaltenders are protected," not only for the Lucic/Miller plays but for the bumps and interference and Gionta-on-Riemer stuff near the crease.

So now the NHL general managers up in Toronto, or at least those with franchise goalies, are making noise about amending the rulebook:

"Maybe we don't have the proper wording in the rules right now, but we can't change the rules today," Poile said. "We can only change the rules in March. I think maybe (this is) an area that we should look at, that I would like to look at in March." — David Poile of the Nashville Predators, who gave Pekka Rinne(notes) a seven year contract.

"Goaltenders don't know how to take a hit or hit, that's not part of their game. They are there to stop the puck," Shero said. "They can go outside the crease to play the puck but they are not fair game. We have to make sure we continue to protect these guys. They are important pieces to the puzzle. If you lose a goaltender long term, it's really hard to recover from that." — Ray Shero of the Pittsburgh Penguins, whose goalie is on a 7-year contact.

Shero himself made the connection between goaltenders and NFL quarterbacks, which begs the question: What else should the NHL do?

Any contact with a goaltender when he's outside the crease is going to earn a call, even as he's acting as a sixth skater. I say this as a Marty Brodeur fan: If the Devils franchise goalie wanted to come out and play the puck to help strangle the other team in the trap, then he should be treated as a third defenseman. But instead of making him fair game, the NHL drew a trapezoid. Wow, really hanging the goalies out to dry there, eh?

As for goalies that occasionally take a bump inside their crease … well, welcome to hockey, Brian Burke tells the Toronto Sun:

"We need players to drive the net. When James got hurt, we didn't feel it was worth a suspension and I still feel that way. I don't think it was an accident, but we want players to crowd the net and James was outside the paint when he got bumped."

Burke also said it's an isolated incident between Lucic and Miller, which is true. Do we really want to over-legislate, and overcompensate, for one position on the ice? Especially when that one position should Hextall-up and protect itself instead (as Miller attempted to, by the way)?

There's no need to amend the rulebook. Especially when goalies are already coddled. We all bitch and moan when certain players — high-scorers, popular veterans — are disciplined with a different rulebook from the rest. D

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