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Fixing cracks in NHL

The Devils’ Martin Brodeur, behind the Senators’ Colin Greening and teammate Henrik Tallinder, is one of the better puck-handling goalies in the league, but current rules diminish this advantage.

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The Devils’ Martin Brodeur, behind the Senators’ Colin Greening and teammate Henrik Tallinder, is one of the better puck-handling goalies in the league, but current rules diminish this advantage.

Sunday is "Hockey Day in America" as we celebrate all that is great about the sport. But, today, we need to fix a few things with hockey before we can celebrate it. So consider today "Fixing Hockey Day in America." Five things we would tinker with to make the National Hockey League even better:

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Go after the thugs

One of the NHL's most pressing problems these days is hits to the head. Concussions have become an all-too-familiar occurrence, and it's apparent the league needs to step in because players simply aren't showing enough respect for each other. Unfortunately, the league blew a golden opportunity to send a strong message in the wake of the embarrassing shenanigans that took place two weeks ago when a couple of Islanders thugs went after the Penguins.

It was a perfect storm for the league because we're talking about two insignificant players on a team that is insignificant this season.

Matt Martin, who had played 45 games this season with two goals and 103 penalty minutes, tried to sucker-punch a Penguins player, and the league is fortunate it didn't result in another Todd Bertuzzi-Steve Moore situation. (Bertuzzi ended Moore's career with a sucker-punch to the back of the head seven years ago.) New York's Trevor Gillies targeted another Penguins player and gave him a concussion with a flying elbow to the head. Gillies, by the way, is 31 years old and has played 47 games in the NHL with two points and 205 penalty minutes. He's the definition of a goon, with no apparent skills other than the ability to fight on skates. Martin was suspended for four games, while Gillies got a nine-game sentence.

For the good of the game, for the good of the game's future and reputation, the NHL should have handed down suspensions that grabbed the attention of the entire league: 25 games.

Removing two skill-less players would not have hurt the Islanders' ability to compete and yet it would have fired a warning shot over the head of every NHL player. It also would have shown that the league has moved out of the dark ages and no longer tolerates the incidents that cause Slap Shot-type brawls and add to the general population's opinion that hockey is nothing but a violent, bloody punch line to a joke.

Make the trade deadline relevant again

The NHL's salary cap was put in place in 2005. In theory, it has given small-market teams the same ability to win as big-market teams. But one of the drawbacks of the cap? It has taken the starch out of the trade deadline. One of the best days of the hockey season has been watered down because teams often can't take on too much salary at the deadline for fear of going over the cap. Gone are the days of blockbuster trades, and that's too bad because blockbusters excite the fans and create headlines.

Here's a thought: lift the salary cap restrictions for the final two months of the season. Or, allow the salary cap to increase for the final couple of months. This would allow teams within reach of the Stanley Cup to trade off draft picks and/or prospects for high-priced veteran stars. These deals also benefit bottom-feeding teams selling off major parts by allowing them to parlay their assets into building blocks for the future. Both parties win, and we all get to sit back and enjoy the blockbuster deals.

Get rid of the shootout

When the NHL introduced the shootout in 2005, it seemed like a good idea. It meant that every game produced a winner and loser, and that meant paying customers would not leave games unfulfilled with ties. Yet the loser would still get a well-earned point.

While the actual shootout itself still excites most fans, it does seem like an unfair way to decide a hockey game, kind of like having a free-throw shooting contest to decide an NBA game or a home run derby to settle a major-league game. There's talk of revamping the overtime rules so that if a game remains tied after the five-minute, four-on-four overtime session, the teams would continue playing three-on-three. With so much open ice, a team is going to score sooner rather than later. That seems like a better way to decide a hockey game than a shooting contest.

Adopt no-touch icing

The way icing works now is a player has to touch the puck to invoke the icing rule. The NHL is one of the few hockey leagues in the world that requires players to touch the puck for icing. In practically every other league, icing is called as soon as the puck crosses the end line.

On rare occasions in the NHL, the other team wins the race for the puck and negates the icing. But there are many more occasions when opposing players engage in a full sprint for a puck that is often next to the boards, putting both players at risk for serious injury. It's like having the finish line of the Daytona 500 being a brick wall. Over the years, there have been countless gruesome injuries, including incidents where players have snapped a leg in half, because they've slammed into the boards in such a race.

As horrifying as it sounds, it doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility that a player eventually will go headfirst into the boards and suffer paralysis or even death.

The league needs to go to no-touch icing. Right now.

Allow goalies to play the puck anywhere

After the 2004-05 lockout, the NHL introduced a trapezoid behind the goal, making it illegal for goalies to touch the puck in the corners. The rule was put in place to keep goalies from collecting dump-ins and shooting pucks out of danger. Theoretically, the rule was supposed to create more offense. But what the rule did was penalize goalies (specifically, New Jersey's Martin Brodeur) who are proficient at handling the puck. Does it make sense to penalize players for developing their game and being too good at something? That's like telling Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols he isn't allowed to swing at a 3-and-0 pitch because he might hit a homer.

Taking the trapezoid out and allowing goalies to handle the puck anywhere not only would be the fair thing to do, but it would improve safety. In today's NHL, defensemen rushing back into their own zone to retrieve a puck have become targets for hard-charging forecheckers. The defensemen have become, well, defenseless. Giving the goalie a chance to move the puck would add protection to the defensemen.

If you don't want the other team's goalie playing the puck, learn to dump it in properly so he can't play it. And, a good puck-moving goalie can create offense in the other direction.

Allow goalies to play the puck anywhere

After the 2004-05 lockout, the NHL introduced a trapezoid behind the goal, making it illegal for goalies to touch the puck in the corners. The rule was put in place to keep goalies from collecting dump-ins and shooting pucks out of danger. Theoretically, the rule was supposed to create more offense. But what the rule did was penalize goalies (specifically, New Jersey's Martin Brodeur) who are proficient at handling the puck. Does it make sense to penalize players for developing their game and being too good at something? That's like telling Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols he isn't allowed to swing at a 3-and-0 pitch because he might hit a homer.

Taking the trapezoid out and allowing goalies to handle the puck anywhere not only would be the fair thing to do, but it would improve safety. In today's NHL, defensemen rushing back into their own zone to retrieve a puck have become targets for hard-charging forecheckers. The defensemen have become, well, defenseless. Giving the goalie a chance to move the puck would add protection to the defensemen.

If you don't want the other team's goalie playing the puck, learn to dump it in properly so he can't play it. And, a good puck-moving goalie can create offense in the other direction.

Fixing cracks in NHL 02/18/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 18, 2011 10:33pm]
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