TORONTO – The next player to hammer a goaltender outside of his crease isn’t likely to get off as easily as Milan Lucic.
A discussion among the league’s 30 general managers Tuesday produced a strong consensus that goalies need to be better protected—even when they stray from their own goal to play the puck. That’s exactly what Buffalo’s Ryan Miller was doing on Saturday night when he suffered a concussion after taking a hit from Lucic.
The Sabres were outraged that the only punishment given to the Boston Bruins forward on the play was a two-minute minor for charging. But Buffalo GM Darcy Regier left Tuesday’s meeting believing that the next offender would be dealt with more harshly.
“Based on our conversations in the room, I personally believe (he) would be,” said Regier.
NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan spoke with Lucic on Monday but decided against suspending him because he didn’t feel that he had the latitude under the current rules to do it. The Bruins forward claimed not to have run into Miller on purpose.
After learning Tuesday that roughly two-thirds of GMs would have preferred to see a suspension in the case, Shanahan acknowledged that his mandate had been altered.
“I think there’s certainly a very heightened sensitivity to the goalies and the future of all the goalies in this league,” he said. “Certainly they’re not fair game. I think that players have to understand that. The general managers expressed to me the importance of all the players on the ice but also the extreme importance of the goaltender in that position.
“So I do think that’s something as a message to the players around the league, if anybody does think that it’s a tactic and a tactic that is a smart gamble on their part, it won’t be.”
The former NHL star has been busy since replacing Colin Campbell in the off-season and used Tuesday’s meeting as a chance to have an open discussion about some of his decisions so far. Among the controversial plays he highlighted during a video presentation was the hit by Rangers forward Wojtek Wolski on Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson that went unpunished.
There were no calls for Shanahan to ease off on the tough standard he’s established while suspending 14 players to date.
“I think overall Brendan’s done a real good job,” said Flyers GM Paul Holmgren. “I don’t sense any problem there.”
Among the other issues discussed was the 1-3-1 neutral zone trap that saw a game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning literally come to a standstill last week. The Flyers essentially refused to skate the puck out of their zone while the Lightning passively sat back in what was still a 0-0 game.
The GMs agreed that it’s not something they liked to see, but aren’t currently planning to alter the rulebook in an effort to legislate it out of the game.
“It hasn’t happened very often,” said Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, who has vehemently defended coach Guy Boucher’s system. “Virtually every team in the league plays pretty similar. I think it’s a byproduct of the way the rules are now—coaches figure out ways to play and ways to be successful with the personnel they have.
“If incidents like that happen occur more regularly, we have to obviously look at altering the rules once again. But Tampa Bay plays virtually the same way every other team in the league does.”
Also on the agenda was a brief update on realignment, but that hot-button issue won’t be sorted out until the board of governors meeting in California next month.
In the meantime, players have been warned that goalies are essentially being given the same latitude as a quarterback in the NFL. Essentially, they aren’t to be touched.
“This is the first time this has happened in a while, where a goalie has kind of got run over outside the crease,” said Penguins GM Ray Shero. “Usually it’s in and around the crease, or playing the puck, and there’s incidental contact. I think guys are looking at it saying `Geez, OK, if we let this go on what are we doing?'”
And even though change is coming too late for Regier and the Sabres, he still thinks it’s a positive step that it came at all. He’ll feel better knowing that Miller should be better protected when he returns to action.
“It’s not just my feelings, it’s the feelings of my counterparts,” said Regier. “When you look at the position of goaltending—they were never taught how to check, they were never taught how to take a check, they’re not equipped to do either.
“On any given night on the rosters … you’ve got 360 forwards in the league, you’ve got 180 defencemen and you have 60 goaltenders of which on a given night only 30 are playing. It’s significant that we take this seriously.”