Death of the Trapezoid? Goaltenders Can Only Hope
The NHL rulebook states that. “a restricted trapezoid-shaped area behind the goal will be laid out as follows: Five feet (5’) outside of each goal crease (six feet (6’) from each goalpost), a two inch (2”) read line shall be painted extending from the goal line to a point on the end of the rink ten feet (10’) from the goal crease (eleven feet (11’) from the goalpost) and continuing vertically up the kick-plate.”
The purpose of the trapezoid was to restrict the ability of goaltenders like Martin Brodeur, Marty Turco and Mike Smith playing the puck, thereby neutralizing dump-ins and fore-checks. It was hypothesized this would increase the amount of scoring chances.
Personally, I am not a fan of the Trapezoid. In fact, when it came into the league I decided that the very small number of goaltenders whom I train would continue to learn passing options and transitional situations requiring a goaltender to play the puck from the now forbidden areas.
The rule does not exist in minor hockey and therefore these kids could develop a very important skill set and become comfortable with many situations as their NHL idols did before the rule existed there. Also, when it comes to goaltender selection, all else being equal, the goalie with these skills is of greater value to a hockey club. So I decided to be a rebel and assume that one day the trapezoid rule may be overturned. I assume I am not alone in this regard.
As a goaltender it’s frustrating that competitive restrictions are frequently placed on the position we play.
In an interview with the New York Times in 2005 Martin Brodeur echoed these sentiments when he said, “You can’t be happy, taking away something I’ve worked on all my life to do and help my teammates and help my defense. Its just part of me, playing the puck. So, definitely, you can’t be happy.”
Those who would like to see this rule overturned make the argument since its inception the nature of the pro game has changed. With players stronger and faster, and the neutral zone “clutch and grab” tactics no longer tolerated with the obstruction rule, today’s goaltender no longer has time to stand unpressured in the quiet zones and decide to where the puck should be moved.
In fact, at the 2011 NHL research and development camp the trapezoid was removed to assess if the perceived goaltender advantage still existed. The removal of the trapezoid made no difference in the eyes of the decision makers, including Brendan Shanahan.
Another valid argument relates to defensemen safety and no-touch icing. Allowing the goaltender to move the puck from restricted areas would, at times, take pressure off defensemen and likely eliminate some violent headshots, broken ankles and legs in the fast race for the puck.
The point should also be made that professional ice hockey is entertainment and therefore should be entertaining to the fans.
The Goalie Guild founder, Justin Goldman, presented an interesting perspective to this effect in his article titled The Inverted Trapezoid. Goldman suggests changing the dimensions and configuration of the trapezoid and essentially eliminating puck play purely behind the net. Since goaltenders most commonly play the puck in this location they would be forced to move faster and further from the net to engage in puck-handling activities. I believe it would be exciting to see goaltenders moving the puck in all directions from the corners. Skilled puck-handlers would go back to what we enjoyed seeing from Marty Turco.
Both good plays and bad would bring unpredictability back to this part of the game and should make for more excitement for the fans; however, I will merely suggest that overall puck play could potentially decrease since goaltenders neither comfortable nor having the mobility or skills to get there quick enough would never leave the blue paint.
This would not be a change from the status quo; however, the strange and sloppy plays occurring behind the net would be eliminated from a spectator point of view since even weak puck-handling goalies venture behind the net. These types of plays are great conversation pieces at the water cooler or lunchroom the following morning.
The issue of “no contact” or “incidental goaltender contact” is also related to whether or not the trapezoid exists. I personally have no problem with contact between goaltenders and other players. Is our fraternity so frail physically that we cannot withstand some grinding and bumping? I am certain I am in the minority on this point. I understand that top tier goaltenders are difficult to find and that coaches and general managers therefore want them protected. I nevertheless believe we can both give it and take it. The problem is that the degree of contact is a grey zone issue and not likely to be resolved any time soon.
Also, did the NHL hypothesis of increased scoring actually become reality? I present the league scoring averages per game just prior, and subsequent to, the trapezoid rule: 2003-2004 (5.14), 2005-2006 (6.17), 2006-2007 (5.89), 2007-2008 (5.57), 2008-2009 (5.83), 2009-2010 (5.68), 2010-2011, (5.64). On a league level this would not be statistically significant and the data may be reviewed on an individual club basis for interested readers at www.hockey-reference.com.
The league frequently continues to refine the rules. Coaches learn to adapt to rules and tactical changes like overcoming the neutral zone trap. These numbers don’t prove the benefit of the trapezoid.
There is no direct cause-and-effect relationship like cigarette smoking and lung cancer.
As a result of all the shot blocking during the 2011-2012 playoffs and many low scoring games, will the competition committee now outlaw shot blocking? If we want to punish goalies even further why not go back to wearing a polo sweater and cricket pads? Let’s get rid of the trapezoid and let great puck-handling goalies demonstrate their skills to the fans!