Saturday, October 15, 2005

Goaltenders, Bad Ice and Atlanta

One of the more serious NHL problems that has not been addressed in the NHL relaunch is that of bad ice. With expansion into warmer southern US markets and with multi-use arenas where the hockey ice is constantly taken in and out, this has become a serious problem. It was one of the causes of the decrease in scoring leaguewide - which seems to be reversing due to rule changes without addressing the ice issue. Bad ice reduces the flow in hockey games. Bad ice can also lead to injury. One common bad ice injury is a groin injury.

Early this season there has been a rash of groin injuries among goalies (ironically preferentially injuring goalies would increase scoring - though likely not enough to offset any scoring loss from bad ice). Goalies suffering groin injuries include Chris Osgood of Detroit, Brian Boucher of Phoenix, Kevin Weekes of the New York Rangers, Curtis Joseph of Phoenix and both Atlanta goalies Kari Lehtonen and Mike Dunham.

The Atlanta situation is the worst in the league. By simultaneously losing both of their NHL level goalies, they have been forced to use Michael Garnett (an AHL backup in 2004-05) and Adam Berkhoel (who was in the ECHL in 2004-05) as their goalie tandem and its not working.

Last night, Toronto defeated Atlanta 9-1 with goaltender Michael Garnett victimized for all nine goals in a very penalty filled game. Atlanta is suffering because of their goalie injuries which were indirectly caused by the bad ice in Phillips Arena.

The likely outcome is that Atlanta will be forced to make a deal to acquire an emergency NHL level goaltender. Now that Buffalo has acquired Michael Leighton they have four NHL capable goalies (the others are Ryan Miller, Mika Noronen and Martin Biron) they are the most likely team to deal with the Thrashers.

I would like to see the quality of of ice improve in the NHL. It has led to some interesting symptoms early this season.


One argument that has been shown on TV here in Canada is that forwards have been driving to the net a lot more then years past. D-men can't stop the opposing forwards by hooking and holding them, so we see a lot of forwards carrying the puck and running over the goaltender. Perhaps the refs need to start protecting the goalies a bit more since d-men can no longer do it. I think the bad ice isn't the only culprit, here.
I have mixed thoughts on that idea.

Running the goalies will lead to more goalie injuries (though it is not clear to me that those injuries should be groin injuries). Also, some of the goalie injuries (Boucher is the most obvious) cannot possibly be blamed on running the goalie.

Groin injuries are often a symptom of bad ice, so I think it is a bigger factor in these goalie injuries.

That said, the extra running of goalies is an uninteded consequence of the many NHL rule changes. It is one that will have to be addressed. There are several unitended consequences. Some of them may not be clear for a few years.

I still remain skeptical. I think it is quite likely (probable?) that there will be some very negative consequences to these rule changes that will have to be fixed. I'm in the minority with this opinion, but I am not sold that the "new NHL" is any better than (or even as good as) the old one.
I agree with Jes. There's a lot more going on than bad ice.
Another possible cause of the number of groin injuries is the lockout. Even though most players were playing somewhere during the lockout, they were not as active as they would have been in the NHL. European leagues and AHL have shorter seasons. More inactivity. Many players came back out of shape and got injured early in camp from a sudden burst of activity from muscle groups that had been less active. I find it to be no coincedence that the goalies you mentioned had almost no game experience during the lockout. Weekes, Osgood and CuJo did not play at all. Boucher only played four games in Sweden. Dunham played only 13 games in Sweden. Lentonen was the most active with 57 games in the AHL.
With respect to the flow of the game, there were many factors in past seasons (clutching, grabbing, outlawed two-line passes to name a few) which did more to slow down the flow than bad ice.

Also, to be frank, I think you are remiss in categorizing "bad ice" as a "southern US" thing or even a modern thing. Hockey arenas have been multi-use for decades, and our technology has gotten better all the while. It is much easier to set up, break down or maintain ice now than it ever has been, without respect to the out-of-doors temperature.

Maybe I'm missing somehing, and I'd love to be shown what I'm missing, but where's the proof that these injuries were directly caused by "bad ice"? I'll stand by my atrophy/inactivity theory if you're looking for scapegoats.
Of course its not so simple that goalie groin injuries are causes soley by bad ice and nothing else. Bad ice is one cause. Atrophy and inactivity is another. I don't think we would have seen as many goalies with groin injuries without both of these factors.

I'm not calling bad ice only a southern US thing. It isn't. Merely by watching hockey, it is evident that ice quality in the average NHL game has been getting worse since the late 80's. There are two factors to explain this. More teams in warmer climates and more non-hockey events in the arenas leaguewide that force the ice to be taken in and out. Ice quality is a significant issue in the NHL. It is getting worse.
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