Ban slapshots from shootouts?

Events of the past week indicate the "beanball" has made its way to the rink

24.01.2008
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Canadian Dion Phaneuf caused discussions with his slapshot in a shootout. Photo: Europhoto/Jani Rajamaki

BOSTON, United States - Two disparate events during this past week in the NHL present stark contrast to one of the few methods of intimidation that a skater can resort to over a goalie during the shootout.

Example one: Boston captain Zdeno Chara scored on a slapshot in the final round of the shootout last Saturday against Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers to give his team the SO win and the extra point in the standings.

Example two: Just three days earlier, Calgary defenceman Dion Phaneuf blasted a slapshot on a shootout with little intent to score. His high shot caught Minnesota goalie Nicklas Backstrom on the collar bone, and the next shooter, Brian Rolston of the Wild, responded in kind, blasting a high shot that just missed Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff.

The first example illustrates how the slapshot can be used to intimidate-"scare the hell out of" might be a more accurate expression-a goalie. Imagine being Lundqvist in the Rangers' goal and seeing the tallest and strongest player in the league make a full windup before taking a powerful slapshot from about 20 feet outside the blue ice. The shot went in right along the ice, but Lundqvist probably had his eyes closed and his body taught from fear. Making the save was likely of secondary importance to getting out of the crease alive.

The second example indicates a pretty obvious use of the shootout slapshot as a means to deliberately attempt to injure the goalie. Phaneuf could afford to "waste" his shot because teammate Kristian Huselius had already scored and the Flames had one more shooter after Phaneuf, if need be. Rolston responded for the Wild with a similar shot, although he missed Kiprusoff and the net entirely.

However, the incident is reminiscent of the beanball in baseball, that dangerous pitch launched from the mound by a pitcher intent on hitting the batter in the head. There are now very specific rules to deal with such a pitch. The umpire can throw the offending pitcher out of the game immediately, or issue a warning to both teams that the next pitch headed to the head will result in that pitcher being tossed from the game. Sometimes, the umpire is caught unaware, though, and the team that gets away with the head-aimed pitch then becomes the aggressor the next inning. Many of baseball's bench-clearing brawls have been the result of beanballs because they are both dangerous and almost indefensible. One thing is for sure-the beanball has never been fully eradicated from the game.

Phaneuf has now introduced this element into the shootout via the slapshot. It is now naïve to consider it isn't a possibility or that it will never happen again. Indeed, it will almost certainly be tried again, the only question is when and by whom. Imagine a game full of enmity, maybe a cheap shot that wasn't penalized, maybe a situation in the last five minutes when players don't respond because they know they'll be ejected and suspended. They now have another way to get even with their opponents-fire a slapshot at the goalie's head during the shootout.

Now that the shootout has lost its innocence, so to speak, a couple of questions must be asked. If a player deliberately hurts a goalie with a close-range slapshot during a shootout, would NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell step in and issue a fine or suspension? And, if this becomes the modus operandi of settling scores that have arisen during games, could slapshots be banned altogether from the shootout? After all, slapshots are extremely rare because they are the shot least likely to succeed in a one-on-one with the goalie (despite Chara's success).

To ban the slapshot would be to compromise the penalty shot, which is, by definition, a shot in which the player is allowed to shoot the puck in any way he chooses. Certainly, for the time being, the Phaneuf/Rolston incident seems like an isolated one, and if necessary one would think a fine or suspension would curtail future attempts to injure a goalie in the shootout. Still, the fact remains that a goalie is highly vulnerable during the shootout, and even Chara's goal can be clearly seen as an attempt to intimidate, even if the puck was along the ice, even if it was a goal and not a dangerous save.

Maybe this is now a dead issue; maybe it is the start of something that will creep into the game like obstruction fouls and the trap. But as any baseball fan will attest, the beanball may be illegal and outlawed, but it certainly remains a part of the game. Hockey beware.

ANDREW PODNIEKS


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