I’m not really interested in providing yet another voice in the debate over Milan Lucic avoiding a suspension for his hit on Ryan Miller. The issue has been discussed to death from all sides and will likely be renewed in the wake of the NHL GMs meeting this morning. I am, however, concerned about ignorance.

Whether in the comments sections of blog posts or in the posts themselves, a lot of people seem to think that goaltenders are, in fact, fair game as soon as they exit the crease. The assumption is that a goaltender is treated like just another player as soon as he leaves his crease. As biased as it might be, a poll on the New England Sports Network indicates that over 60% of their readers thought Lucic’s hit was clean, compared to 34% who think it was illegal. 4.7% think other, which I assume means “What the hell is a Lucic?”

It’s not just blogs and fans, however. I was listening to sports talk radio this morning and heard the hosts say that there was an “unwritten rule” that goaltenders cannot be hit. I’m at a complete loss: are the sports talk radio hosts in Vancouver unable to read? I’ve even seen some commenters complain that there should be a law that would protect goaltenders from these types of hits.

There is a law. And it’s even written down.

Sure, plenty of bloggers and mainstream media types are aware of this, but I’m disturbed by the people who don’t. It’s not difficult to find the rule: it even uses the phrase “fair game” so it’s easier to track down. It’s even in two separate places in the rulebook.

The first time it’s mentioned is under Rule 42.1, charging – which is the penalty Lucic was assessed, so it should have been even easier for people to find.

A goalkeeper is not “fair game” just because he is outside the goal crease area. The appropriate penalty should be assessed in every case where an opposing player makes unnecessary contact with a goalkeeper. However, incidental contact, at the discretion of the Referee, will be permitted when the goalkeeper is in the act of playing the puck outside his goal crease provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such contact.

The second time it’s mentioned is under Rule 69.4, interference on the goalkeeper.

A goalkeeper is not “fair game” just because he is outside the goal crease. The appropriate penalty should be assessed in every case where an attacking player makes unnecessary contact with the goalkeeper. However, incidental contact will be permitted when the goalkeeper is in the act of playing the puck outside his goal crease provided the attacking player has made a reasonable effort to avoid such unnecessary contact.

The two rules are nearly identical, which makes me wonder why they put it in two different places. Probably because people seem to have such a hard time finding it. Whether you agree with the rule or not, goaltenders are not “fair game” outside of the goal crease. I find it amusing that the rulebook specifically mentions “fair game”, knowing that is the phrase everyone is going to use.

It’s a simple solution: if you want to stop being a moron, just add in the phrase “should be.” Just change “Goaltenders are fair game once they leave the crease” to “goaltenders should be fair game once they leave the crease.” Congratulations, you are now no longer an idiot; you are now an intelligent person espousing a point of view.

The key word to the rule is “unnecessary.” Lucic’s contact with Miller was clearly unnecessary, which is why he was assessed the charging minor. The referees had the option to assess a major instead, or add a game misconduct or match penalty if they felt there was an intent to injure. Clearly, they didn’t feel like Lucic intended to injure Miller but could have avoided the contact: it was unnecessary.

Lindy Ruff clearly feels that the lack of suspension means that now it is “fair game on goaltenders” and Shanahan was quick to correct him. Technically, Shanahan is correct: Lucic received a penalty, so it wasn’t fair game on Miller. I guess.

Of course, Shanahan’s subsequent threat, that if “you run a goalie, you’re going to find yourself in the same situation Lucic was today” isn’t all that threatening.Look out, NHL. If you run a goaltender, you’re going to have to talk to someone on the phone.