The amount of shot-blocking in the 2012 NHL playoffs has diminished the quality of the sport's product and has made it less exciting for the fans to enjoy.
Although shot-blocking isn't up from last year's playoffs, it's a significant issue that needs to be addressed in the offseason.
Per USA Today, Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi said:
I think shot blocking is a big part of the game now. A lot of teams are doing it. Washington is good at it and New Jersey is good in the shot lanes. It really deters guys from shooting. They're thinking about it when the guy's coming at them.
If shot-blocking continues to be a prominent part of teams' defensive game plans, we could even see teams go as far as drafting shot-blocking specialists like NFL teams draft special teams guys.
Much has been made of the New York Rangers' willingness to block shots in the playoffs, but they aren't the only team committed to putting their bodies on the line to stop the puck from reaching the net.
Offense has been hard to come by in the playoffs at times because of shot-blocking. With the current defensive styles teams are using, all a goaltender has to do for his team to win is stop the four-to-six quality scoring chances his opponents get in a game.
How does the NHL lessen shot-blocking? Bobby Holik, a former Stanley Cup champion with the New Jersey Devils, thinks equipment has a lot to do with the shot-blocking craze right now.
If you think everybody blocking shots, collapsing around net (creating a force field) and eliminating most scoring chances is the proper approach then you are winning.
It is such a powerful trend it has altered player’s equipment. The plastic skate guards many players wear could be mandated on some of the teams, and they shouldn’t be. If you are going to include shot blocking as a part of your game, you shouldn’t be wearing extra equipment to protect against the consequences.
Changing equipment has its advantages and disadvantages. If you make some equipment weaker, or even take some away, players probably won't be as eager to throw themselves in front of a booming slap shot from the point.
On the flip side, the likelihood of serious injuries, whether it's from blocking shots or other hockey plays, could increase if equipment is lessened. In an era of the NHL where player safety is such a major issue, can the league afford to make profound changes to equipment?
While a number of players don't like the increase in shot-blocking, there are coaches who aren't fond of it either.
Per the National Post:
“It’s definitely changed the game, and not necessarily for the betterment,” said Dave King, the lifelong student of the game who is now the Phoenix Coyotes’ development coach.
“When they made the neutral zone smaller and the end zones six or eight feet bigger, two different rule changes, all of a sudden everybody collapsed to cover a bigger area, and then, if you’re going to cover the key area, the points are going to be open. So if you’re going to give away the points, you’ve got to get in the shot lanes.
If the league doesn't address the shot-blocking issue in the summer, and we see more of it next season, how will the players deal with it?
Take a look at New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur's comments on shot-blocking made prior to Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Per ESPN New York, Brodeur said:
They're hot. They're blocking pucks. Hopefully we'll be able to hurt a few guys getting one-timers in the foot or their head or something. Right now they’re paying the price to win and obviously that's what hockey is about.
While it was later reported by Tom Gulitti of The Record that Brodeur made those comments "off the cuff," could we see players do this?
What if you're winding up for a slap shot in a late-game situation and an opposing player goes down to the ice to block your shot, and you know if you follow through and blast the puck that it will hit that player in the face or foot—will players still shoot?
I think some would.
The NHL can't wait until a player suffers a serious or even life-threatening/ending injury to address shot blocking.
The league wanted to increase offense following the lockout in 2005, and made rule changes to help that happen.
Excessive shot-blocking makes the game boring and more dangerous. The NHL needs to find a way to discourage shot-blocking in the summer, whether it's changing equipment or making rule changes.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and was also the organization's on-site reporter for the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in Boston.