Thomas offers a crash course

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- All the talk about Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and whether he should wear a skirt or slacks, or if the roughing-the-passer call against the Ravens' Terrell Suggs in Sunday's game was legit, got me thinking about the hockey equivalent of quarterbacks -- the goalies.

In terms of importance to their teams, netminders and quarterbacks belong on the same pedestal. The NFL frequently alters the rules to better protect quarterbacks, but in hockey it's been just the opposite. The NHL has made numerous changes to its rule book to open up the game, but in the process has endangered its goaltenders.

Watch any game on any given night, and you'll see at least one or two goaltender-skater collisions. The elimination of clutching and grabbing has upped the offensive output while freeing attacking forwards to build up more speed as they head toward the goalmouth.

Bruins goalie Tim Thomas has been victimized plenty of times, and at times stands up for himself with a retaliatory shove (Montreal's Andrei Kostitsyn can testify to that). But goaltenders shouldn't be put into situations where they have to get physical with the opposition.

The NHL rulebook states that 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.

Take note of the phrase "reasonable effort." Too often, the referee -- who's unfairly required to decipher intent -- makes a judgment in favor of the skater. That puts goaltenders at risk, and Thomas has taken notice.

The Vezina Trophy winner said part of goaltending in the NHL in 2009-10 is making sure not only to be in position to stop pucks and control rebounds, but also avoid injury. Over the summer, Thomas wondered why some goaltenders get hurt more than others. He reasoned that for some it's just their body types, but some of it can also result from not being prepared for the hits that are sure to come over the course of a season.

"When you see a 200-pound guy coming at you, you have to put your body in a position not to get hurt," Thomas said.

It's hard to believe that the NHL hasn't taken up the cause of goalie protection with the same conviction the NFL has used in protecting quarterbacks. The biggest reason probably is the NHL's focus on offense, which the league reasons keeps fans interested and attending games. Allowing defensemen more freedom to hold up forwards on their way to the net, and making it more costly (in terms of penalties) for forwards to recklessly crash the crease might hurt the bottom line in the short term. But if goaltenders start dropping like flies, that's going to lighten everyone's coffers.

Unfortunately, it'll probably take a major injury to one or two of the league's marquee goalies to even get the subject on the agenda at general manager and competition committee meetings. Until then, goaltenders are going to have to add dodging bodies to their repertoire of skills alongside glove saves, pad stops and clearing passes.