"We came to the conclusion that we should move forward with some subtle changes for the 2008-09 season. There will be more changes next year with more proportional fittings for protection only. We have to get back to the beginning of what equipment was for in the first place"
-- NHL goaltending supervisor,
It's a result of rule changes this season that were agreed to by the NHL Players' Association. Goaltending equipment is a little smaller and a little different this season, and will continue to be downsized in the coming years.
While the NHL is committed to protecting goalies and the adjustments are being made with their safety in mind, the League has deemed that equipment should not be any bigger than it needs to be for protection. Equipment will be proportional to the size of the goalie.
Bottom line: Equipment is there to protect, not make saves.
"We came to the conclusion that we should move forward with some subtle changes for the 2008-09 season," said NHL goaltending supervisor Kay Whitmore, who played goal in 155 NHL games for the Hartford Whalers, Vancouver Canucks, Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames. "There will be more changes next year with more proportional fittings for protection only. We have to get back to the beginning of what equipment was for in the first place."
NHL officials are responding to feedback from players, coaches and management to reduce the size of goalie equipment.
Minnesota Wild coach Jacques Lemaire, who averaged 30 goals per season over his 12-year career with the Montreal Canadiens (1967-79), said it is harder to score now than ever. Lemaire points to the physical dimensions of modern goalies and the size of their equipment.
Lemaire recently demonstrated this for reporters in the Wild dressing room by placing a folding chair in front of a trash barrel. There was perhaps an inch to spare on each side of the chair.
"This is the net, OK? And the goalie is like this, and I have the puck …," Lemaire said, shaking his head at the small areas of opportunity. "I can't score like this, so I’m going to go in the corner, send it back behind, send it back to the point and go to the front to try to re-direct it. If I could see an opening, I would shoot. If we reduce the equipment, we're going to see a lot more shots."
Lemaire is a traditionalist and thinks modern goalie equipment violates the game's traditions. He even said the trend of goalie equipment might call for a non-traditional solution -- make the nets bigger.
"They reduced the equipment, but not by much," he said. "If making the equipment smaller doesn't work, they should make the net bigger, that's it."
Lemaire was told he probably was the highest-ranking person in the NHL to call for bigger nets. Isn't he afraid of upsetting hockey's traditions?
"We already did," he countered. "I'm 5-foot-9. These goalies are 6-foot-4. With the goalies in our day you could see a foot on each side. That's why we were shooting from everywhere, because we had a chance to score. But now, you don't see any space. Pads were smaller (back then), especially shoulder pads."
Whitmore has made a League-approved video that explains how shoulder pads and leg pads have been reduced.
"Now you look at the goalie, they look like they are going to war,” Lemaire said. "The game has changed because of the goaltender equipment. It's not because the guy is tall. Ken Dryden was 6-foot-3. He was a big guy. But when you looked at him, he looked like that lamp stand over there -- thin. That's how he looked (to opponents)."
Lemaire was informed goalies say they feel they need better protective equipment because modern synthetic sticks deliver harder shots. Not everyone buys that perspective, though, since Al MacInnis and Al Iafrate clocked some of the all-time fastest shots with wooden sticks.
"It's not for protection," Lemaire said. "It's to stop the puck. If it's for protection, they can get a lot smaller. Ever hear of Kevlar? Stops bullets. Let's go to the police station and get them vests. They'll all be OK."
As goaltender equipment increased during past seasons, there were many critics. Some pointed to Manny Legace wearing the same size leg pads as Ollie Kolzig, although Kolzig is five inches taller. Others noted that New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur has been the NHL's best goalie over the past 15 years while wearing the smallest pads, including player elbow pads rather than those developed for goalies.
"One of the most impressive things about Marty is his equipment," former teammate Brian Rafalski told the Windsor (Ontario) Star. "He's not one of those big, blown-up goalies that you see everywhere else. His pads have always been the same size. He doesn't pad them, or make them extra loose. I'm sure if you measured them, I'm sure they'd be smaller than every other goalie's in the League."
The biggest changes for the 2008-09 season involve the height of the goalie-pad knee flaps, the width of the lower-leg side pads, the plastic extender at the knees and the clavicle protector. All of these changes are documented in new goalie equipment guidelines.
The changes in the side pads and the knee extender most directly affect a goalie's ability to stop five-hole shots.
The lower-leg side flaps formerly were attached at a 90-degree angle to the front of the inside edge of the pad. Now they are attached to the back of the pad, inset one inch from the inner side (the sides between the legs). This season’s goalies have lost about seven of 12 inches worth of stopping depth.
"It's been three years since we reduced the size of the pads to 11-inches wide," Whitmore said. "We're tying to get a good sense of what is right, so there's ongoing maintenance. We have to keep on tweaking."
When people write things, especially rules, regulations and laws, the meaning is clear to them, but others sometimes see it differently. The late Roger Neilson would stay up late into the night reading the NHL rulebook to devise ways around rules. Several NHL rules were revised during his coaching career as a result of his "hockey lawyering." Whitmore said similar things have happened with goalie-equipment rules, prompting revisions.
"When rules aren't ironclad, it creates loopholes that can be exploited," he said. "Our goal was to clamp down on some areas that have gotten out of control. This effort is being done with the cooperation of active players, management and the players' association to arrive at a consensus where everyone is in agreement."
The NHL conducts unannounced spot checks on goalies and their equipment. When a goalie is caught making what usually is a minor transgression, they sometimes feel singled out and ask why an opposing goaltender is getting away with the same thing or another thing. Taller goalies complain about shorter goalies wearing the same-sized equipment, which gives the smaller goalie proportionally larger equipment.
"When goalies have been spot-checked, they have been forthcoming with information about the imbalance between various goalies," Whitmore said. "We want a level playing field. We tell the goalies that we will support them and take to the general managers recommendations for rules changes that can be approved unanimously. It should be done with the input of the players and management."
No doubt goalies want the maximum dimensions for their equipment, but their teammates have divided loyalties. They want the man behind them to stop every shot, yet they know the open space where shots have been vanishing in recent years. NHL officials addressed this at the players' association meeting last winter.
The goalies are Brodeur, Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller and New York Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro, while the general managers are the Islanders' Garth Snow, the Wild's Doug Risebrough, the Stars' Brett Hull and the Hurricanes' Jim Rutherford. Snow and Rutherford are former NHL goaltenders. The forwards on the committee are Ottawa Senators left wing Dany Heatley and Calgary Flames center Mike Cammalleri.
Brodeur gave an indication of his sentiments in an interview earlier this year with Sports Illustrated's Michael Farber.
"I don't have a problem with it," Brodeur said. "One guy who's 170 pounds probably shouldn't look bigger than a guy who's 220. I've got 30 pounds on a lot of guys, but they look bigger than me because they're wearing size XXL pants. Look at (St. Louis goalie) Manny Legace. He's a small guy who wears 38-inch (long) pads, the maximum. Olaf Kolzig wears 38s, but he's 6-4. There are a bunch of guys who should be wearing 36s. (Brodeur's are 34.5 inches.) Because Legace is small, the pads are allowing him to cover areas that he probably shouldn't be covering. The way it is now, it isn't fair.”