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A game of inches

by Adam Proteau / Toronto Maple Leafs

When Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock discussed his thoughts for some of the reasons behind the consistent decline in NHL scoring over the years, he reignited a passionate debate Wednesday regarding the size of hockey nets and their relationship to the issue. And although Babcock said he believes “the net’s too small for the size of the goalies. Period.”, there’s still debate – even within his own dressing room – as to whether an increase in net size would lead to more goals.

It won’t come as much of a surprise, but the Leafs players who were for bigger nets – or at least, who believe that bigger nets will result in an increase in the league’s scoring average – were players who grew up and rose to hockey’s highest level because of their prowess on offense.

“I agree with (Babcock),” said Leafs winger P-A Parenteau, who has 83 career NHL goals in 359 regular season games. “We’ve talked about it as players, especially the goal-scorers, the guys that like to put the puck in the net would like to see that. It’s like anything else in life - if it makes your life better or easier, you’re in for sure. But I think it makes a lot of sense looking at it now that the goalies are absolute monsters. They’re so quick and they’re so good. If you’re looking to add scoring to the league, I don’t think you need to look deeper than that.”

Parenteau’s teammate Peter Holland, who amassed 103 goals in four seasons in the Ontario League, feels similarly.

“Anytime you’ve got more net to shoot at, it’s obviously better, especially if you’re a shooter or goal-scorer,” Holland said. “I’m sure the goalies wouldn’t be too pleased about it, but yeah, I’m sure to some extent it would definitely increase goal-scoring.”

One of those goalies – Toronto’s Antoine Bibeau, recently recalled from the American League to fill in for the injured Jonathan Bernier – believes players at his position are targeted a little too much, especially in terms of the focus on reducing the size of netminders’ equipment, and thinks the sharp spike in athleticism and the science of goaltending will always make shooters’ lives more difficult than they were in the 1970s and 1980s. So the 21-year-old is skeptical bigger nets would make a notable difference in the number of goals per game.

“They made the equipment smaller in the past couple years and it didn’t change much,” Bibeau said. “Goalies, their positioning is so good right now, and even if they keep (making) equipment smaller, guys are still going to be the same size, and if their positioning is good, it’s hard to get beat. I think positioning plays a big part in that.”

If the league doesn’t choose to move to bigger nets, another concept to increase scoring that was discussed in the hockey community Wednesday was to re-shape the net’s posts in the hopes that pucks that currently hit a post and bounce back into play would instead bounce into the net. And you guessed it – that too was embraced by non-goalies.

“It makes sense, and it doesn’t have to be that much,” Parenteau said. “Just those posts – even a half-an-inch here or there, and you’d have a lot more goals in games. I definitely agree with that, and I think that’s something the league and players could look into in the near future.”

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