The new tighter, rounder, form-fitting goalie pants are here. By Saturday, every NHL goalie will have to wear the new pants, the latest step in streamlining equipment worn by goaltenders.
Opinions on the new pants are as varied as the sizes and shapes of the League's 60-plus goaltenders.
Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby doesn't care that he is being forced to change his pants midseason. He was involved in the discussions about streamlining goalie equipment and knew changes were coming.
Holtby worried the new pants would limit his flexibility and, as a result, create a hole when he tried to play tight against the post and bend down onto one leg, a technique used by many goaltenders.
"If there is too tight equipment it doesn't allow you to bend the whole way so it leaves a hole," Holtby said last weekend in Los Angeles. "But we looked at it through video, slowed everything down and there were no holes, so it's fine. I didn't find much of a difference at all."
San Jose Sharks goaltender Martin Jones has been wearing the new pants in games for several weeks. He says his peers shouldn't find too much of a difference with the new pants.
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The new pants are the latest alteration in a suite of rules designed to streamline equipment used by goaltenders, approved by the Board of Governors in June.
Jones, Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks, Peter Budaj of the Los Angeles Kings, Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning are among the many who have been wearing them in games. Many others, like Holtby, have been trying to break them in in practice.
Kay Whitmore, the NHL's senior director of hockey operations and goaltender equipment, said the new pants now have a defined thigh guard that has been reduced in width from 10 inches to nine inches. The new pant leg maintains a constant curve that wraps the leg and doesn't flare out, as it has in the past.
"Also, more sizes have been created to more closely align with the different waist sizes of today's goaltenders," Whitmore said. "In the past, companies basically fit every player in either a large or extra-large pant so the difference from the smallest to the biggest was negligible. We now have enough sizes to properly size all goalies no matter what size they need or company they choose to wear."
Crawford said he hasn't felt a big difference.
"Pants are probably one of the easiest pieces of equipment to [change]," Crawford said.
Not everyone is supportive of the change, especially the timing.
"I think to have an equipment change midseason, it's crazy, especially in the goaltending position," Arizona Coyotes goalie Mike Smith said. "It's nuts that it can't wait until the beginning of next season."
Whitmore said the League originally intended to implement the change prior to the start of the season, but there were safety concerns with the new pants that had to be addressed with the manufacturing companies, causing a delay. Nearly a quarter of the League's goalies already are wearing the new pants.
"We addressed the safety concerns and felt it was the right decision to implement as soon as possible, regardless of the fact that it was midway through the year," Whitmore said.
Whitmore stressed the League has been working hand in hand with the NHL Players' Association and has been transparent about the changes coming since the conclusion of the Competition Committee meeting in June 2015.
"Early on in the process, several goalies told us that it was not that big a deal to change a pair of pants," Whitmore said. "Obviously all the goalies don't agree, but when we have goalies that change pads 10-12 times a year, it's hard to believe a pant change isn't possible."
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Smith, who has tried the pants once and didn't like them, said he thinks the tighter fit will impact taller goalies like himself more than shorter goalies. Smith is 6-foot-4.
"I've been wearing pants like [the old ones] for my whole life, where you don't really feel them being a part of you," Smith said. "I tried [the new ones] on one time and they feel like they're really restrictive in your movements, so obviously it's a big change."
Jones, who also is s 6-foot-4, said the restrictive nature of the tighter pants was also his concern.
"The first probably three or four skates, just kind of working them in, they were snug," Jones said, "but you play around with them a little bit and get them to fit right."