Training camp will take on a little more importance than usual for most NHL goalies this September.
The NHL, with the approval of the National Hockey League Players' Association, has changed the rules governing the length of a goaltender's leg pads for the 2013-14 season, making them a bit shorter so they don't block as much of the five hole between a goalie's legs.
The previous rule, instituted prior to the 2010-11 season, was that a goalie's leg pads could not go higher on his leg than 55 percent of the distance between the center of his knee and his pelvis. So if a goalie's upper-leg measurement was 20 inches, which is roughly the average number in the NHL, the pad could not go higher than 11 inches above the center of his knee.
That number will now be 45 percent, so the same goalie will be able to wear a pad that goes no higher than 9 inches above his knee.
When it comes to closing the five hole, losing approximately 2 inches off each leg pad could result in 4 inches less coverage, depending on the style of the goaltender.
"Fifty-five percent to me, in talking to guys that have been in the business a long time, was excessive," Kay Whitmore, the League's senior manager of hockey operations and goaltending equipment, told NHL.com. "To get something in place we went with that for a couple of seasons and decided we would look at it again. We deemed that there was still a lot of pad that was infringing on the five hole, taking away a lot space, which wasn't really there for protection."
The NHL's general managers approved the rule change at their March meeting, then it went to the NHL's Competition Committee before the NHL's Board of Governors voted on it June 27. Final approval was subject to a vote by NHLPA executives and membership.
Goaltenders around the League began receiving new equipment from manufacturers during the course of August, and four got a chance to try them out on the ice for the first time last Tuesday at the Reebok-CCM goalie Summit outside Montreal: Jonathan Bernier of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks, Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Jean-Sebastien Giguere of the Colorado Avalanche.
"They feel a little bit shorter, yeah, but it's not too much of a big change," Crawford told NHL.com that day. "I'm sure there will be a bit of an adjustment period, but it's something I've gone through and the other goalies have gone through before.
"I just hope it's not something that leads to injuries. With a shorter pad, hopefully we'll have a good limit for knee pads so guys don't get hurt."
Fleury voiced a similar concern.
"They just feel short," he said moments after stepping on the ice for the first time with his new pads. "I was used to what we had before, but I think I'll need a better knee pad just for a little extra protection there."
According to Whitmore, the issue of the knee pads a goalie wears under leg pads remains a topic of discussion between the NHL and the NHLPA. The NHL is interested in further regulating the knee pad, but with more of the knee exposed to pucks because of the reduction in leg pad length, settling on an appropriately sized knee pad may be difficult.
Goalie - PIT
GAA: 2.39 | SVP: 0.916
Currently, NHL goalies are allowed to wear a knee pad that goes 9 inches across, but which is supposed to be contoured around the knee.
"Like everything else, some people came up with knee pads that fit within that [limit], but in the spirit of the rule its taking up more space than it needs to protect the knee," Whitmore said. "Even within the group of goalies, there are a lot that disagree with some of the knee protection that's being worn by some of their peers. So we're trying to find a happy medium in there."
The problem with the knee pad is that some goalies have incorporated its size into the way they play, adopting a narrower butterfly style because of the added protection the knee pad provides.
"The horse is out of the barn, so I can't really say that you can't play that style anymore and we're going to take away all of your protection," Whitmore said. "We have to find a way to protect the guys that play that way, but make sure the protection just follows the contour of their knee and doesn't plug the five hole."
No matter what is ultimately decided on knee pads, goalies who will have their leg pads reduced this season will have to grow accustomed to the fact they won't close exactly the way they used to in the butterfly. Knowing this, shooters are sure to aim for the five hole early in the season in an effort to take advantage of that adjustment.
Giguere, for one, said he hopes bosses around the League will understand what the goalies will be going through.
"Coaches and GMs, you guys want that, you've been asking for more goals [through the] five hole," Giguere said. "So if your goalie gives up a goal five hole, you need to take a breath and remember that you asked for it. It's not our fault."
The shorter leg pad will most affect the goaltenders who were close to the previous NHL limit, and those who were already using pads that were below that number should be able to make an easier adjustment.
"For me it's not a huge change, I only lost an inch," Bernier said. "I think the way I play, my butterfly's not very wide, but I guess we'll see if I start getting scored on [through] the five hole. For some guys it's a really big change, some guys lost 2 1/2 inches, so that's 5 inches total when you go down in a butterfly. It's huge."
The change in the sizing also represented a challenge for the equipment manufacturers, who had to alter their schedules in order to accommodate the changes later in the summer than they are accustomed.
"We have to look at all the patterns and re-size the pads accordingly," said Sonya Di Biase, product manager for Reebok-CCM goalie. "It is a lot of work because sometimes you want to start early getting the goalies their gear before the summer, but some of the changes in sizing got pushed back a little bit later. So it puts more pressure on us, but we always rise to the challenge."
"For me it's not a huge change, I only lost an inch. I think the way I play, my butterfly's not very wide, but I guess we'll see if I start getting scored on [through] the five hole. For some guys it's a really big change, some guys lost two and a half inches, so that's five inches total when you go down in a butterfly. It's huge."
-- Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier
One of Di Biase's responsibilities at Reebok-CCM is to scour the market to find new raw materials that will perform better, and that is one of the reasons rule changes like the one this year have become necessary. Previously, the bulkiness of the pads would deter goaltenders from choosing equipment that was too big for them.
"Back in the day, it always seemed to regulate itself," said Whitmore, whose career as an NHL goalie ran from 1988 to 2002. "Players in my era and before me, we couldn't figure out how to maneuver in that kind of stuff, so you took the smaller pads. But over time, with training, goalie coaches, evolution of the products, lighter products and how they perform -- not just the size but how they turn on your legs -- all these things made players able to wear a pad that was much longer than they ever did before."
Whitmore said he anticipates traveling more than usual this season to attend games and make sure all the League's goaltenders are adhering to the new rules. Whitmore can arrive at any game to measure goalie equipment, and if anyone is caught using something illegal he is subject to a two-game suspension and the team is fined.
"I want every goalie to play knowing that they're on a level playing field with the guy at the other end," Whitmore said. "Everyone's looking for an edge because it's so competitive and it's such a tough position. There are so many little things they try to do to try to counteract the rule change, like strapping the pad looser or hiking them up their leg to try to get them where they were before. That's going to be the hard part of my job."