"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,
If you think your favorite NHL goaltender is letting in more 5-hole goals this season, you might be right.
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.
|Trying to beat the system |
The late Roger Neilson was an NHL head coach for 17 years. That followed a 10-year junior career with the Peterborough Petes.
Neilson was legendary for poring over every word in the rulebook of whatever league he was coaching, looking to see if there were loopholes he could exploit. One such example of Neilson's shenanigans occurred in the inaugural season of the Ottawa 67s, 1967-68. It was also Neilson's first season coaching juniors.
"I can give you an example of Roger Neilson getting a rule changed in juniors," said former NHL Referee-In-Chief Scotty Morrison. "Roger coached the Peterborough Petes in the old Ontario Hockey Association for a long, long time. Well, one time he was reading the rule on penalty shots and realized it didn't specify that a goaltender must face the shooter. So, in an exhibition game, he had a player throw a stick at a breakaway opponent and the referee called a penalty shot. Roger sent Ron Stackhouse, who went on to play defense for the Pittsburgh Penguins for many years, out to stop the penalty shot. Give Ron a call, he'll tell you."
"You want the true story or the legend?" Stackhouse asked. "Because it has taken on legendary status. The true story is that Roger was always looking for opportunities to exploit whatever advantage he could find. We were in the exhibition season and riding home to Peterborough on the bus. I was having a nap and remember hearing people up front on the bus saying, 'Stacker will do it, Stacker will do it.' Roger calls me up to the front of the bus and explains that the league rulebook doesn't call for a goaltender to defend a penalty shot and would I like to try it some time?
"I said, 'whatever' or something and went back to sleep.
"Coincidentally or maybe not so coincidentally, a couple of nights later, one of my teammates throws his stick at Terry Caffery on a breakaway and the referee calls for a penalty shot. My guess is Roger called for the whole thing. Roger calls us all over and everyone's laughing and he says go out and stop Caffery.
"This was in the old George Bell Arena in Toronto and everyone is looking around and the referees are talking it over and finally they tell Terry to go ahead. Terry gets to the blue line and gets ready to fire a slap shot as I'm racing out toward him. I was probably 10 feet in front of him and he pounded it into my pads. That was our first attempt using that play and not much was made of it because it was an exhibition game.
"About two or three months later, we were playing the Ottawa 67s in Peterborough and some kid, can't remember his name, a first-year player, gets a penalty shot and Roger calls me over and says, 'OK, Stackie, let's do this.' We had a big crowd in the Memorial Center but it was eerie. Everyone was silent, but I could hear some kind of low background-chatter noise. The referees checked the rule book again and let me defend the shot. The kid came in and tried to deke and I poked it away and everyone was cheering, but then I see the referees waving their hands and they said I left the crease before he crossed the blue line. That was in the rulebook.
"So we did it again and this time his instructions must have been for him to just shoot as he got to the blue line. I made a bee line for him and he shot right at me, about chest-high, I swept it away with my arm. My sparkling 0.00 goals-again average remained intact.
"The last time I heard someone telling this story, I did it like eight times or something. But no, I did it twice and then they changed the rule.
"Roger always taught us to look for an edge, find a way to outsmart them and outplay them."
-- John McGourty - NHL.com Staff Writer
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.
"We came out of the NHL Players' Association meeting last February with a goaltenders' committee comprised of three active goalies, two shooters, four general managers, the NHLPA and manufacturers," Whitmore said.
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.”
Author: John McGourty | NHL.com Staff Writer