If you think your favorite NHL goaltender is letting in more 5-hole goals this season, you might be right.
"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, Kay Whitmore
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."
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.”
The 2008-09 season goalie equipment regulations are just a start. NHL goaltending supervisor Kay Whitmore said a committee of active goaltenders, shooters and general managers has created a list of immediate and long-term adjustments to goalie equipment.
Here are the current rule changes and future recommendations of NHL Hockey Operations officials, based on input from the goaltenders' committee. Note that the language of the 2008-09 rule changes is, let’s say, sturdy enough to withstand any loophole hunting.
2008-09 Goaltender Equipment Changes
All inner-knee pads
to be a maximum of 2.5 inches thick, this will include all inner-knee padding on the pad and will be measured when non-compressed. Knee strap pads and build -ups must have a 1-inch radius (rounded) on the top edge. Knee straps must wrap around the knee build-ups and cannot come out behind or through knee build-ups. The size of the knee strap pad will remain 6 inches in length by 5.5 inches in width and the build-ups or inner-knee risers will stay at 7 inches in length by 5.5 inches in width.
Leg pads can only be 10.5 inches deep. The measurement will be taken from the front face of the pad to the last edge of the calf/inner-knee protection.Calf-wing protectors
can no longer be attached to the 5-hole or 5-hole seam. Calf-wings must be inset a half-inch from the inside 5-hole, creating a distinctive edge, and attached to the back cover. Calf-wing protectors must be one piece and not multiple layers and cannot include wedges (removable or non-removable). Calf-wing protectors may be flat for 5½ inches before contouring to the shape of the leg. Calf-wing protectors must contour and cannot be visible to the shooter when strapped to the goaltenders leg. Calf-wing protectors may not exceed one inch in thickness. Calf-wing protector straps must run through or wrap around so it follows the contour of the goaltender's leg and in no way moves independently of the rest of the pad. No zippers, Velcro, or Velcro attachments of any kind are allowed.Note on additional knee protection:
NHL Hockey Operations has the discretion to determine on a case-by-case basis what a reasonable amount of additional knee padding is, taking into account knee braces for instance, but generally knee padding must not exceed a contoured 10 inches, with no flat surfaces, and must not be "permanently" attached or fixed to the pants.
Regarding immediate changes to pants
, NHL Hockey Operations has the discretion to determine what a reasonable pant size is for each goaltender and to determine if the goaltender is wearing the pants in an acceptable fashion. Goaltenders will not be allowed to wear large pants just to be bigger. All inner belts will be removed. Styrofoam hip blocks found in Velcro pockets may not exceed 0.5 inches.
There are a number of changes regarding chest and arm protectors
. One action is to round off all straight edges. The clavicle protector/shoulder floater must have a flexible seam (sew lines) and follow the contour/slope without becoming a projection or extension beyond the normal shape of the shoulder and must be fastened down at the back by a fixed strap that cannot be adjusted. Spinal adjustment will be allowed. The clavicle protector/shoulder floater must be contoured to the shape of the torso and away from the armpit. Rib protection is allowed as long as it wraps the body and is not used to provide additional blocking area. The clavicle/shoulder floater must be fastened tight enough to not allow it to move freely.
The chest and arm pads should be flat in the front and should wrap around the shoulder tightly. All 7-inch elbow hinges will be fixed and rounded on the outsides where attached. Bicep floater edges should be skived to blend into the arm protection.
Hockey Operations has the discretion to determine what size arm and body is reasonable for each goaltender and if he is wearing it in a manner consistent with protection versus blocking area.
An immediate change for the goalie's blocker
is the contour of the thumb protector of the blocker will be held to a stricter standard. The blocker must not be more than 7-inches deep. The measurement will be taken from the face of the blocker to the end of the thumb protector.
Here’s a review of proposed long-term changes
to various pieces of NHL goaltender equipment:
The NHL needs to work toward manufacturers having a uniform set of pant sizes. A size Large from one should be the same as a Large from another. The NHL needs to work with manufacturers to make pants proportional to the player's size, without compromising player safety. Pants should be more tapered at the waist and a standard for hip measurements will be established.
- Chest and arms
The NHL will work with manufacturers to determine size-specific standards based on anatomic data collected from goalies. The NHL will work with manufacturers to establish more than the two measurements for chest and arms currently in use.
- Catching glove
Hockey Operations will work with the manufacturers to reduce the overall size of the glove without compromising safety and protection. Reducing the "cheater" will be a focal point. The objective is to have it ready at the time of the height-specific pads, if it passes all safety criteria.