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New goalie gear a pain for some NHL netminders: 'It's not fun'

Smaller league equipment regulations this season is causing concern for Stars' Bishop and his peers

by Mark Stepneski @StarsInsideEdge / Inside Edge

Somebody smart once said: "Change is never painful, only the resistance to change is painful." Some NHL goaltenders might disagree. Change has been painful.

The latest round of changes in NHL goaltending equipment has created concerns and some pain, physical pain, for netminders.

"When you are used to having more padding and then they take it away from you, those pucks are hard. They hurt. Guys shoot hard," said Stars goaltender Ben Bishop.

The issue here is that the NHL, in conjunction with the NHLPA, mandated goaltending equipment changes for this season, specifically the chest and arm protection. The goal is to shrink the goaltenders so that they don't all look like they are 250 pounds and have them rely more on skill and athleticism. And maybe increase goal scoring.

NHL Rule 11.3, which covers chest and arm pads, states the new philosophy: "The chest and arm protector worn by each goalkeeper must be anatomically proportional and size specific based on the individual physical characteristics of that goalkeeper."

After that the rule spells out exact specifications for the elbow, arm, clavicle and shoulder protection. The bottom line is the chest and arm protection have been streamlined to be more formfitting. It might be an inch here or an inch there, but it's made a difference to some goaltenders.

Video: DAL@MTL: Bishop makes great save on Tatar

"Now, when you are getting hit in the arm you are getting a lot more stingers," Bishop said. "It's not so much the chest; it's the arms. It's not fun."

And Bishop said it's a bigger concern in practice when goaltenders face a lot more shots. The Stars goalie isn't alone with the concerns. Here's a sampling from some other goaltenders around the league.

"Sooner or later someone's going to get hurt pretty bad," Washington goalie Braden Holtby told the Associated Press. "You can deal with bumps and bruises and stuff. It's when you hope someone doesn't get a broken bone or some sort out of it."

"No, it's terrible, actually," Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky told the Columbus Dispatch. "You start to be afraid of pucks, actually, especially in the practices. You get bruises in here (arms, elbows). It's terrible."

"I'm getting bruised like crazy on my arms," Flyers goalie Brian Elliott told the Courier-Post. "I think that's the biggest issue, they take away padding in the arms. It seems like every shot that you take that's not clean on your blocker or in your glove, it's leaving a mark."

Adding to the frustration for some goaltenders, including Bishop, is they didn't get the new equipment until a month before the season started, not long enough in their opinion to break it in and get used to it.

"It's not so much about the change. It's when they give it to you a month before the season starts," Bishop said. "The chest protector is such an important part because it moves with your body. The pants kind of hang off you, the chest protector is the one piece that kind of hangs onto you. It's a big link in the chain. They make a change, it takes some time to get used to it. Most guys have been wearing the same chest protector for how many ever years.

"It's tough. It's tough. You understand what they are trying to do. It's frustrating when they don't give you enough time to break it in."

But not all goaltenders have raised concerns publicly about the equipment changes. Some have said nothing. Others, when asked, have said they have had no issues. 

"There are guys who love their models, who haven't said a word, they've just gone about their business," NHL VP of Hockey Operations Kay Whitmore, who oversees goaltending equipment changes, told the Toronto Sun.

"It is what it is. There's been some concerns because there's been an odd seam or gap in the arms in certain models. Those are things that we've been addressing for the past month. We're working with manufacturers to correct that."

As for how much the changes have affected goal scoring, that's hard to say. Goal scoring is up this season, but it's often up early in the season. If you compare the games of October 2018 to the games of October 2017, there's been no increase in scoring with teams averaging the same 3.06 goals per game (excluding goals awarded for shootout wins).  

Video: LAK@DAL: Bishop flashes the leather to rob Thompson

"They're looking for more goals, and they are blaming the goaltending on equipment and not on the fact that goaltenders are better these days, bigger and faster," said Bishop. "They are trying to find an excuse as to why there is less goal scoring. The goalies are better, and now they blame it on the equipment. It might add up to a couple of goals a year, but it's not going to make a huge difference."

New streamlined goalie pants came into the NHL in Feb. 2017 and goal scoring went down just a shade for the rest of the season, perhaps with teams playing tighter down the stretch with playoff spots and positioning up for grabs.

But goal scoring was up in 2017-18, with teams averaging 2.93 per game compared to 2.73 per game in 2016-17 (again excluding goals awarded for shootout wins). There were many factors that came into play including a crackdown on slashing calls, more power plays and teams being more efficient on the power play to name a few. Five-on-five goals were up as well. Teams emphasizing speed and skill likely helped, too. Every little bit helps. Maybe even changes to goaltending equipment chipped in a little bit.

Those changes to the goalie gear are here to stay, and Bishop said he and the rest of the goaltending fraternity would adapt.

"Whenever there is change there is going to be resistance," said Bishop, "and then you'll get used to it."

But for now, change has been kind of a pain to Bishop and some other goaltenders.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mark Stepneski has covered the Stars for since 2012. Follow him on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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