There’s an old sports maxim: “If you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t tryin”.
Goaltenders have embraced this with the passion of a Tour cyclist - with the size and mechanics of their gear essentially acting as the “steroids of hockey.”
But to be fair, the league is an unsuspecting enabler.
For example; goalies have been allowed to wear an extension on the cuff of their catching glove called a “cheater” since the days of Tony Esposito in the 70s
Again, it’s called a “cheater”! Nobody has a problem with that? This apparatus doesn’t protect anything, it just eliminates net.
Anyway, the latest big cheat has been pad height.
Leg pads are feather-lite, twist on the leg of the goaltender so as to maximize the blocking area along the ice when he is on his knees in the butterfly, and have grown to California King size in length.
It’s a problem.
General Managers Doug Wilson and Jim Rutherford (a former goalie) have talked openly about the need to once again crack down on equipment size and in particular, pad height.
So what’s the problem exactly?
It’s this: The extended height allows a goalie to all but eliminate the ‘5-hole’ (that area between his legs) when he is in the butterfly. The protruding pad above the knee acts like a pinball flipper, and the enormous knee-pads that many (not all) wear act as plugs for any hole that remains. It’s a “system”, not protection, and therefore is - for all intent and purpose - cheating.
Read this phenomenally detailed and informative excerpt of an article written by the equally fabulous and informed Justin Goldman of @thegoalieguild on Calgary goalie Danny Taylor and you’ll see that very little of today’s goalie mindset is spent on protection:
“More importantly, as a smaller goalie at the pro ranks, Taylor does whatever he can to make himself look bigger. Without a boot strap pulling his leg pads down, the pads sit just a bit higher on his legs. Combine that with squared-off thigh rises, really stiff boots of the pads, and a custom Brian’s SubZero chest protector, he squeezes out every inch possible to maximize his net coverage.
“His pads are only 36.5 inches tall, but they look like a 38-inch pad,” Joswiak added.
The most controversial part of Taylor’s pad setup is his skates. In the AHL, Taylor was wearing steel blades that were taller than anything else out there. The Step Steel Xtreme blades are about a quarter-inch taller than the steel worn by all other NHL goaltenders, which was giving him a legit advantage.
The advantage of wearing Step Steel Xtreme blades was simple, yet fairly significant. The taller steel raised the cowling (the plastic or Kevlar carrier that protects the inside of the skate from hard shots) higher from the ice, which allowed Taylor to set his legs lower and wider on his inside edges before that plastic cowling made contact with the ice.
With regular-sized steel, a goalie could only set his feet so far apart before the cowling caused the steel to lose contact with the ice. But with the taller steel, a goalie can maintain contact between his edges and the ice for a split second longer, which allows him to be more patient and reactive in the butterfly.
Taller steel also improves what is called the “attack angle” of a skate. When a goalie is already in the down position and give up a rebound, they lift one leg and push off laterally using the inside edge of their skate to stay in position. The taller the steel, the quicker a goalie can catch that inside edge and push off, and the stronger their pushes will be in whatever direction they need to go.”
Taylor of course isn’t the only one guilty of PEPs (Performance Enhancing Pads), but his are truly quite obnoxious.
The best argument against the goaltenders “need” to have the bulky gear is that in virtually every game close to as many shots are blocked by skaters as are stopped by goalies. Those skaters wear; no mask, no chest and arm protector, no goalie pants, no fat leg pads, no goalie skates, and no armor-plated gloves.
If the skaters can routinely survive their bravery with relatively flimsy and skinny protective gear then surely the goaltenders don’t need the mass of foam and plastic that adorn them. Surely.
As Dr. Phil would advise; It’s time to get real with the problem.