Every once in a while, something happens in the hockey world that compels me to get up on my soapbox and rant about it. The last time this happened, it was the heated debate over the Milan Lucic/Ryan Miller hit. That one helped get me a gig writing for BSB, so unfortunately for all of you, it has emboldened me to stand up on that box once again…
Goalies are getting in the way. Their entire existence is devoted to removing the most exciting play in hockey: the goal. Everyone wants more scoring; the league, the fans, the analysts. Casual fans get into 7-6 barn burners way more easily than 1-0, tightly checked, defense-first games. Ever since Lockout II in ‘04-‘05, the league has looked for ways to improve goal scoring to broaden hockey’s appeal.
They have toyed with wider, bowed-out nets, they have limited the goalie’s ability to play the puck, and implemented a wide range of physical limitations on the size of the equipment goalies wear. Most famously, limiting the width of leg pads from 12” to 11” (which, was a good thing). Not to mention the breathtakingly long list of proposed improvements that the NHL has not allowed for, and incremental disallowance of many commonly used protective features, which could, in theory*, give the goalie an undeserved advantage.
On one hand, I can see the prevailing logic. In the early 2000’s, some enterprising tenders (cough, Garth Snow, cough) began to push the limit of the size of equipment they wore relative to their size. Huge, winged chest protectors, oversized gloves, and massively wide pants dotted the landscape. Limits had to be set, and rightfully were. However, the myriad of steps taken to limit the goaltender’s “advantage” isn’t enough for Sharks’ GM Doug Wilson, oh, no. Not nearly enough.
A couple weeks ago, Wilson, a former NHL defenseman made (minor) headlines with the following quotes:
- “With the length of these pads, somebody has to ask the question why they’re allowed to wear them up to their hips,” Wilson said, without pointing to any specific netminder. “It affects the way the game is played. I want goalies protected, but we’re not compromising protection, we’re compromising the integrity of the game.” And
- “The length of these pads basically go from post to post,” Wilson said. “Now (goalies) don’t have to put their stick down. They keep their upper body up and their arms tucked in, and all it does is take away more puck-stopping area. There’s no skill to it and it’s not right.”
Wilson has pledged to take this “problem” to the league during the summer meetings. Now, in Wilson’s defense, Kay Whitmore (former NHL netminder and current NHL goaltending supervisor), and ‘Canes GM Jim Rutherford (former NHL netminder) have echoed these sentiments to a degree. They have far greater credibility in this situation than Wilson does, but they both played in a by-gone era; where the fundamentals of the position, much less the equipment have become almost 100% obsolete.
Before I start in, let me first explain to the uninitiated what Wilson is talking about. Back in the 90’s, the predominant measurement for sizing pads was from your ankle to your knee. That’s how your pad size was computed. The area above your knee was a standard size based on the model of the pad (JR or SR). As the butterfly style became more popular and the Allaire blocking method was emphasized, pad makers began to increase the area of the pad above the knee. This “thigh rise” helped close the five-hole without having to bring the knees together. It allowed the tender to focus on spreading the butterfly as wide as possible. See the image above.
There are several issues for me in regard to Wilson’s statement. First, his statements imply a foundation of rulemaking that goalie equipment isn’t supposed to aid the goalie in stopping the puck. It is literally only for his or her protection. In that case, why not make goalie sticks the same width as player ones? Why not make the glove hug the shape of the hand with webbing between the thumb and index finger? Why allow advances in goalie skates? You get my point. I didn’t realize that the sole function of the goalie pad was to protect the tender.
There was an old axiom back in the 90’s that “70% of NHL goals are scored in the bottom third of the net.” I’m not sure if that stat still holds true, but it sure makes sense that equipment manufacturers thought that could be a deficiency in the equipment that would be good to remedy. Why wouldn’t you put R&D dollars into mitigating the biggest weakness goalies possessed at that time?
With the advances in equipment technology, the game has become faster and harder than ever before. One-piece stick technology has transformed a player’s ability to shoot the puck. Goalie’s thigh rises are no more artificial than the difference in velocity a player gets between an Easton S19 stick and an old Sherwood 5030. Some guys have physical gifts. Al Iafrate could shoot a puck 105mph with a wood stick. Some goalies have 6 foot wide butterflies. Some guys don’t. But to offer huge technological or artificial advantages to one group and not the other is the definition of hypocrisy. “Compromising the integrity of the game”? Give me a break, Doug.
His remarks about there being no skill in executing a butterfly save in the NHL today are also nuts. Have you ever tried to coordinate all those body movements you just described, Mr. Wilson? Trust me, there is plenty of skill to it. Not only do you have to maintain the appropriate balance while in 60 lbs. of equipment while on your knees with your feet flared out, you have to make sure there are no holes between your legs, between your arms, or around your body. The positioning component alone can render the most perfectly executed butterfly completely moot, if you’re six inches too far to one side.
My apologies for the overlong pontification, but this is absurd. There should be reasonable limits on the size of goalie pads, of course. But, to treat an entire position like they are the problem for seeking to maximize performance through equipment evolution and style adaptation is perverse. Ever GM knows that a top-flight keeper in their highest form is essential to long-term competiveness in this league. Maybe next time Wilson will suggest eliminating the position all together and shooting on an empty net. We’ll see how much skill that takes.
*The vast majority of these limitations make no practical difference in puck stopping, they are simply protective measures, specifically in the knee area (under the pad).