Feb
19

Analysis of the Corey Hirsch goalie equipment reduction proposal

February 19, 2016, by
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sportsnet.ca

On Wednesday, Sportsnet Canada aired a controversial (albeit, well produced) piece on how to drastically reduce goalie equipment dimensions, starring former Canadian Olympian and New York Rangers goaltender Corey Hirsch. Over the past few days, this segment has ripped like a tornado through the hockey community, sparking significant debate, frustration and outrage from various corners of the hockey world.

As you can imagine, the goaltending community was not particularly thrilled with the concepts proffered by Hirsch, and some of the more ignorant members of the hockey media have weighed in, as well. If you haven’t seen the video yet, take a minute to watch it in the embed below.

I have read some reactionary opinion pieces and some reasonable reflections over the past few days, but I wanted to take the opportunity to truly digest the information before I weighed in, formally. In trying to organize my thoughts (as you can imagine, they were voluminous) I decided to breakdown each of Hirsch’s claims practically, before following up with some of my own conceptual analysis. Let’s take it point by point…

Chest and Arm:

I will be the first to admit that the chest and arm pads and pants are the areas of the equipment ripest for abuse. There are certainly goalies that take advantage of the dimensions afforded to them to create additional blocking space. I am absolutely on board with creating a more contoured shape for these pads that doesn’t allow a deliberately box-like shape to a goaltender’s upper torso. I think everyone benefits from what I feel should be the final curtailing from what I affectionately call the “Garth Snow” days.

The problem with Hirsch’s analysis is that the floaters that he feels are completely expendable are actually critically important to protecting a goaltender’s under arm. When you seal your arms to your body on a shot near the shoulder, those floaters soften the impact on an awkward area of your body. If you want to contour them, be my guest, but eliminating them all together seriously jeopardizes safety.

Catch glove:

This is where I had one of my biggest issues with Hirsch’s analysis. His biggest target is the grossly mischaracterized “cheater” section of the glove. This is a section of plastic and foam that extends around the thumb area of the hand. His claim is just to get rid of it, which would reduce the blocking capability of the current dimensions. The problem is, that area of the glove is not just to create additional blocking surface. It is designed to displace impact in the thumb area to keep your thumb from bending backwards. It would take years of research and development to determine the viability and limits of removing that section of glove to actually ensure the safety of the goaltenders hand, and Hirsch just wants to rip it off.

Leg pads:

I would hope anyone who watched this video found this section to be at least a little silly. If the NHL continues to reduce the pad size, this will be their third bite at that particular apple. Hirsch takes aim once again at the thigh rise, which helps close the butterfly (more on this later). The problem here is that he is creating a comparison with an obsolete problem. Back in the old days, goaltenders endeavored to create as much width on the across the boot of the pads as possible. During the heyday of the stand-up style (curiously, Hirsch played this style, himself) the best way to counter low shots was additional space on the width of the pads, since the butterfly technique was not employed to seal the ice. This was why the NHL reduced the width to an 11” maximum several years ago.

The problem with Hirsch’s comparison is that with the current techniques, it’s not about space reduction in a vacuum. The biggest obstacle to achieving he and Doug Wilson’s gaping five-hole dream is a goaltender’s knees. No matter how tight or contoured you make the pads, the center of the butterfly is an unmovable, un-reducible part of the goaltender’s body. Hirsch’s solution rests in our modern, indestructible, puck-repelling kneepads. Sure, they have come a long way since even the first adopted models, but they are not designed like a leg pad. Their function is to protect the goaltender from errant shots, deflections and gaps in coverage of the pads. They are certainly not designed to take the brunt of the impact of the shots when a goaltender is in a butterfly.

Based on these facts, his proposal to re-narrow the pads again doesn’t accomplish his end goal and reducing the thigh rise further simply increases the risk of injury and doesn’t get around the part where the goalie’s knees are in the way of the five-hole.

Don’t get me started on the silly notion of removing the outer roll. When is the last time a puck rolling up a flat, vertical surface was stymied by the outer roll of a goalie pad?

Pants:

I’m actually not all that opposed to Hirsch’s suggestions on the pants. I agree that they can be contoured, as long as the sizing parameters taking into account the individual goaltender’s dimensions (short legs, long legs, ATK, etc). This has been a highly abused area.

Blocker:

This area of analysis is again, more silly than offensive. The reason why the blocker is curved is for wrist mobility and not warping the blocker when either in the paddle-down position or the VH/reverse VH positions.

Unless he has some definitive proof that once the puck hits the blocker, it plans on having “Mr. Puck’s wild ride” up your arm and over your shoulder, it doesn’t make much sense to mandate this change.

Goal stick:

Wow. Just, wow. If the shaft of the stick (which is about two inches wide, by the way) is stealing this many goals from the NHL that they need back, there is a much bigger problem. Let’s not talk about how Hirsch’s suggestion that we leave the paddle completely alone in the choice to curtail both the shaft and the blade would completely throw the balance of the entire stick off, but what in the world is it accomplishing?

Making it more difficult for goaltenders to handle the puck? That is already difficult. Even if we got rid of the trapezoid as Hirsch advocates, the days of the roaming third defenseman are clearly over, considering just how much faster every other player on the ice is than the goaltender. All world goalies like Henrik Lundqvist and Jon Quick are already below average in this regard, making them worse at it isn’t putting more pucks in the net, it just puts their defensemen in harm’s way.

Overall presentation:

If you want to have an intelligent conversation about reducing goalie equipment sizes, I am more than willing to have that discussion. I don’t fault Hirsch for the suggestion. My biggest problem with the entire thing is that it was so over simplified conceptually and visually that is marginalizes legitimate concerns and poisons the conversation for people who just want to see more goals.

It appears to be a quick fix. Just look at the graphic reducing all that extra bulk on a wire drying rack without an actual human being inside. This creates the impression that a computer model has all the requirements of goaltender safety and movement accounted for and that goalies are fighting tooth and nail to keep their ridiculous sumo suits that you certainly don’t need to stop a 100mph projectile.

My thoughts:

If you’ve made it this far, I thought this would be a good time to clear up some misconceptions about the whole equipment debate. This concept has become so grossly over simplified that it isn’t moving in a productive direction at this point. Let’s clear some things up.

First, goalie equipment was at it absolute peak size in the early to mid 2000’s. This is why the initial round of reductions (rightfully) took place. Chest and arms were massive, pants looked like tents and goalies routinely had massive thigh rises on super wide pads. The funny thing is, goalie actually got better after that round of rule changes. The extra bulk was traded for mobility, and once butterfly slides became the preferred mobility method for low zone scrambles, the decreased mass made goaltenders quicker and better equipped to get to lateral passes and rebounds efficiently.

There are also several assumptions made when having this debate that have skewed the analysis. One of the more commons one’s, especially regarding the five-hole is the concept of static size versus movement size. In Hirsch’s presentation, he, like many others, looks at the goaltender is his static, ready position. It doesn’t matter how small you make the equipment, if you are shooting five-hole on a squared up goaltender in the ready position, there is a very small chance of scoring. It’s when he or she is moving that is important. It’s not about seeing net when everyone is standing around; it’s about creating openings when everyone is moving.

Which leads directly into the fundamental technique change over the past ten years. The old stand up style migrated directly into the equally extreme Quebec butterfly. Old school goalies stayed on their feet at all costs, which for them, maximized blocking surface. Once goalies learned that they could make themselves bigger in the net by using the butterfly, we saw the advancement of the “drop and block” technique. Think JS Giguere in the 2003 playoffs. Just drop down and make yourself big.

The style of today’s game was born from that initial foray into the butterfly, but has evolved significantly. It incorporates more of a hybrid model that prioritizes mobility just as much as blocking surface. As the speed of the game has evolved, so have the goaltenders. The call for smaller equipment is really just a call for the return to a less efficient style. Scoring advocates want to return to the days when save techniques were not scientifically researched and an industry hadn’t been created to maximize goaltending efficacy.

When skate saves were the norm and goalies had no landing gear on the inside of the pads, the mobility model was basically a lunge. This obviously opened up significant real estate between the goalie’s pads and allowed shooters to take advantage. Now that a goalie can use tight, controlled shuffled slides across the crease, that real estate has disappeared. Paring down dimensions does not help fundamental technique changes that have removed previous opportunity.

If you couple that with the fact that goalies now have specialized everything; from coaching to nutrition and fitness regiments, higher end athletes are now gravitating toward the position. It is no longer the chubby kid or the weak skater that is put in goal.

If you have been a regular reader here during my tenure, you know that as opposed to equipment reductions, I am an advocate of creating additional time and space for shooters. I truly believe that if you want to increase scoring, you need to allow these all world athletes more time and room to create offense. What form that takes isn’t up to me. I’ve heard suggestions of bigger ice, 4 on 4 as the normal format, making sliding to block shots illegal, outlawing the collapsing box in the defensive zone. All of these suggestions have their own benefits and pitfalls.

I suppose, in sum, my biggest problem with all of this is that the NHL clearly has a mandate to increase scoring and reduce goalie efficacy. I get it. What I have a problem with is the league leaning on goaltenders of a by-gone era (and not particularly successful ones) to turn their backs on their modern counterparts and advocate for half-baked, ill-researched solutions to a problem that goes far beyond the width of leg pads. If the NHL wants to increase scoring, this over-simplified witch-hunt is never going to get them where they want to go.

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Categories : Goaltending

25 comments

  1. omgrodnick says:

    Nice analysis, Justin. Amazing how two people who both played goal can see things so differently. I think Hirsch may have forgotten that slapshots can sting you through the types of leg pad currently used by goalies. Or how much a shot up around the point of the shoulder or biceps can hurt. Imagine stopping a Weber or Subban slapper with a thinner pad or with a chest&arms flush on your body. You can get hurt playing in a men’s league let alone facing the top shooters in the world.

    The height and athleticism is something Hirsch doesn’t even get into. 30 years ago, 13 goalies were listed at 6’0 or taller. 20 years ago it was 44. Today, it’s 79. The guys are bigger, in way better shape, more athletic and conditioned, and their technique is razor sharp.

    • Justin says:

      Thank you, sir. You make a good point on just raw velocity. Those stingers can linger when you are playing only one or twice a week against inferior competition. You can get very beat up over 82 games and countless practices against elite shooters.

  2. amy says:

    you have to have equipment that fits the standards maybe it is time

  3. Hatrick Swayze says:

    Excellent break down, Justin. Very well thought out. I am for equipment reductions (or size limitations to an extent). Much like you say, the chest and pants should be kept in check. In other words, I don’t want hockey goalies looking like indoor lacrosse goalies. As long as we don’t move towards that end, I’m good.

    You point out they did a good job with pads, reducing widths and thigh boards. Given that, I don’t think we need to clamor for more leg pad reductions. My brother had the 12 inch wide tps summits in high school when the rule change took place. He bought the same pads 11 inches wide. The difference in size of the static pads is very surprising. As you say, size and mobility have somewhat of an inverse relationship. Today, in beer league, he still uses his 11s despite the surface area reduction. He put the 12s on once last year and had a lot to say about the bulk he wasn’t used to. I don’t see him ever going back.

    I wasn’t able to watch the video at work but based off your commentary, Hirsch seemed very off base with some of his propositions. Addressing goalie sticks comes to mind.

    To me, the best thing for the sport would be to move to a bigger ice. It is somewhat absurd that my weekly mens league games take place on the same size surface as the NHL. Athletes are so fast, systems are so advanced, there is virtually no time out there. Unfortunately, we may see a decrease in big body checks, but I’d take the trade off. The game is trending towards skill and increasing the ice surface would help us move to that end.

    The reason this wont happen is capital costs (renovating 30 arenas) in conjunction with decreased revenues (eliminating the most expensive seats in the house). HRR would not enjoy this transformation. I’d think, though, that the cost could be offset by minimum increased prices in arena’s (6-8% seat price increases, 50 cents more per hot dog, etc). That crap increases year over year anyway, so I don’t see my proposal being all that prohibitive. Still, realistic it probably isn’t.

    More realistically, I think it is easier, simpler and cleaner to slightly adjust net dimensions than to make wholesale goalie gear changes. Equipment changes should be an organic, dynamic and continuous discussion. Anything rushed would most likely not accomplish what it intended without significantly increasing the injury risk.

    • Hatrick Swayze says:

      Forgot to mention…. best line in the whole post-

      “If you couple that with the fact that goalies now have specialized everything; from coaching to nutrition and fitness regiments, higher end athletes are now gravitating toward the position. It is no longer the chubby kid or the weak skater that is put in goal.”

      Got a good chuckle out of that……”Goldberg!”

      • Justin says:

        Thanks, Hatrick. I agree with you on both the modifications (I prefer current pro-spec pads to the ones used in the 90’s) and on the bigger ice, although that is a pipe dream for economic reasons.

        • Chris A says:

          Bigger ice isn’t necessarily a cure. Euro hockey is as boring as it gets and they play on the big ice. Olympic hockey is great, but not because of the big ice, it’s because we get to watch all star teams playing for a gold medal.

          As for scoring and goalies, Justin nailed it when he mentioned Corey Hirsch was a “Stand-Up” style keeper. As hockey fans we need to come to terms with the fact that goalkeeping in the pre-butterfly days was, frankly, terrible. It’s amazing those stand up guys managed to stop anything with any consistency. Of course scoring was going to be above 8 goals a game if NHL teams were essentially using living shooter tutors to guard the goal.

          • Walt says:

            The game was soooooooooooo much slower, relative to todays game, that’s why even as a stand up goalie, they were effective. Look back when Eddie Giacoman shared duties with Gilles Villamiuer, who was a stand up guy, he was effective for his day!!!!!!!! Todays guys are much more gifted, and athletic……….

  4. BenM says:

    Clearly the solution is smaller pucks.

  5. Vinnie says:

    To your comment about the pads and the five hole. I’m a goalie, albeit a beer-leaguer, but even I know that getting best 5 hole coverage is about getting your knees together. When that happens the hole closes and your knee stacks touch and nothing is going through there even if the tops of your pads aren’t touching.

    I’m sure that was your point about the “super knee pads” taking the brunt of the shot, but it’s not going to increase scoring.

    Finally, Giguere was playing like this and relying on his knee pads. However, I sure goalies would rather have their pads take the brunt of the shots and have the knee pads deal with the errant shot like you mentioned. Image link below is of Giguere’s butterfly.

    http://668d3eaa831be4d52f0d515f.ingoalmagazine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Reebok-XLT-12-300×203.jpg

    • Hatrick Swayze says:

      +1 for the Jiggy example

      and +2 for the image link.

      • Justin says:

        Jiggy is a unique case because he has a tremendously narrow butterfly. Those knee pads he is wearing in that photo are swiss carbon fiber and are absolute tanks. Much too bulky for your average tender. Thanks for the comment, Vinnie.

  6. Ray says:

    Good analysis as always Justin. A few ignorant perhaps contrary thoughts.
    These are general and may not apply to this specific issue.

    To me it is more than just increasing goals. I like to see rules that promote skill, so things which accentuate the skill differential are good (to be simplistic, changes that hurt Raanta more than they hurt Hank are good). I don’t know how the proposed changes fare.

    I view hockey equipment like the manufacture of golf balls. The equipment should make the game safer and be less cumbersome, but it should not make the players better.

    One thing old time goalies know perhaps that you do not is how real the injuries you want to prevent are. You may view something as a safety issue, but it may be that with older equipment, no one ever got hurt that way. OTOH, the fact that Hirsch himself never got hurt that way is not convincing.

    For example, perhaps concussions in hockey could largely be eliminated by getting rid of helmets (and the illusion that heads are protected).

    • Ray says:

      On rereading my comment, lest it is unclear, ignorant referred to my thoughts not yours.

      • Justin says:

        I got it, Ray. No worries. It’s an interesting proposal you put forward and I feel that hockey is unique in it’s features. In manipulating ice, the equipment has an inherent performance component, since we couldn’t physically play the sport without it. The accompanying logic would then dictate outlawing landing gear and calf stabilizers, since they allow the goalies to slide in a way that they would unnaturally be able to do.

        The injury concern is very real. The puck is small and unforgiving and today’s players generate a tremendous amount of velocity. I would be very nervous strapping on significantly reduced padding.

        • Ray says:

          Concerning unnatural moves and equipment, I would amend my thoughts to making the game as fun to watch and play as possible. Allowing tenders to block shots more easily is a bad thing, but creating more highlight reel saves is a good thing. [Tradeoffs]

          Ironically, what is important to you is often of no concern to a casual fan. And by that I mean things like positioning yourself in such a way that a shot on which you are totally screened hits you.

    • Walt says:

      Ray

      Great post, but do you see the old wooden stick come back into play???

      It makes a lot of these players better, and it changed the game somewhat, but they will never go back to wood!!!!!!

  7. 43 says:

    I disagree with Hirsch. It’s not like every goalie in the league is playing with Garth Snow’s aircraft carrier leg pads and his boulder sized shoulder pads. This desire to change the rules in order to increase goals is bothersome, totally disregards the integrity of the game.

  8. "The Original Rob" says:

    “It might mean they can no longer “make saves they don’t really make,” as was the Washington Capitals’ infamous criticism of Henrik Lundqvist, but that’s better than relearning the position with a giant net behind them.”

    Wow I never knew the Capital Organisation said those things about Hank… But it’s okay for there star player to use an illegal stick for the better part of this decade lol. You guys ever take a close look at the forward half of his blade? It looks like a Jai Lai stick lol.

  9. "The Original Rob" says:

    Seriously though,

    I have the perfect solution to the problem here, but unfortunately will NEVER get approved by the team owners and concessions/arena building owners….

    Make the Ice bigger!

    Here’s the thing though.

    Definitely not International size, not even the Euro size, but if you made the rinks bigger, the size somewhere between todays NHL size and the Euro size, it may open things up a bit without hurting the integrity of the game.

    I look at it like this. The players are faster, stronger, shoot harder and are more accurate (this goes for ALL players Goalies included).

    To me, it’s not the size of the net but more so, that high scoring (offensive plays) are too infrequent. So if we were to make the size of the rink in symmetry to the overall increase in level of ability of the players nowadays, it would create more of those higher percentage plays to occur more.

    Unfortunately, I’m sure they won’t even experiment with this, as it would mean the loss of two or three rows of seats which translates into a loss in something in the pockets of the owners.

  10. Seth says:

    As a goalie,, I’m all for reducing the size of the equipment … as long as the manufacturers stop designing sticks that allow the skaters the power to shoot harder…

    Everyone is all for reducing the equipment size until a star goalie gets seriously injured and the league will want to know why

  11. Rog says:

    Justin,

    About the actual glove part of the catching glove…..is that something that is bigger than when Hirsch played? And if so, would reducing the catching capability make for a simple change?

    My “eye test” feels it is way bigger than previous eras.

    Also, aren’t this year’s pads significantly lighter again? The ability for goalies to move up/down, across is made much easier by the lighter gear. Not that there is anything wrong with that!

    How bout we bring back the banana stick!?!?

  12. paulronty says:

    The plain fact is that the real problem is not the goalie equipment but the size of modern day goalies. They are huge to begin with & with their equipment there is so much less net visible to the shooter. That’s why the game has degenerated into block the goalie’s vision & fire & chances are it will deflect into the net unless it’s blocked. Corey doesn’t want to mess with tradition but the solution is to increase the size of the nets or reduce the size of the piping as one guy is trying to do that I heard on the radio. Apparently there were 1300+ shots that hit the post last year. Just think if you make the goal 1 or 2″ wider, there is 1300 more goals per season right there. Hockey has degenerated into a goalie’s game & it needs to come back to the point where the shooter has more opportunity.

  13. sieve it up says:

    Maybe take a few teams out and have some actual talent on each team …. old days each team had 5-6 all-star caliber players,now each team has 2-3.Maybe those fancy composite stick aren’t so accurate?? Take some equipment away from th goalies but use the wood sticks from back in the day!

  14. Jon says:

    I really think the NHL should just leave the game alone. The NHL and hockey in general is a traditionalist league/sport. I don’t think we need to change a thing. 9 times out of 10 the goalie is successful on a shot on goal. They were able to improve upon that figure with technique and equipment because scoring was plentiful. I just think the skaters were slow to keep up with the rapid changes you aluded to Justin. If they could just be patient the scoring will improve over time. Somehow patience isn’t something NHL execs have practiced the last 10 years or so.
    Great read Justin. Of all the ideas I’ve heard (some like 4 on 4 I never heard of) increasing the size of the net is probably the least extreme. Especially adding to the width of the standard NHL size goal would increase scoring. I think that they’ve reduced goalie equipment enough the last several years. With the size of today’s NHL skater and how hard they shoot it’s cutting into goalies safety now. Adding width will give shooters more room on the low side of the net.