Kukla's Korner Hockey
by George Malik on 12/10/07 at 10:53 PM ET
Of all the people to bang the “let’s pick on the goalies because we only need to pick on thirty guys to increase goal scoring” drum, Eric Duhatschek certainly went on the attack last Tuesday afternoon:
Two years after the NHL introduced rule changes in order to spur offence - limits to obstruction, no more centre red line for offside, a trapezoid behind the net to limit goalies handling the puck — it appears as if goaltenders are in the ascendancy again.
Scoring is down almost a goal per game since the early post-lockout days. The rule changes — and rule enforcements — may have changed the game for the better, but it did nothing to help the bottom line. For anyone who wanted to see an up-tick in scoring, it just hasn’t happened.
During last week’s NHL board of governors meetings, newly appointed Players’ Association executive director Paul Kelly ventured that his group would consider a couple of changes to enhance offence, including shrinking goalie equipment, something the Blues’ Paul Kariya is all in favour of.
“It’s pad size — period,” said Kariya. “I know there’s been a lot of talk about a protection issue for goalies and there is no question that players today shoot the puck a lot harder, so goalies have to be protected. But protection isn’t width, it’s depth — and the quality of the padding is obviously state-of-the-art.
“Sports Illustrated, a couple of years ago, had a full page spread with Eddie Mio on one page, in his old gear, and Roberto Luongo on the other — and Roberto Luongo took up 25 per cent more of the net just standing there, not doing anything.”
Yeah, that’s great. We all know that Roberto Luongo’s chest protector is gigantic. But is it the chest protector that’s dropping down to block shots in front of him, or that chest protector that’s dropping into the butterfly and staying stationary while sealing the bottom of the ice because guys simply don’t get many rebound chances on him? Who’s doing that?
Besides, Eddie Mio was 5’10” and 180 lbs., and Roberto Luongo’s 6’3” and 205 lbs. I don’t know if Kariya’s done his math homework lately, but a goalie who’s 5 inches taller and 25 pounds heavier just might take a little more space up “just standing there.” It’s called “players getting bigger over time,” Paul, something you’ve blessedly not had to worry about.
Duhatschek then goes on to allow Kariya to invoke the what is nothing less than a holy grail for pundits—the argument that you can’t score goals going down the wing anymore.
“I remember seeing a guy like Mike Gartner scoring 30 goals a year driving down the wing, taking a slap shot to the stick side.
“There is no chance of scoring like that anymore. Now, if you’re in that position, you’re taught to shoot five-hole to get a rebound.
“Part of that is the evolution of the game. I think the game’s been great compared to five or six years ago. That (reducing goalie pad size), for me, is the easiest change — even if it produces just one more goal a game.”
So why don’t you take a shot to the stick side, Paul? There are holes, and you’d be surprised how many goalies get backed off by a big slap shot. Brian Rolston seems to do pretty well for himself actually risking a slapper that seems to find its way through a sea of legs and through those “holes that aren’t there anymore.”
If I’m going to invoke the Hockey Night in Canada argument, goalies have seen their leg pads chopped down from an almost unlimited pre-2003-2004 maximum (see: Garth Snow’s 48"x14” pads) to 38"x12,” and then 38"x11,” with significant restrictions to the interior calf and knee pads’ depth and width, their catch gloves reduced from a pre-lockout perimeter of 50” (which was actually followed as gloves of a 52”-54” perimeter become unwieldy) to 48” and then 45,” with significant restrictions to the width and depth of the pocket and length from the base of the palm to the top of the pocket, essentially eliminating gloves that were only 50” in perimeter but had a pocket so deep that you could stick a person’s head in there. Perhaps just as importantly, cuff size has gone down from 10"x6” to 8"x4,” which exposes the wrist. Blockers have gone down from what were once almost leg-pad-sized 11”-12”-inch widths to 8"x16” and then 8"x15,” and the “sidewall” protection that basically allowed goaltenders to have a full blocker’s worth of protection from their index finger to thumb has been made illegal—“sidewalls” must be form-fitting. And, contrary to popular opinion, even despite the fact that people like Luongo, Giguere, and Miller wear chest protectors of XXXL proportions for their XL-sized bodies, there have been significant restrictions on chest protectors—ask the Isles’ GM again, a.k.a. Garth “Gee, I’m not sure how my shoulders come up to my ears, but I guess they do” Snow.
Let’s crunch some numbers, and let’s stick with the stuff that’s easy to calculate the area of—blockers and goal pads.
If a goaltender was using a slightly illegal 9"x17” blocker, he dropped down from a blocker with 153 square inches of area to a 8"x16” blocker with 128 square inches of area, and then down to 120 inches. That’s a decrease of 33 inches, or 22%.
If Garth Snow was still playing—and let’s assume that his pads were 12” wide for the sake of argument—he went from a 48"x12” pad, which covered 576 square inches of area, down to a 38"x12” pad, which covers 456 square feet of the net, and then down to 418 inches on a 38"x11” pad, which is 158 less square inches of net covered, or about 27.4% less net.
We’re getting a pretty decent average, just from these two pieces of equipment, of about a 20-25% reduction, which is a safe estimate for every piece of goaltending equipment. And yet William Houston, who also grumbles about the necessity for a bigger net and smaller goalie gear, reiterates the point that even-strength goals are up by 10%, and power-play goals are up by 10%, respectively, from their pre-lockout totals.
Let’s also throw some context in here, as Luongo was repeatedly asked about the size of goaltending equipment during a conference call required by his status as the NHL’s “First Star” of the week. The italics are mine:
Q. Last week we were down at the Board of Governors meetings and Paul Kelley addressed the gathering and made a couple of points about things that players would consider looking at. One was to increase the schedule to 84 games and another was to look at possible reduction in the size of goalie equipment, provided they could be adopted safely. What is your reaction about that?
ROBERTO LUONGO: ... For the equipment, I’m not sure what exactly—which part of the equipment they want to reduce. As long as it’s nothing that jeopardizes the safety of the goaltender, those are things we can look at.
Q. It’s interesting that the three stars of the week this week are all goaltenders. Goal scoring coming out of the lockout is down a goal a game. Looks like you have taken over the game again. Do you have that sense that all the attempts at increasing scoring have failed because you guys are stopping a lot of pucks?
ROBERTO LUONGO: ... I’ve said it a hundred times before: if you want to increase scoring, just open up the game more and there will be more scoring chances and there will be more goals. That’s how you increase scoring.
Q. Do you think there’s a way to reduce goalie pads safely? There was already the one reduction. Do you think there’s any kind of room that you might be able to sacrifice some stuff without giving up safety?
ROBERTO LUONGO: You know, I don’t know. I mean, it’s tough to say. I don’t think pads, is an area—that it’s something that we want to touch. It’s pretty small as it is. With the knee guards and stuff, it’s already spilling out a little bit on the sides there. I don’t know, the 10 inches, how it would look. That’s up for them to judge and do some testing on and see what would happen.
Q. Do you feel less safe now in the newer pads than you did a couple years ago or are you comfortable with where they’re at right now?
ROBERTO LUONGO: I’m comfortable with the pads. The one area that concerns me a little bit is they’re talking about the gloves. I’ve never had bruises on my hands like this in the past. I’m a little afraid to think of what it would be if they would go smaller in that.
I’ve stated this before and I’ll state it again—at this point, you are not going to get goalies to agree to a decrease in blocker or catch glove size, because not only are players “bigger and stronger” and are shooting harder with composite sticks, but the reality of the situation is that, at this point, protective equipment has been pushed to its modern-day size limits. Ask Nikolai Khabibulin, Ryan Miller, or Chris Osgood, who suffered broken fingers because of the reduction in blocker “sidewalls,” or ask Osgood, who suffered a broken wrist from a puck to the underside of his catch glove cuff, if catch glove restrictions are at a level where they should not be reduced any further.
Or ask a goalie equipment designer. When I spoke to TPS Hockey’s Dave Wilcox a year ago, he told me that they’ve had to re-adjust the length of chest/arm protectors’ arms to make up for the fact that more wrist and forearm are being exposed by the restrictions in catch glove and blocker size, and guys were getting hurt.
Goalie equipment designers will also tell you that the 45” perimeter catch glove design was originally the biggest “intermediate” size—and now it’s being used by adults instead of kids from 12-16.
As far as leg pads are concerned, people seem to forget that changing the geometry of the pad in just chopping that one inch off leg pads, going from 12"x38” to 11"x38,” resulted in a ridiculous number of groin injuries—and hip injuries—during the 05-06 season. When you chop an inch of width from the goal pad, that means that your knee and your skate are hitting the ice at different angles, and for butterfly goaltenders, that 1” means that you have to significantly re-adjust because your knees and skates have an inch less of clearance—effectively pushing your knees further down, which puts your skates that much more parallel to the ice, increasing wear and tear on your knees, hips, and groins, because you want your knees up above your skates if at all possible when you’re dropping to your knees over 50 times a game.
Chop off another inch, and you’re going to have another year’s worth of goalies who have to re-learn how to butterfly without hurting themselves, and, as Luongo indicates, you end up in the territory goalies refused to tread after the lockout because at 10” wide, if your pad isn’t flush on your leg, the outsides of your leg start to stick out. Did I mention the fact that the goalies who didn’t need exterior leg padding on their 38"x12” leg pads have almost exclusively added padding to protect the outsides of their legs because they were already getting dinged by errant pucks? Oops…
Goalies have already stated repeatedly that chopping the chest protector down a bit wouldn’t kill them. I’ve spoken to many goalies who’re more than willing to both have the “elbow floaters” and shoulders rounded off, the “wings” ostensibly covering area between the shoulder and middle of the chest chopped, and, perhaps most importantly, chest protectors properly fitted so that guys like Ryan Miller, who’re stick-figure thin, look more like Dominik Hasek (human) than Jean-Sebastien Giguere (who must still wear some sort of “puffy shirt” under his gear).
Round the pants, too, and don’t allow guys to be wearing “fat man” pants with 50”+ waistbands.
But the rest of it?
Pundits, you lose here. Reducing catch glove size any further means that you’re going to have tons of shots stinging guys in the wrists, and you’re going to have gloves starting to torque over, resulting in sprains and injuries from twisting motions, never mind guys ramming into you at 20 miles an hour.
Chop the blocker any further, and guys are going to suffer broken fingers very, very regularly.
Mess with the leg pad width—go ahead and tell Manny Legace that it’s not fair that he has a 38” pad at 5’8” (with his skates on) when a guy like Luongo (6’3”) is restricted to the same 38” height, and go ahead and restrict thigh rises based upon guys’ calf and thigh measurements—but mess with leg pad width, and you’re gonna have more NHL goalies on the sidelines with ripped-up groins and hip labrum tears.
Otherwise, we’re not budging, especially because the rest of us, those non-NHL goalies who need a little protection because we’re not always perfect in our technique, have to wear the same damn thing that the NHL’ers do.
Break up the trap and the “zone” defence.
Call penalties for guys who sprawl to block shots.
Restrict advanced scouting and the employment of video to do so.
Enforce full 2-minute power plays, no matter how many goals are scored, and call icing on PK’ers.
How about allowing for unlimited stick curvature, so guys can lift the puck over these butterflying netminders, forcing guys to stay on their feet more, exposing more of the bottom of the net?
Actually suggest that teams employ power-play and shooting/passing coaches, because defence is not the only skill that can be taught—Tomas Holmstrom’s so good at tipping pucks because he spends 10-20 minutes at the end of every practice doing it over and over again.
Or, maybe, just maybe, let the fans dictate whether they like the game as it is, and stop worrying about the concept that unless you mainstream media types are covering easy-to-report-about 11-9 games, where all you have to do is describe goals instead of actually paying attention to the games when you’re having an “off day” in the press box because the things that win hockey games are subtle, and get over yourselves and your demand that the Oilers-era aberration in scoring, which the NHL had never previously seen and probably will never see again, is somehow the ONLY way by which games can be deemed “entertaining.”
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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