The Malik Report
by George Malik on 06/11/13 at 08:17 PM ET
Sportsnet's Mark Spector had a conversation with NHLPA special assistant to the executive director and competition committee member Mathieu Schneider about attempts to reduce the number of blocked shots and re-tweak goaltending equipment to increase scroring, and while I'm no fan of the fact that John Tortorella's mandate that each and every member of the New York Rangers block shots, to the point that the Rangers' equipment staff worked with equipment manufacturers to place composite shot-blocking protectors on the backhand of every player's hockey gloves...
The question of decreasing protective equipment is always a delicate one. Sure, as Spector and Schneider note, Gregory Campbell being called a hero for breaking his leg blocking a shot is...Let's say there's a fine line between heroism and stupidity in hockey...
Do the NHL, the NHLPA, the competition committee and the players really want to expose players who are wearing "skate fenders" because they're also wearing skates purposefully designed not to block shots, but to be as light as possible, to broken feet if a shot comes their way, lest the player deliberately turn his foot to block a shot, as he's probably been coached to do since he was in junior hockey?
Do we want to see goaltenders suffer broken clavicles and sternums because chest protectors being "too bulky" almost automatically yields a player saying, "Well, a police officer can wear a bulletproof vest that conforms to his body," ignoring the concept that ONE bullet impact tends to result in at least significant bruising and, in many cases, broken bones or minor organ damage?
Here's what the pair have to say about Campbell and the proliference of shot-blocking:
"This is something that we’ve really neglected to look at,” Schneider, special assistant to the executive director for the NHLPA, said of the shot-blocking trend that has captivated today’s NHL. “Maybe six years ago, Bob Gainey suggested that we need to stop allowing players to leave their feet to block shots. Everyone looked at him like he had three heads.”
As these two Original Six clubs meet to contend in what should be a dandy Stanley Cup final, a popular vignette will be of Gregory Campbell’s heroic PK work versus Pittsburgh, limping around the defensive zone after blocking an Evgeni Malkin shot during a penalty kill. He would leave the ice and now his season is over; his right fibula was broken on that shot block.
Campbell truly embodies everything we love about our hockey players. But does it also exemplify an area of the game that needs changing?
“Go back 10, 11 years,” Schneider said. “It was discouraged to go down on one knee to block a shot. I’m watching guys dive head first in front of shots now. Look at the (New York) Rangers lineup. You’ve got five guys making kick saves. They’ve got extra equipment on their skates, on their gloves … Essentially, what we’ve done is given guys equipment so they can safely block shots with any area of their body.”
I'll also readily admit that, when the competition committee decided to crack down on what have become six to eight inches of high-density foams and plastics sticking up from goalies' knees, to the point that guys' pads have to fold in so that rock-hard thigh rises don't trip the goalies sporting them, I not only applauded the decision as a goaltender, but was also stunned when InGoal Magazine's Kevin Woodley revealed that goalie consultant and former Giguere-puffy-shirt-coaching Francois Allaire had helped develop composite knee pads that would both render thigh rises redundant and, even if goalies' "landing gear" were reduced, all but bring us back to the pre-lockout era of "thigh boards" blocking out a goalie's 5-hole...
But when people like Schneider suggest that goaltenders should be able to deal with the concussive force of hundreds of six-ounce frozen rubber pucks heading toward their bodies in excess of 70 or 80 miles an hour with form-fitting equipment, that scares the hell out of me:
“We can develop all these materials that are bulletproof, and yet we say we need these huge chest protectors? And shoulder pads that go up underneath the cross bar?” he said. “I think we have a lot of people in the right mindset that we can get this thing done. I think it’s not just media and fans that have said enough is enough. It’s a lot of players and former players now.”
Former NHL goalie Glenn Healy is on board.
“You’re talking to a guy who couldn’t get through the gate at the Montreal Forum, because his pads were too big, OK?” he laughs. “Maybe the formula, with regards to how big the pads can be … can now be re-tweaked, and re-jigged. Let’s come up with a better mouse trap.”
I have no problem with the concept of rounding off all the damn square "blocks" and "floaters" that exist on elbows, shoulders and bellies, and I don't advocate goalies wearing their gear in such a manner as to allow it to "blossom" outward from their bodies in their stances...But those layers are needed, especially in the shoulders.
If a puck hits you in the sternum or shoulder, even if you're wearing a big, bulky chest protector, you get a welt and you can collapse in pain because it hurts. Pucks have that much energy and we are simply not at a point where the concussive force of a puck can be contained in bulletproof vest-style equipment.
We don't have that technology, plain and simple.
Goalie pants can also be sized more form-fittingly and rounded, but asking goalies to wear hockey pants with fewer layers of protection is a recipe for broken thighs and hips.
While I'm all for shrinking those thigh rises, do you want to know why goalies aren't wearing 10-inch-wide pads? Because the NHL tested those at the conclusion of the lockout, and the goalies who tested them found that that going from 12-inch-wide pads to 11-inch-wide pads was tolerable (though sacrificing that inch yielded dozens of groin and hip injuries during the first two years of pad implementation because that inch changed the mechanics of bodies dropping into butterfly position, placing more stress on groins and hips and knees)...
The goalies' legs would slide out of the 10-inch-wide pads, and if their legs bent or twisted in certain ways, they'd find their thighs and calves exposed to shots.
Can you round off the "blocks" on the vertical roll? Yep. But shrinking pads any further in terms of width is dangerous.
And in terms of goalies' hands?
Goalies like Ryan Miller and Nikolai Khabibulin boast screws and plates in their thumbs and index fingers from the reduction in blocker size from 16"x12" or 16"x10" to 15"x8"--which, in 2005, was the size of an "intermediate" or teenager's blocker--and again, while it's possible to trim some of the bulk off of what have become "side boards" that are as large and stiff as the frontal face of the blocker, eliminating them would result in a spate of broken thumbs and wrists.
Chris Osgood and other goalies who once used gigantic catch gloves also have broken wrists and hands to tell you what happened when those massive 52" and 50"-inch perimeter gloves were first reduced to 48" and then 45," At least at the professional level, the concept of reducing a goaltending glove's perimeter to 42 or 43 inches is downright dangerous.
Reduce the size of the "pocket" and tee-trap? Sure, that can be done. But when you're not only stopping pucks but also are stopping players running into and over your hands, the NHL's basically reached the maximum in terms of what it can do to reduce the size of the gear covering players' hands.
Put bluntly, there are places to tweak the "mousetraps" for both players and goalies, but suggesting that simply removing equipment completely from the protective choices available to forwards and defensemen who've been taught to place their limbs in harm's way, or to suggest that goaltenders need nothing more than "bulletproof vests" or child-sized equipment...Doesn't take into account the real dangers that players face, nor the fact that for every Allaire trying to keep ahead of the standards and give his goaltending pupils an unfair advantage, or every Tortorella that's decided to ensure that his players can essentially wear blockers on their hands...
You can't simply say, "Well, because we don't like that style of hockey, we're going to have to accept that there will be some Gregory Campbells along the way."
That's just as dangerous as making the conscious decision to play on a broken leg, and far less "noble."
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.