Will Steve Mason and other goalies be faced with a bigger net or smaller equipment in the near future? (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)
By Matt Larkin
In the Jan. 16 issue of The Hockey News, a stat page revealed NHL-wide scoring was trending downward in the post-lockout era. Consequently, goalie save percentages trended upward over that span, from .901 in 2005-2006 to .913 in 2010-11. But shots per game generally rose during the same period, indicating chances aren’t the problem. Goalies are. They’re just too darned good.
Is equipment to blame? The league reduced goalie pads from 12 to 11 inches in ’05-06, but is it time to reassess?
“Nothing is imminent,” said NHL goaltending consultant Kay Whitmore. “We keep an eye on the goals-for. As soon as it goes below a certain level, people start to say scoring is going down. You start to look at ways to decrease the size of the equipment to increase scoring.”
Whitmore suggested shrinking equipment can’t happen overnight. The NHL has to experiment to ensure any tweaks don’t sacrifice safety for an offensive free-for-all.
“It’s always been a goal to find a way to get rid of the big catch glove without having sprained thumbs, torn ligaments and wrist injuries,” he said. “We don’t look for things to change, but if there’s a way to do so and still adequately protect the guys, working in conjunction with the NHLPA, that’s our goal.”
He doesn’t buy that goalies are necessarily better. Coaching and shot blocking impact scoring just as much, he said, and “team defenses are so much better than they’ve ever been.”
Watching giants such as Nashville’s Pekka Rinne dominate games today, perhaps bigger, not better, more appropriately describes today’s puck-stoppers.
“How come the net looks so small? The average goalie is 6-foot-1, 200 pounds,” Whitmore said. “That’s a far cry from 5-foot-8, 160 not that long ago.”
The league can’t shrink the goalies themselves, so the next avenue to spike scoring may be to change other facets of the game.
“We talked about bigger nets a few years ago and came up with some crazy-shaped ones,” Whitmore said. “We had the shallower net that’s been approved where maybe you could get a wrap-around off a little quicker and have more space behind the net to create chances.”
Making nets six inches higher was also toyed with, Whitmore said, but the league must consider more than thrilling fans with 6-5 scores. Taller nets would mean higher shots and possibly more goalie injuries. Purists would also cry foul over altered stats, though Whitmore was quick to point out hockey fans have accepted record-book-changers like power play time amendments and shootout goalie wins over the years.
While the NHL will always strive to improve its product, lower scoring doesn’t have to mean lower-quality action, Whitmore said.
“The other night I watched a 1-1 game with 82 total shots go to overtime. It was a great game. Then I watched a 9-0 game. It was terrible.”