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The Goalie Equipment / Net Size Argument Is Intriguing

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Darren Pang and Ben Bishop swap goalie gear.
Darren Pang and Ben Bishop swap goalie gear.

I'm not on here to sell hockey to the masses. I more thrive on being Don Cherry-esque and tackling the tough hockey issues from time to time. Goalie equipment size and / or net size is an issue that has been grinding my gears for a long time. To be honest, I hate the lack of entertainment value from goaltenders nowadays compared to the old days. By old days I mean, pre-Jean-Sebastien Giguere Conn Smyth days with the Ducks as they got to the Finals for the first time. (Look it up. It was over a decade ago.) He won the Conn Smythe trophy, wearing insanely oversized goalie equipment.

The NHL is on pace to have the fewest goals scored this season since 2003-04.

This subject again is front and center at GM meetings. Does the NHL investigate the size of goalie equipment and shrink it considerably or do they increase the size of the nets to increase scoring?

There was an excellent article in the Vancouver Sun today about this very topic, with a lot of quotes from former Canucks goaltender Kay Whitmore and the writer, Michael Traikos. Here are a few of the gems:

A kid, who was maybe 10 or 11 years old, was standing in net. He was so small his head did not come up to the crossbar, yet the over-sized equipment he was wearing caused him to fill most of the net.

"Somewhere in this pair of pants was a little goalie trying to get out," said Whitmore. "I couldn’t stop laughing."

When the league’s competition committee met in June and discussed how to increase scoring, players brought up the ballooning size of goalie pants, and chest and arm protectors. One idea was to make equipment more streamlined. The human body is round — "Other than your chest and your abdomen, there’s not a lot of flat spots on your body," said Whitmore — and the equipment should reflect that by hugging the curves rather draping over it.

The difference now, said Whitmore, is that a lot of the calls for change are coming from goalies who are afraid of losing their job to someone who is larger but has less ability.

"Some goalies are taking more than they need, because the rules aren’t strict enough," Whitmore said. "I think we’re trying to dial down and make a goalie look like how he does when he doesn’t have his equipment on. There should be a difference between a 250-pound and a 160-pound goalie."

Whitmore did not name any names, but Vancouver’s Ryan Miller has become the poster boy for this problem. The 6-foot-2 and 168 pound goalie has the rail-thin body of a marathon runner. But once he straps on his equipment, there is no real difference between him and Jonathan Quick, who is 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds.

"What size person is an extra large? Why isn’t anyone in a small? I’ve asked these questions and no one can give me an answer," said the 5-foot-11 and 175-pound Whitmore, who wore medium-sized pants when he was playing. "It’s just a matter of slotting guys in the right spot."

But Miller isn't totally against the whole concept of shrinking goalie equipment:

Miller, who has worked with the competition committee in past reductions to goalie gear, said he is "on board" with "streamlining equipment and cutting it down." After all, the better goaltenders are not the ones who are worried. They tend to believe once you strip them down, the lesser talents will be exposed.

Yep. That last sentence is an interesting point. It's amazing how much goalie styles have changed over the years. This article by Sportsnet's Cory Hirsch breaks that down splendidly.

The cool trend now is the Reverse Verticle-Horizontal position, in part. Check out James VanRiemsdyk's exploitation of it against Steve Mason:

But you can see how often this style works for a goaltender though. They are playing percentages now with this style. A goalie's size (height especially) really matters in this technique because he can cover more of the net. This is what feeds my opinion (against Miller's opinion somewhat) that bigger goalies are better. Hell! Play a 7-foot goalie with agility. Ain't nobody gonna score on that quick giant. Ben Bishop is a good example. Ryan Miller may be smaller and kinda plays the same style, but given his lesser height, he has to be so sharp on his reactionary skills to compliment the goaltending style, or he'll get beat up high far too often.

In general, the reverse HV style has forced skaters to change their approach on how to score goals. You can see the JVR example above, but how often are we seeing pucks moved to the point for screen shots even 5 on 5? C'mon tell me you're getting bored of this. No? Well I am. I love goaltending. But I love more the big saves. You know, the "holy shit" type saves.

I want more of this:

We don't see a lot of big saves anymore, at least, less of the dramatic type. The style of play from the skaters to score goals directly reflects not only the goaltenders' style, but also the size of their equipment.

Something needs to change. I'm not entertained. Are you?

NHL.com recently interviewed Alain Vigneault and Ken Hitchcock on this very thing (kinda) and here are their responses:

AV:

"Some people, they say there is not a lot of goals; it seems to me the hardest-working players on every team are the goaltenders," Vigneault said. "They're on 20 minutes before [practice], and they're on 20 minutes after. They work on their skill. They've all got their own coaches. They all work at their game more than anybody else. If the other guys want to score more goals, work at your game because the goalies are."

Hitch:

"I have a problem with the whole discussion," Hitchcock said. "We're in the entertainment business, and if a fan sits in the building and the game is hard-played and it's exciting and it's 2-1 or 3-2, and the fan can feel the intensity and they can feel the desire of the players, I don't think a fan leaves here wondering what the score was. It's whether it was a good game and a hard game and they could feel the intensity, or was it a poorly played, casual game? Fans want to see hard hockey. That's what they want to see in our sport. Whatever the score is, it ends up being."

The problem here again for me is that I love goaltending. A huge part of hockey entertainment was not only violence (which they killed), but big goalie saves. So Hitchcock, in my opinion was closer to my personal view. ENTERTAINMENT! Amuse me!

In regards to the increase of the net sizing....remember this idea?

I don't know. If the goalies make a strong case for player safety with the harder average shots and bigger goalie gear and they win...then bigger nets seem the only way to go to possibly increase scoring. We'll see what happens.

What say you?