Less is more

Photo by Marianne Helm/Getty Images

Formerly published in The Other Press. Apr. 3 2013

NHL plans to reduce size of goalie pads

By Elliot Chan, Staff Writer

On March 20, NHL general managers gathered in Toronto for the annual spring meeting. With discussions aimed at improving the game, plenty was on the agenda. But a key topic was about the shrinkage in goalie pads. For the past decade, executives in charge of the sport have been avidly trying to increase the hockey entertainment—in other words, they want to produce more goals.

Since the days of Tony Esposito and Patrick Roy, goaltenders have adapted a new form in stopping pucks, thus changing the equipment. Goalie gears are currently built to give players an advantage when they go into the butterfly position. Dropping down to their knees, goalies are able to cover up their five-hole with the help of their pads, which takes up 55 per cent of the space between the knees to the pelvis. The present debate is to decrease 10 per cent of the space, which is approximately the size of a hockey puck. While some managers are tired of arguing the topic, others believe it is unavoidable if NHL wants to increase goals and heighten entertainment.

“When we’ve done it in the past, you’ve got to make sure we don’t expose goaltenders to injury,” said Colin Campbell, the league’s senior executive vice-president of hockey operations. “They play now to their equipment and how their equipment is fitted. That’s what we want to attack. It’s a frustrating project, but it’s something that’s really affected the game the last 10 years.”

Hockey should be a showcase of athletic ability, so it is arguably cheating if a player has an upper hand because of their equipment. Former goalie and current goaltending supervisor, Kay Whitmore, suggested that safety was not a big factor, “I watch games every night,” he said. “You see goalies playing [with] well under what they are allowed. Some of our best goalies are playing in that size equipment and they’re playing safely.”

While some players choose smaller pads for flexibility in the stand-up position, others require heightened safety for their style of play. Winnipeg Jets’ goalie, Ondrej Pavelec believes that it is the different styles and options that make the game interesting. “How many times are they going to change the rules? I don’t think it’s that fair,” said Pavelec. “If you take something away from the goalies, you have to take something away from the players too. Okay, so we’re going to get small gear, we [should] give players wood sticks.”

Decreasing the size of pads might increase more goals, but many believe that fans are more interested in rivalries and competitiveness, rather than high scoring games. “I think it’s the speed, the skill, the passing. As long as the game is fast, I think it’ll be exciting,” said Chicago Blackhawks’ Corey Crawford. “Just because we get 10-8 hockey games doesn’t mean it’s going to be an exciting game.” He also added, “Shots keep getting harder, but for some reason, goalie equipment has to go down. Whatever. Whatever they do, just try to adjust to it.”

If fair is fair for Pavelec, Crawford, and other NHL goalies, then nothing will change. But until the day modern goaltenders go back to wearing those hotel pillows around their shins to stop pucks, few are going to have sympathy for them. So the debate continues and the new rule is developing and may be in effect as early as next year.

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