30 Thoughts: Goalie equipment changes tangled in debate

Roberto Luongo tells HC at Noon that he gets upset by the notion that smaller goalie equipment will increase scoring, but instead thinks we have to dig deeper to find a creative solution.

As the 2016-17 season looms, there remains much to settle regarding pending changes to goalie equipment.

The tighter, more form-fitting pants will be worn…once everyone gets them. The hope is that’s in time for Wednesday. But it’s possible that doesn’t occur since Reebok/CCM ships from China and Bauer from Thailand. But goalies recognize this is going to happen early in the season.

The more contoured chest/shoulder protection? That’s an uncertain target.

Kay Whitmore, the NHL’s goaltending supervisor, declined to discuss the situation. A current NHL goalie, who says he’s in favour of the changes, said he “can’t believe how difficult” this process is.

One of the biggest challenges turned out to be with the equipment companies. There are four primarily involved in producing goalie equipment: Bauer, Brian’s, Reebok/CCM and Vaughn. (The latter two are the dominant retailers when it comes to pants and the chest protector.)

According to a couple of sources, the NHL offered to pay for the prototypes, but that idea was rejected. As the goalies looked at them (at All-Star weekend and the World Cup, among other occasions) and asked for changes, costs grew at a difficult time for the industry.

Some of those companies were hit hard by the closing of US-based retailer The Sports Authority, a prominent buyer. Bauer let go of a representative named Todd Brown, who worked there for almost two decades. The loss of his institutional knowledge hurt the process.

There was also a dispute over licensing payments for the World Cup. Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray (who wears Vaughn) had to cover up his logos, looking like a goaltending Darth Vader. That didn’t help the overall relationship.

Other parties — the NHL, NHLPA, the goalies themselves — were sympathetic to the money issue but remained frustrated. Manufacturers created five different sizes for the chest protector, but the arms were the same length on all of them. As you might imagine, not all goalies have the same arm size.

Then there were the splits among goalies and teams. No one would say who, but there were accusations that GMs who knew their goalies would be negatively affected pushed back. And, it’s safe to say that not all netminders are on board. While some (Braden Holtby, Robin Lehner and Cory Schneider) publicly indicate their happiness, there’s a division. The pro-changers claim the anti-changers are demanding unnecessary safety tests to slow down the process.

I don’t know enough about it to say who is right but here’s an example: one goalie was critical of Philadelphia’s Steve Mason, saying Mason claimed the chest protectors were unsafe. Mason did not respond to a request for comment through the Flyers, but when I mentioned it to two others also involved in the process, they emphatically said that wasn’t true.

Apparently, Mason was delivered one of the protectors where the arms were about five inches too short.

“That shows how difficult it is to appease everyone in this process,” one executive said.

That’s true, and that’s why the smart play is to go with the pants now and work on the chest protectors for next season. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best solution.

30 THOUGHTS

1. Via text, agent Scott Greenspun declined to comment, but I do believe that he has met with at least one team about an offer sheet for client Nikita Kucherov. Can’t get 100 per cent confirmation on the club, so I’m not going to guess. He’s a terrific player who had a strong postseason performance, but will someone actually do it? There’s a big difference between talking and doing.

2. Greenspun’s refusal to talk is typical of the current RFA disputes. Both teams and agents are keeping quiet, not wanting to inflame their situations. Here’s the best I can glean with Kucherov. It doesn’t sound like there’s been too much movement here. Everyone knows Tampa’s cap situation. After seeing both Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos take less money to stay, the Lightning are undoubtedly asking Kucherov to do the same, especially since he’s not close to being unrestricted. Whenever a Russian is involved, you wonder about the KHL, but players at the World Cup said they think he wants to stay in Tampa and not go there. That could change if he gets angry, but it’s not his preference.

3. Calgary GM Brad Treliving met with Johnny Gaudreau’s agent, Lewis Gross, in New York on Tuesday, then the family joined both men Wednesday in Philadelphia. It sounds like there’s been movement but sometimes the problem is that both sides see themselves as having moved enough and everyone digs in again. I think they are grinding, trying to close. The key is how many UFA years are going to be included. Gaudreau is five years away.

4. Who’s in on Jacob Trouba? As best as I can tell, the list includes Arizona, Buffalo, Boston, Colorado, Detroit and the Rangers. This is purely a guess, but I could see Dallas and Tampa lurking. No idea how the Lightning could do it but Stars GM Jim Nill is always looking to upgrade his blue line. I’d thought Montreal but a couple of sources doubted it. Florida was trying before the draft but its moves afterward likely eliminate the possibility. The asks have been high. It wouldn’t surprise me, for example, if the Jets asked Buffalo for Rasmus Ristolainen, a right-hand shot who has played the left side. Apparently, some of those teams have been told they don’t have enough, which has led to them trying to involve third parties.

5. Another note on Trouba: word is the Jets specifically asked him (or, more likely, agent Kurt Overhardt) what the number was to sign but were told it wasn’t going to happen if the right side remained status quo.

6. As for the third party, Anaheim could be a facilitator. When the Ducks sent down Brandon Montour and Shea Theodore, you couldn’t help but wonder if that meant new contracts for Hampus Lindholm and Rickard Rakell. Sounds like Rakell is much closer than Lindholm, but that doesn’t mean anything is imminent. Whatever the case, teams are curious to see what moves the Ducks will make to protect themselves in the expansion draft. Few teams have as many difficult decisions. Anaheim really respected how well Cam Fowler played as they floundered last fall but the club is worried about losing him in the expansion draft or as a free agent (he’s got two more years). The Ducks don’t need to add defencemen and the expectation is they trade one for a forward. Could Fowler help someone land Trouba? Left-hand shot (which the Jets want) but not a ton of term.

7. One GM: “We have a pretty good idea of who’s going to be unprotected, because everyone’s letting everyone else know who they need to move.”

8. As for Ristolainen, not hearing much movement there either. The last player I can remember who practised with his team while being unsigned was Stu Barnes, also in Buffalo. He’s their best defenceman, no doubt. It’s weird to see the Sabres, who have been unafraid to pay, in a battle with one of their top homegrown talents.

9. Dan Bylsma put Evander Kane with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart for Buffalo’s final preseason game. They looked excellent in a 4-2 win over Ottawa. It will be interesting to see if Kane is there for good or if it’s an attempt to raise his value. Obviously, Vancouver was interested. But the offers weren’t anywhere close enough to get a deal done.

10. The longer it takes for a decision on an in-person or phone hearing for Radko Gudas, the more I think it means the NHL is going through all the precedents for that exact penalty — to learn how much leeway it has. When Matt Cooke got seven games for kneeing Tyson Barrie despite his history, the league took into consideration the lack of lengthy suspensions for that specific play. Since Gudas may be looking at an interference punishment, they’re checking the history.

UPDATE:

11. Edmonton’s decision on Kris Versteeg may not come until after Wednesday. On a PTO, Versteeg played well before a groin injury. The Oilers can take time to make sure he’s healthy, and it can’t hurt start-of-season roster/cap management.

12. As St. Louis begins a reclamation project with Nail Yakupov, there’s one small detail to keep an eye on: if the Blues are going to turn him into a power-play specialist and if they’ll try putting him with two right-shot forwards. His scoring rates and shooting percentage were higher with two righties as opposed to one (or fewer), even though he shot about as often. For example, he shot 14.8 per cent with two righties and 7.1 with less. Yakupov’s more dangerous when he’s the cross-ice option. In the past couple of years, Edmonton did not have the ability to set such a lineup, and his power-play production dropped. Yes, there’s a lot of work to do here, but if there’s one place you can build a scorer’s confidence, it’s with the man advantage.

13. Don’t get a lot of time around Evgeny Kuznetsov, but he’s a very interesting quote. Asked before the World Cup what he worked on during the summer, he pointed to his mind. Some of the other Capitals at the event said Kuznetsov dwells on his failures and needs to let go.

“You just have to forget,” he said. “Every day is a new life. I worked with my friends and they helped a lot and I think it gets better for here.”

What did you learn?

“I learned it doesn’t matter how you play. You score hat trick, you got four penalties, whatever. If your team win, you have to forget, happy. Sometimes the team win and you feel bad in the locker room because you give up a couple good chances, they score against you. I always worry about that. If you came in locker room after the game, I can’t look at your eyes, I feel bad. You have to be stronger. Hey guys, you got me today, I get you tomorrow. I always worry about that. I worry about my linemates, if they didn’t score I think that’s my bad.”

Kuznetsov said his parents worried about him because he had trouble dealing with the playoff loss to Pittsburgh.

“We didn’t talk hockey all summer…End of the day, you have to win something and you have to do it for your family. I think the whole team, we’re like a family. When I say family, I mean team. That’s the problem sometimes you can score 1,000 goals but what you got?”

(Thank you to ESPN’s Craig Custance for transcribing, as I mucked it up.)

14. New Colorado coach Jared Bednar on Mikko Rantanen, before camp began: “Yes I think he’s ready…real good player.” Rantanen got hurt in a rookie game Sept. 17 and hasn’t played since, so it robbed the Avalanche of more looks to make sure. He got a nine-game tryout last season and will get a shot at something longer this time.

15. Two things people said about Bednar: he teaches terrific structure and can be very blunt. He didn’t deny that second one.

“I can be a demanding guy. I want our staff to be demanding, and our players to have high expectations for themselves every day whether [it’s] a game or practice. Honesty…that’s what the players want.”

Hired so late in the summer, he referred to what happened next as “a cram session — the assistant coaches cut their summers short to race back and help.”

He talked about how he never made the NHL as a player (spending nine years in the AHL, ECHL and IHL), so it was a goal for him to do it as a coach. He’s very businesslike, although you can tell how much it means to him he reached that goal — not only for himself, but for his parents, wife and children.

16. He’s tried some interesting things in the preseason. Nikita Zadorov played the last two games alongside Erik Johnson.

“We certainly want to see [Zadorov] take a big step…making sure we’re putting him in areas where he can use his skill set.”

That would mean big responsibility for Zadorov, especially since the first of those games meant a lot of defensive-zone draws. Two games ago, he had Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon on the same line, which sounds as tasty as an In and Out burger. He did change that last night, putting Duchene with Mikhail Grigorenko and Carl Soderberg. On Duchene specifically, the coach said, “We’re going to experiment with some things. Matt is comfortable playing both [centre and wing.]”

17. I didn’t ask Bednar about any of the trade rumours before he got there, but as one GM said about Colorado, “Their top players have very reasonable long-term contracts. Not going to be easy to get any of them out of there.”

18. Florida played New Jersey at West Point on Saturday. At the World Cup, there was a rumour going around the NHL is considering an outdoor game at the football stadium. Proximity makes the Rangers the host. There are two franchises with ownership ties to the army that would undoubtedly want to play — Florida and Las Vegas.

19. The Associated Press reported the deadline for NHL participation in the 2018 Olympics is Jan. 15. During the World Cup, IIHF president Rene Fasel said the next big meeting will be in November and he’s optimistic, “because I have to be optimistic.” Fasel explained his federation gets $40 million from the International Olympic Committee in TV money, and if the IOC does not pay the players’ travel and insurance, he will need half that amount to do it himself. He’s not willing to go that far, as it harms the ability to spend on development around the globe. (The NHL and NHLPA wonder where the rest of the profits, such as ticket sales, go.) Fasel added that staging the hockey events in Seoul instead of PyeongChang — once considered to make travel easier — is no longer an option.

20. I did get to ask Fasel one other question: is it true that politics are the reason for this stalemate? He supported a rival to new IOC president Thomas Bach, and in Rio, another official said word is that’s why hockey is getting a rough ride. Fasel’s answer? “You’d have to ask him that,” with a smile.

21. It seems — for now — there’s a little less interest in Russian forwards Evgeny Davydov and Vadim Shipachyov after their World Cup performances. Shipachyov saw his value take a bigger hit, as he was benched until Pavel Datsyuk got hurt. That’s not bad news for the KHL, which would prefer to keep them. Things could change as the season continues. Arizona tried something interesting after acquiring Datsyuk at the draft. The Coyotes asked if they could talk to both players in exchange for releasing Datsyuk’s rights, but St. Petersburg balked. There was a bit of a standoff before the NHL club relented. (GM John Chayka declined comment.) Good try, though.

22. According to members of Team Europe, Marian Gaborik refused to remove his skates after getting hurt in the first period against Sweden. He badly wanted to play and knew if he took them off, he wouldn’t be able to get them on again.

23. A lot of discussion about the future of Europe head coach Ralph Krueger. He made it very clear that his day job — chairman of Southampton Football Club in the Premier League — will keep him tied up for the next two-to-three years. The other thing NHL clubs realize is that job pays him very well, so don’t think you’re getting him for bargain-basement prices because he desires another shot.

24. One opinion on why Team Europe may not be back at the next World Cup: “They’re too good. Other countries don’t want it to get even harder to win.”

25. Brad Marchand on playing with Sidney Crosby: “The most difficult thing was figuring out how to read him during puck battles in the offensive zone. There were times I’d think he needed help, and go to him. Then he’d beat three guys and I was in his way.”

Marchand laughed and said he asked Crosby on the bench what to do. The reply: “He kind of shrugged and said, ‘If you think I’m in trouble, help. If you don’t, stay away.’”

26. One other note on Marchand: he’s become very dangerous on the penalty kill. But it was a real eye-opener to Team Canada when he scored one in the first game of the 2016 World Championships against the U.S. One exec said that made a huge impression right away, especially from a guy who was a bit of a mystery to them. Of course, the World Cup winner was shorthanded too.

27. Jakub Voracek, asked about the best text he received after his now-famous Bruce Springsteen sing-along: Alex Killorn wrote, “At least you got the words ‘Born to Run’ right.”

28. Finland had a poor World Cup but the hockey program is generally trending up after dipping to a low point in 2009. Sportsnet producer Chad Walker did a pretty interesting feature about how, at that time, the Finns went to Sweden for advice on how to rebuild their program. Tommy Boustedt, development chief for the Swedish Ice Hockey Association, was invited to a conference, where he shared ideas.

“Sweden is like a big brother to us that we envy but we also admire in a way,” said Kaj Kunnas, a reporter for YLE TV. “The admiration won and beat the envy.”

Said Erkka Westerlund, a long-time coach in the country: “I think the most important thing was that we saw that we have to concentrate on developing the individual. [We were concentrating] on team play and we noticed that we don’t have any skilled individuals.The most important thing was offensive skills, scoring and skating, and also the mental side of hockey.”

Among the changes: 26 skill coaches were hired to teach players between the ages of 12 and 15. Teams pay 30 per cent of the salary, and the Federation pays the rest. It helped develop Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi.

29. At his Oshawa Generals jersey retirement, Marc Savard said he would like to coach in the Ontario Hockey League. Very emotional speech during the ceremony. He almost didn’t get through it.

30. Nice moment at the BioSteel camp in Toronto with Detroit prospect Givani Smith. He was leaving on the final day when a young girl walked up and asked for an autograph. As he signed, the girl’s mother shook her head and smiled.

“She’s only doing this because her brother is on the ice and can’t get any. She’s trying to make him jealous.”

Smith handed one of his sticks to the mother. “Give him this, then,” he said. Smooth move.