BOCA RATON, Fla.—A decade of yadda-yadda-yadda, blah-blah-blah for the NHL may be coming to an end.
That’s how long the league has been talking about reducing the size of goalie equipment without actually doing very much about it.
“It has been Groundhog Day on this topic,” acknowledged NHL goalie supervisor Kay Whitmore today.
Now, however, words may about to be translated into concrete action. Soon the Michelin Men will be no more in a change that could have a dramatic impact on the low-scoring league.
“Everybody’s on board,” said Buffalo general manager Tim Murray today. “We are now finally going in the right direction. It’s going to get done.”
Most believe goalies will be wearing streamlined gear next fall because, finally, the league and players association are working together on this issue. If you find it hard to believe that two sides that have fought two ugly lockouts in the last 11 years have actually had a meeting of the minds on this fundamental issue, join the club. It seems as unlikely as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz holding hands and demanding socialized medicine.
“I don’t blame you guys for being skeptical. I kind of feel that way myself,” said Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin. “But I feel it will happen. I hope so.”
The league’s general managers received a presentation today from Whitmore updating them on all the work that’s been done on this issue since getting a directive from the NHL’s competition committee last June, and on how the onus is now on manufacturers to make the changes the league wants, specifically to body armour and pants.
NHL executive vice-president Colin Campbell says suspensions will result if goalies don’t fall in line once the changes are instituted for next season.
“The playing field has to be equal for everyone. What’s fair is fair,” said Bergevin. “The rules are rules. You cheat, you pay the price. None of us should be crying about it next October. If you live by the rules, you’ll be fine.”
The hockey industry, of course, has heard all of this before. Other than narrowing the width of goalie pads slightly, the league has seemed helpless as goalies used oversized equipment to their advantage and goal scoring dropped, this year to as low as 5.3 goals per game at time.
“You look at a goalie and you don’t see net,” said Bergevin.
As well as being a disadvantage to shooters, goalies like Cory Schneider and Braden Holtby have come to believe that the current regulations give an unfair advantage to inferior goalies, allowing them to narrow the gap between themselves and the best in the game.
“The question was asked today; what’s the difference this time? Well, we’re attacking it together, you’re hearing from some of the best goalies in the game that think this is what’s right,” said Whitmore. “They want a level playing field within their ranks. They want to be able to look down at the other end of the rink and think the guy looks appropriate to his size. If he’s 6-foot-4, 250 [pounds], he should look that big, and if he’s 6-foot-1, 170 there should be a difference.
“It’s a joint venture between us and them. The co-operation’s been there, something that’s been lacking.”
No one, however, can quantify what difference this will actually make. A half-goal per game? Two goals per game?
“Will it make a difference? It’s got to make some difference,” said Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman. “How much, I’m not really sure.”
NHL officials trying to change goalie gear in the past have often run into a passive aggressive approach from equipment manufacturers, who delay and debate and then declare it’s too late to make changes for the next season.
“A lot of this is falling on the manufacturers,” said Whitmore. “They have to understand that some goalies are seven inches wider than other goalies. We want to make that significant difference visible to everyone, and the goalies will feel better because it’s a level playing field.
“Will scoring go up? I don’t know. That’s to be seen. And that’s not the reason we did it. The reason is because there were inequities among the goalies themselves. That’s what is driving the bus here. The goalies all believe in it. You are the size you are.
“If it takes a little more skill to play the position, so be it.”
Whitmore said if the manufacturers don’t fall in line, they’ll find themselves no longer doing business with the NHL. He wants NHL goalies to have access to the streamlined gear by the summer.
“We’re not going to sign off on new equipment until we, and the players, and the union are happy with it,” he said. “They have to have it ready for next season. We’re doing this. It’s incumbent upon them to have it right and ready. If you don’t have it ready you’re not going to be in the league. The goalies are going to have options as to what they wear. It’s up to everyone to make it the way we want it.”
. . .
Along with goalie equipment, GMs discussed a variety of topics in smaller groups today, including other possible ways to increase scoring.
They talked about not allowing shorthanded teams to ice the puck without it being called icing, and forcing teams to play out the entire two minutes of a minor penalty shorthanded even if the other team scores.
There was also discussion on possibly not allowing players to stand behind their own net with the puck while their team changes, perhaps with a three-seconds-in-the-trapezoid rule.
“Maybe it’s like the key in basketball,” said Murray. “That might be easier to enforce than forcing teams to forecheck.”
None of these were recommended to the main GMs group, and are unlikely to get the green light before the meetings end on Monday.
. . .
Yzerman says that after three games back in the AHL for winger Jonathan Drouin, he’s open-minded about whether Drouin could be back in the NHL this season.
“I thought considering the time he was out, he looked really good,” said Yzerman. “His conditioning was good, his skating was good, he played really well, and ultimately I go back to when he was first assigned to the American league. It wasn’t a demotion, it was simply a way to go down and get some games after missing a lot due to an injury. The plan was for him to go down and come back.
“So now, if it is good for our team and it’s the right thing to do, then he will be recalled."
. . .
Bergevin was asked today if there is some point this season when the Canadiens won’t bother trying to get goalie Carey Price to play games this season.
“Yeah, probably April 9th,” he quipped, referring to the date of Montreal’s last game of the regular season against Tampa Bay.
“If he does play for us this year,” continued Bergeron, “believe me, we’re going to be 150 per cent sure there’s nothing wrong with him, and he feels comfortable.”
Bergevin believes his star goalie is finally on the way to a full recovery from his mystery injury that has yet to be fully disclosed but is thought to be a knee problem.
“About three weeks ago he really turned the corner, finally,” said Bergevin. “Trust me, we never did anything wrong, the doctors did nothing wrong, we were told it would be a minimum six weeks, it could go longer because of his position, and it did.
“But there was no setback. There was no surgery. And finally he turned the corner. Hopefully this time it’s going to be good and we won’t look back.”
Bergevin said he’s not worried about allowing Price to play in next fall’s World Cup.
“Starting today, the World Cup is five months away,” said the Montreal GM. “I’d like to believe he’ll be 150 per cent by September.”
Bergevin also downplayed a report that said the Habs are committed to bringing back Michel Therrien as head coach next season.
“Don’t believe everything you read,” he said.