BOCA RATON, Fla. — NHL goaltenders may look a lot smaller beginning next season.
Goalies across the league will be required to wear equipment better suited to their body size when the 2016-17 season begins or face suspension. A presentation of the new initiative, led by the NHL’s Kay Whitmore, was delivered Tuesday at the annual GM meetings.
Reductions will be made to the pants and upper body of the equipment, thus cutting down on unnecessary “fat” which didn’t serve to protect goaltenders, only help some gain an unfair advantage.
“If it takes a little more skill to play the position so be it,” Whitmore said. “Does this make scoring go up? I don’t know. That’s to be seen and that’s not the reason why we did it. This was (done) because we felt there was inequities within the goalies themselves and the best goalies have come out and said that. And that’s what’s driving the bus here.”
Some of the league’s top goaltenders pushed for the change, including the Devils’ Cory Schneider and Capitals’ Braden Holtby. They, among others, would like the goaltending position to be more about skill and less about the puck simply caroming off enormous equipment.
“The best goalies in the league don’t want big stuff,” Whitmore said. “They actually want to put this to bed forever and say ‘We’re great no matter what we wear.”’
Goalies will face a two-game suspension for non-compliance, a rule that’s already in effect, but one that will be enforced more rigidly next season. Colin Campbell, the NHL’s executive vice president and director of hockey operations, said there was too much grey area previously to enforce the rule effectively.
Informed of the changes, general managers wanted confirmation that offenders would indeed be punished to which Campbell replied, “When your goaltender gets suspended don’t fight it’.”
“If you cheat, you pay the price,” Montreal general manager Marc Bergervin said. “If we all agree now, all 30 of us, and it happens in October none of us should be crying about it — if you live by the rules you should be fine.”
It will be Whitmore’s duty to enforce that reductions in equipment are maintained, a process he said has yet to be fully scoped out. He said officating crews might be involved in enforcement.
Goaltending equipment has mostly grown over the past two decades, from a point when goaltenders looked like thin rails between the pipes to now, where they almost resemble football linebackers.
In recent years the league demanded shorter leg pads, but those reductions are likely to pale in comparison to the new changes, especially in the reduction of upper body equipment. More padding saw some goaltenders lean less on skill and more on simply blocking the puck.
“It’s something that’s been going on for a long time and it’s not an easy topic because the goaltending equipment is so vague in every area,” Campbell said.
Co-operation between the league and NHL Players’ Association helped spur the changes, as did the support and involvement of equipment manufacturers. Whitmore said the manufacturers previously didn’t make enough sizes to fit the ranging height and weight of goaltenders.
Whether the changes lead to more scoring remains to be seen. Scoring has been declining for years as the league searches for answers. Among the ideas bounced around Tuesday was a potential (though unlikely) rule that would see short-handed teams unable to ice the puck.
While uncertain of the effect the changes would have on scoring and goaltenders, Whitmore said the changes were driven by their involvement. Schneider, Holtby and the Wild’s Devan Dubnyk, among others, wanted a more level playing field within their ranks.
“They want to look at the other end of the rink and feel that the guy down there looks appropriate for his size,” Whitmore said. “So if a guy’s 6-4, 250 he should look that big.
“You don’t want the puck just hitting guys,” he added. “And I think that the goalies themselves felt that there should be a bigger gap between the greatest goalies in the league and the other guys.”
The new equipment is expected to be made available to goaltenders this summer, giving them an opportunity to test it out before the start of the 2016-17 regular season. It’s possible the new equipment makes its first competitive appearance at the upcoming World Cup in Toronto.