The NHL’s GM meetings took place last week and the topic of shrinking goaltending equipment has surfaced once more.
The notion seems simple and inevitable — and perhaps it is. The NHL’s Kay Whitmore is leading the movement for the goaltending union, Sportsnet’s Corey Hirsch produced a compelling argument for streamlining the gear (video above) and more goal scoring seems to be something most fans want.
Still, have the voices of goalies been properly heard? Has the potential for injury been thoroughly investigated? And what about shooters? With all the focus on the netminders, have we asked what shooters do to improve their skill set to boost scoring?
I spoke with Kevin Woodley of NHL.com and InGoal Magazine and Steve Valiquette, former NHLer and current analyst for the MSG Network about these topics to get a goalie’s thoughts on health and safety, how to improve scoring and what shooters can do to keep up with the evolving backstop position.
Sportsnet: Why do you think goal scoring is down?
Kevin Woodley: I think sometimes the focus does go too much on the goaltenders and [making them] smaller. Two reasons why scoring is down are systems play and defensive focus is better than it's ever been and the goaltenders of the last decade have worked on their game more than any generation previous.
Steve Valiquette: I think a lot of the play dies in the neutral zone. It's too easy to defend with such small space. It's a lot easier to scramble an egg than make an omelette.
SN: Should goalie equipment be reduced and what are the concerns for you?
KW: The reality is you're talking about inches here and inches there. There is not a lot of give left before we run into injury concerns. And I know everyone thinks that's just the goalie in [me] protecting [goaltenders] but I say this as a guy who lost an appendix to a poor-fitting piece of equipment. Roberto Luongo fractured a bone in his shoulder last year wearing the current equipment. He had bruised ribs and had to add padding to his current equipment.
Can you make the shoulders rounder? Yes. Can you round off the arms a little bit? Yeah, probably. I know one equipment company that has an injected plastic piece that they use to make the cuff in the thumb [area of the glove]. It's the same piece since '04-05. No changes [have been made] and they've had no breakage issues. All of a sudden in the last two years there have been breakage issues at the NHL level. Pieces that hadn't broken in 10 years were breaking because shots are getting harder.
You can't ask [goalies] to practice in different equipment but they'll face 150 shots [in practice] and I would suggest [they see] harder, more wide open looks because practice is stupid. It looks nothing like a game, it's guys winding up from spots they might get to shoot from once every three years and buzzing it by your ear. I don't think you're looking at huge reductions that people seem hopeful for. The gear has been reduced over the past couple of years...and what's happened? Scoring continues to go down. I don't think [reduction] is going to be the solution.
SN: Have goalies surpassed shooters in terms of skill development and the evolution of their position?
SV: For 15 years now, goalies have been working on their skill sets in the summer -- we don't play shinny. Over those 15 years, what position has gotten better in the sport? The goaltender. What position has impacted scoring the most? The goaltender. All of those years, I never once saw a skills coach with a forward or defenceman.
It is happening in small instances; I've heard Taylor Hall has a guy, I know that Sidney Crosby has a guy. But how many guys are as diligent as the goalies have been? It's June, July, August, three days a week, working on your skill set. The players, they work out, they get stronger. There's nothing holding these players back right now from hiring skill-specific coaches instead of playing mindless shinny and not back checking and having bad habits.
KW: I haven't seen as many players place the emphasis on skill development from a shooting standpoint as goalies do. I have seen an increase in it the last couple of years but it's the tip of the iceberg compared to goaltenders.
SN: Do shooters ever come out to goalie schools in the summer to learn how to better beat netminders? What can they learn?
SV: You can learn everything about how to expose every single move a goalie uses. I've heard that Tyler Seguin was working at a camp in the summer time where he was learning how to expose goalies... With every move a goalie uses, nothing is 100% and each one of them has a flaw that can be exploited. It's a matter of shooters seeing how valuable that can be.
KW: There are some players who will go to goalie schools in the summer to be shooters because they want to study what goalies are doing in order to figure out how to beat them. But again, it's a short list.
SN: To what extent are goalies at risk of injury should equipment be reduced? What do we need to know that we don't know now?
KW: I don't think we can go back to a point where getting hit in the chest hurts. I don't think you can put the fear factor back into goaltending.
Steve Mason, case in point, admitted to closing his eyes and flinching on shots early in his career. He was black and blue because he was wearing gear too small for him. I'm not saying you can't cut the gear a little bit but you can't shrink wrap these guys. If everything's snug to the body then they feel every puck.
Everyone says, 'Well, they make bulletproof vests, why can't they protect the goalies?' Have you ever seen somebody shot with a bulletproof vest? It saves your life but hurts. These guys can't be in pain out there.