Why it’s time to call NHL goaltenders’ bluff

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman sits down with Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and Coyotes GM Don Maloney to talk about increasing the size of nets, goalie equipment and goaltender interference.

Before we talk about the imminent future of goaltending equipment, as if it was truly about to change, let us first get to straightening out the past.

You know, the last 15 years or so, where the goalies union — heavily enabled by the National Hockey League Players Association — buffaloed the entire hockey world into believing that XXXXL jerseys, clown pants, binder-sized blockers and Michelin-Man chest protectors were required for goaltenders’ safety.

Protection, they said. Who knew they were talking about their jobs?

The shots were getting so hard, the Goalie Guild fibbed, that this elephantine gear was a safety requirement. And we never asked how that same stick technology never made its way to the end of the factory where they make the goalie equipment.

We were scammed, people.

Tall, square shoulder pads became acceptable on our goalies’ sloping, round shoulders. Chest protectors were made to fit an offensive lineman’s torso, despite the fact most of today’s goalies are rakes. Blockers, catchers, jerseys — all became super-sized, resulting in cardboard cut-out goalies that ply their trade at six-foot-seven, turning yesterday’s kick save into today’s shrugging of the shoulders.

It’s been hockey’s biggest boondoggle, and finally, even the players are on to it.

Sources confirm that the NHLPA, led by Mathieu Schneider, is finally ready to talk turkey on paring down goalie gear.

One of the reasons — and this is truly rich — is that some goalies are starting to complain that the equipment is becoming the great equalizer. Now, average goalies are competing with above average ones, despite having less talent.

That’s right. Now the big gear isn’t working in the goalies’ favour, and they’re complaining.

Meanwhile the 90 per cent of the NHLPA that isn’t a goalie, a group who clearly isn’t swift at math, has finally figured out that the skaters have the goalies outnumbered 18-2 on most game nights. So perhaps the skaters, who have watched their goal totals fall in reverse proportion to the goaltenders' saves percentage, should have a turn at prosperity.

Fans who are watching scoring plunge very close to historic levels are asking for goals. The general managers are back to talking about making the nets bigger.

But from a writer who wrote a decade ago that he could fix this problem in 15 minutes — thus enraging the Hockey Ops folks who were banging their heads against an NHLPA wall for years — here’s a better idea:

Make gear 20 per cent smaller, and force goalies to be more athletic and cut down the angles by leaving their crease. That will increase scoring while phasing out those big, immobile netminders who have become reliant on over-sized equipment to stay in the game.

Fans will see a far more exciting brand of goaltending, with glove saves and kick saves, and goals will go up.

And the goalies that can’t play anymore? Screw ‘em. When they removed the red line and obstruction from the game, nobody cried any tears for players like Derian Hatcher and Wade Redden, who were forced into retirement because they weren’t quick enough to play anymore.

There is a new level of cooperation between the NHLPA, the NHL and hopefully soon, the equipment manufacturers, we are told. The hope is to have some prototype equipment out for the All-Star Game, so the new parameters can be installed next season.

They want to cut down on shoulder/chest mass, rounding off the shoulders to follow the contour of a goalie’s true skeleton. They also want jerseys and pants that fit much tighter. And if they could eliminate the cheater — that huge pad that “protects” a goalie’s wrist — altogether, they would.

We’d throw in catching gloves that extends many inches beyond the hand. Take away their jai alai scoops and replace them with middle infielders' gloves – then tell me if we still need bigger nets.

The term being used is “realistic” equipment, and really — how can you talk about bigger net frames, illegal defences and over-coaching, when this elephant has been standing in hockey’s boardroom for nigh on 20 years?

The league knows that technology has produced padding that is strong enough to do this, because they have seen almost zero “puck impact” injuries over the past few seasons. And if the manufacturers balk at the time frame, it’s time to call B.S. on them too.

When it comes to a lack of scoring, one of hockey biggest issues to these eyes is that shot blocking has mushroomed. There was a time when four or five skaters on any team blocked shots. Now, 15 or 16 do.

Why? Because skaters’ equipment has evolved to the point where pucks don’t hurt like they used to. Sure, the odd one stings, or breaks a foot. But big picture, protection has given birth to courage.

Yet somehow, the goalies have made us believe that their equipment has not evolved as well.

One more thing, pointed out by Darren Haynes in Calgary: In the 1987-88 season, Patrick Roy led all goalies that played 35 games or more in saves percentage. His number: .900.

Last season that saves percentage would have left Roy in 35th place among 35-plus game goalies. Just below Kari Lehtonen, and slightly ahead of Ben Scrivens, who is now in the minors.

The goalies have progressed at the expense of the entertainment level of the game. It’s time to call their bluff, and tell goalies what so many of them need to hear.

It’s not all about you anymore.