Last Saturday, Feb. 4, the NHL debuted the mandatory rollout of smaller, streamlined goalie pants. It’s the first official step towards smaller overall equipment for goalies, with chest protectors and pads expected to be targeted as soon as next season.
“There used to be three pant sizes: medium, large and extra large. Basically there were only two because guys wore large and extra large,” Kelly Hrudey said on that Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada Headlines segment. “Now there’s five different pant sizes and each of those sizes have two fittings – regular and a little bit longer for the guys who need the length.”
The change was supposed to happen at the start of the season, but there were apparent safety concerns from the manufacturers that had to be ironed out.
Some goalies weren’t happy about the change coming mid-season and spoke out about it. Devan Dubnyk, Mike Smith and Matt Murray were among those who thought an equipment adjustment should only be mandated in the offseason so the goalies could get used to the new feel. “It feels like you’re wearing skinny jeans, to be honest,” Murray was quoted as saying in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“One of the goalies in the league today told me ‘Kelly don’t worry about the guys still complaining because those are the biggest cheaters,'” Hrudey said.
However, some other goalies have been using the new pants for a few months. Braden Holtby has been breaking them in during practice, while others such as Andrei Vasilevskiy, Corey Crawford and Sergei Bobrovsky have been wearing them in games for a while now.
On Saturday, the first night the equipment was mandatory, Hrudey commented on some goals he had seen go in that he believes were a direct result of the smaller, streamlined equipment.
“Check out one of the goals that went in on (Freddie) Andersen,” Hrudey said. “This one went five-hole and although his stick is raised, that’s clearly because of the pants. And that’s what some of the goalies have told me around the league — what they’re noticing in practice is that they’re getting scored on a lot five-hole. And instead of before, because the thigh pad was flatter, the puck would hit and just stop there, now they’re noticing that it spins off.”
On that first night with the new pants, there were 75 goals scored in 13 games across the league: an average of 5.77 goals per game, which is about .2 higher than the league average so far this season.
Here’s how the first seven days of the streamlined equipment looked:
13 games: 75 goals
3 games: 12 goals
3 games: 16 goals
11 games: 59 goals
1 game: 7 goals
11 games: 70 goals
2 games: 9 goals
All told, in 44 games on the week, there were 248 goals scored for an average of 5.64 per game. On its own, if that average were to be sustained for a full season, it would be the highest average goals per game since 2008-09, when there was a 5.82 average.
So far in 2016-17, there has been an average of 5.56 goals per game overall, which is still higher than any of the past five seasons so the league was already trending up. But while this is a somewhat promising start towards a new era in smaller goalie pads, there are a few reasons why your excitement for more goals should be tempered:
1. Small sample size: We hear this all the time in discussing potential breakout players who we want to judge early in their careers or early in a season. We are just one week into the smaller pant era, so there is always a chance that next week’s goals dip back below the yearly average. It’s not yet clear how many of these goals are a direct result of smaller pants, and how much of it is just the chance of having a “good” week for goals. Remember, the league was averaging more than six goals a game over the first week of the regular season.
2. This is the smallest and easiest change the NHL could have made right now. When talking about how smaller goalie equipment could lead to an uptick in goals that approach, perhaps, 2005-06 levels, we’re really considering what that world would be like with smaller chest and leg pads. Those much larger changes should come in the future, with chest protectors specifically expected to be reduced by the start of next season.
The good news, if you are craving more goals in the NHL, is that we can now finally expect these changes to come. For years the league has dragged its feet on seeing goaltender equipment changes through and this was the first real meaningful shift in that direction.
“The next thing is the chest protector,” John Shannon said on Prime Time Sports last week. “They’re going to try to get the chest protector in place for next September and, by the way, putting in the rule with the pants now I think is probably a pretty good lesson for the goalies. If you dilly-dally, it’s going to come whether you like it or not.”
We’ll continue to monitor goal-per-game averages week-by-week to see if the smaller pants have any lasting impact on goals per game. For now, while indications are positive, it’s still too early to determine just how big of a change the pants are on their own.