The National Hockey League and its Players’ Association have failed to agree on the new, streamlined goalie equipment, and it seems almost certain that the new gear will not be worn for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
Worse yet, insiders are openly questioning whether the new gear, promised to be in use for the 2016-17 season, will be used at all this coming season.
“It’s still a work in progress,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said at a WCOH news conference Wednesday. “I know our people in hockey operations are working very hard with the players’ association. I am hopeful that we can get it in place because I think it’s important.”
Will the new, down-sized equipment be used in the World Cup?
“Well, or at least for the regular season,” was Bettman’s reply.
Sources tell Sportsnet that despite unprecedented cooperation by the NHLPA, a small cadre of NHL goalies have managed to stall the process long enough that not a single NHL goalie has received gear fitting the hoped-for standards for the coming season.
The World Cup appears out of question, and it is believed enough goalies will make a case that they will be unable to adjust to the new equipment without a summer to assimilate, that the new standard could well be pushed back to September of 2017.
Some believe a mid-season equipment change is possible, while others spoken to by Sportsnet doubt that an across the board equipment change could be instituted in-season.
“We’re supposed to have everything in play for Game 1 (of the World Cup),” said Team Canada general manager Doug Armstrong. “But my belief on that stuff is, you worry about things you have control over. That’s not something (he can control). Either it’s going to be there or it’s not; we’re going to play with it or we’re not.
“I know our goalies are ready, and we’ll play with whatever is available.”
This time around, after two decades of goaltenders taking the rulebook into their own hands, the NHLPA has become a partner — not a road block — in down-sizing equipment. Several goalies, led by New Jersey netminder Cory Schneider, have been proponents of more form-fitting equipment — featuring elasticized pants and contoured upper body protection.
But with the final standards not being agreed upon, goalies will likely balk at the prospect of trying out the new gear while fighting for jobs at training camp. As for the World Cup, it is believed both the union and many people under the league’s umbrella will oppose its best goalies being forced to wear the smaller, more form-fitting gear in the World Cup until they have attained a comfort level with it during practice.
“No one is going to be put in a dangerous situation, I can guarantee you that,” Armstrong said.
The subject has become a touchy one inside the walls of the NHL offices, where goaltending supervisor Kay Whitmore — the league’s point man on these changes — could not be reached this week.
A source questioned why, with Schneider and several other goalies on board with the changes, the NHLPA feels compelled to include every netminder in the conversation. Goalies have caused this problem by growing their equipment incrementally for two decades, the source pointed out. “When we sped the game up in 2005, did we ask the big, slow players for their input?” the source asked.
Self-preservation has caused a cadre of goalies to bog down the process of deciding how form fitting equipment can get while remaining safe, constantly changing the parameters and slowing the manufacturing process to a crawl.
Also, some goalies are asking for comprehensive safety testing to take place before they are forced to use the gear, something that can not take place until the standards and measurements are agreed upon by the NHL and the NHLPA, and the equipment manufactured.
All of that has pushed the process too close to the new season.
After 20 years of clown pants and Michelin Man chest protectors, the finish line is in sight for the NHL’s goalie police. It appears however, that this is just going to take a bit longer than anyone expected.
Is anyone truly surprised?