The NHL’s 30 general managers held their annual meeting March 20 in Toronto to discuss a variety of possible changes to the game. Among the topics were a coach’s challenge, which lost steam out of concern it would slow the game down; hybrid icing; and making visors mandatory for all new players while creating a grandfather clause to allow current players to choose.
The general managers also endorsed the idea of further reducing goaltending equipment. While the exact details haven’t been decided upon, the general managers would like to shrink the height of goalie pads above the knee and require less bulky knee pads.
It’s an attempt to create more space between a goaltender’s legs and potentially increase scoring. Some netminders around the league aren’t particularly keen on their equipment shrinking but Braden Holtby said he wouldn’t mind the change.
“I don’t know how much it’s going to effect. I like the idea of it. You see some guys now that basically work their game around their gear,” Holtby said, adding that he doesn’t believe the alterations would impact him significantly.
Holtby, 23, wears old, worn-out knee pads that are held together more by tape than fabric at this point. While taking some of the height off his pads might force him to adapt his game, he wouldn’t mind the challenge.
“I wear knee pads that are 10 years old, probably the smallest in the league,” Holtby said with a laugh. “So that won’t affect me. The pads might make a few shots more difficult but it’s going to make my skating that much better. It’s a trade-off that I’m willing to make.”
Winnipeg Jets netminder Ondrej Pavelec didn’t share Holtby’s perspective.
“How many times they going to change the rules? I don’t think it’s that fair because you take away something from the goalies, you have to take away something from the players, too. Guys are going to get smaller gear, so we going to give players a wood stick?” Pavelec said. “You try to get better every night, every day in practice and when you get to the level they’re going to tell you you’re too good [and] make gear smaller. I don’t know. It’s nothing what I can do, but I don’t like it, that’s for sure.”
The league has adjusted its requirements for goalie equipment three times in the past seven years, for the 2005-06 season and again in 2008-09 and 2010-11.
While a desire for increased goal totals is one reason for the change, Capitals associate goaltending coach Olie Kolzig, a longtime NHL netminder, knows it’s also to force goalies who bend the rules with extremely large, bulky equipment into compliance.
“As long as it doesn’t hinder protection I don’t have a problem with it,” Kolzig said. “There’s guys, you see them out of their equipment and you’d never take them for a hockey player — it’s like they’re an accountant or something. Very skinny and then you see them in the equipment and you’re like, ‘Whoa.’ There’s a fine line. As long as they don’t take away and subject the player to possible injury, then fine.”
Kolzig said that during his playing days he suggested the NHL work with teams to individually measure and design equipment requirements specific to each goaltender’s body. It’d be a large undertaking, Kolzig knows, but he believes it would prevent some from blatantly adding bulk to their frame through equipment.
Any changes to equipment, though, require the approval by the NHL Players’ Association. Kay Whitmore, a former NHL goaltender and member of the league’s hockey operations department, has been tasked to work with the NHLPA, manufactures and goaltenders to come up with new guidelines that don’t risk player injury.
The way Kolzig sees it, the equipment isn’t there to do the goaltender’s job for them but to protect them from injury. So long as safety isn’t compromised, he doesn’t believe the proposed reductions pose a significant problem.
“Over the course of a season how many goals does equipment really save?” Kolzig said. “We’re talking about great athletes. As coaches we try to put them in a great position to make that save, not to base it on the equipment they’re using. The equipment is there for protection and I think that’s why guys like Braden are unfazed.”