March 19, 2014

Does the NHL need bigger nets?

Why cracking down on goalie equipment isn't the answer, either.

This is Sam Lopresti. This particular picture captures the goalie of the Chicago Blackhawks posing for the team Christmas card in 1941. Cully Dahlstrom stands to his blocker side, while Joe Cooper stands to his glove hand side. Look how small that glove is!

Okay, so goaltending techniques and shooting strategies in 1941 were both down right primitive compared to nowadays. But if I'm Toronto's Syl Apps, or Boston's Milt Schmidt or Detroit's Syd Howe, I'm salivating at all that room to shoot at.

What do today's shooters get to look at?

Hello Henrik Lundqvist!

Now the nets in each picture are the exact same size. The goalies themselves aren't terribly out of comparison range. Lopresti looks tiny in his picture, but in 1941 he was list as 5'10" and over 200lbs, quite large by standards those days. Mr. Lundqvist is listed as 6'1" and 190lbs.

So what gives? Look at how big Lundqvist's pads are. Lopresti has no noticeable upper padding whatsoever. Lundqvist has bulletproof vests that make the F.B.I. jealous. Lundqvist's leg pads are much bigger. And remember how I noted how tiny Lopresti's catching glove was? It's not the best picture, but Lundqvist's might be three times as big.

Don't dare change the nets, for then you make history obsolete. Reducing the size of the goaltender's equipment is what the purists call for. You can count me among that group, and I cringe every time I hear that the notion of bigger nets is still debated.

Trimming goalie equipment is not so easy though. First off, its a matter of safety. Cut down the equipment too much and hospital beds will fill up quicker than a Sheldon Souray slap shot. These guys can fire a frozen rubber bullet 100 mph.

Sure, we can play with height and width of leg pads, shoulder pads and catching gloves, But the biggest change in equipment, which also happens to be the biggest reason for the evolution of goaltending, can not be altered.

Mr. Lundqvist has himself a fancy dancy mask, while Mr. Lopresti does not. Notice how Lopresti keeps his head out of harm's way, well above the cross bar? Without face masks, all goalies of his era had to. It was a matter of survival. And as such, all goalies played the archaic stand up style that did allow for more net to shoot at.

Enter the 1970s when all goalies wore masks, and the position finally began its long over due revolution. Goalies weren't afraid to get hit in the head, and all other equipment made the job of puck stopping a lot more safe, too. Goalies began using more of their body, even their heads, to take up space. The butterfly goaltending stance evolved to where it is today, which is almost universally applied.

Throw in far better coaching, far better athletes donning the pads, and far lighter and more water resistant padding, and the netminder's role is completely different nowadays. Goaltending has never been stronger in hockey.

I don't think anyone really wants larger nets. But, aside from reducing the size of the catching mitts, trimming goalie equipment isn't necessarily the answer either.

The debate about bigger nets probably won't go away for some time yet. At first I was completely opposed. Now I'm only, say, 95% opposed, and 5% willing to listen. Which of course means at some point long down the road I'll probably think it is not a terrible idea. But I really hope not.

I just refuse to buy into the idea that hockey needs more goals to be entertaining. I've seen my share of 1-1 and 1-0 and 2-1 games that featured tons of great plays, saves and flow. My experience from the 1980s suggest the higher scoring 7-4 and 9-5 scores were usually inferior games to the closer, lower scoring affairs.


Anonymous said...

The whole things a joke...get the equipment size down to where it was in Terry Sawchucks day. Keep hockey the way it was....don't keep changing for the worse. I feel we need to get rid of the Gary Bettmans of the world.

Anonymous said...

I would have to say after watching these 2012 playoffs some 5 years later, and the return to soccer on ice, the time has come for bigger nets. Period.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

We need to bring back the abitilty for the skilled players like Crosby etc. to score like Gretzky, Hull, Esposito, Orr, Gartner, Messier, Lemieux, Bossy, Dionne.... and the list goes on. Space and time to shoot are gone. Time to bring it back.