The position of goalie has an inherent romanticism: masked men clad with cool armor, serving as the last line of defense. They play entire games, with an unparalleled ability to impact outcomes. When they're on, they can single-handedly defeat a giant foe. They are the consummate underdogs and towering superheroes all at once.
“If they change it, as long as I have the new gear early August it should be fine,” Lundqvist wrote in an email to InGoal Magazine from his native Sweden.
It’s no longer a question of “if” when it comes to goalie equipment changes.
According to several sources close to the ongoing equipment talks, the NHL Players’ Association informally approved a reduction in the overall height of its goaltender’s pads at its meetings last week after an internal survey showed strong support for change. Unfortunately, that polling – and therefore the approval – wasn’t specific enough for the NHL, leaving questions about interpretation and implementation of the new pad height restrictions, while also failing to address the League’s request for smaller kneepads.
It set up a potentially contentious meeting between the two sides in New York late this week. Meanwhile equipment manufacturers, many with goalies already wanting new gear for summer skates, await final measurements so they can start producing next year’s equipment.
The NHLPA voted to lower the maximum allowance for the knee-to-hip measurement – it was introduced before the 2010-11 season as part of the new sizing charts for all goaltenders – from 55 per cent to 45 per cent. With the average NHL measurement around 20 inches that 10 per cent reduction would equate to two lost inches in pad height, and given most goalies use the top of their pads to close the 5-hole when they are down on the ice, it could mean an additional four-inch opening in the butterfly.
It is not an insignificant change, but it did not address a proposal to make that a separate enforceable measurement rather than just one part of the overall formula for each goalie’s pad height. And without specifically limiting the amount of pad above the knee – known commonly as the thigh rise – the NHL fears more goalies will simply follow a recent trend that has seen some adjust how they wear and build their pads in order to push more of their maximum up the leg and into the 5-hole when they drop into the butterfly.
The League also wants a maximum thigh rise of eight inches above the knee stack – the area a goalie lands on when they drop – but that wasn’t addressed. Neither was a proposal to further shrink and contour the kneepads goalies wear behind their leg pads, and again the fear is more goaltenders will simply adopt the larger padding that many already wear to help close any openings in the 5-hole.
There was also talk of eliminating straight pads and forcing a curve above the knee, though how much was unclear.
At this point, it appears the NHLPA intends to make kneepads part of a larger discussion about equipment – for goalies and players – that will be undertaken by a subcommittee formed by the joint competition committee. But that group is still a couple of weeks away from meeting, and even if they came to a quick decision, manufacturers already believe it is too late to make changes for this season.
Stars like Lundqvist may get gear in early August, but goalies further down the depth chart could be waiting until training camp.
“The time line is very tight,” said Mike Vaughn, owner and president of Vaughn equipment, which outfitted almost 30 NHL goalies last season – and many more in the AHL. “We really do need more time and the players need more time so they can practice and get use to any changes, plus if it goes beyond just size of gear such as thickness or shape of a product we need time to test to make sure protection is not compromised.”
Some goalies worry about injury if all the changes are made immediately – either from puck impact to less protected knee or adjusting stance and style to close the 5-hole.
“I don’t have a problem with change, as long as the safety is the main focus,” Lundqvist wrote. “You might be able to cut a few things but we are getting close to how much you can push it. Now because of the changes I’m getting hit in places where in the past I was protected. You have to remember that the game is so much faster now, and the players shoot the puck harder and with a quicker release because of the new sticks.”
AHL veteran Mike McKenna conceded most goalies could probably lose an inch or two off the top of their pads, pointing to how many overlap when they drop. But McKenna, who recently signed a free agent contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets, worried about opening up the 5-hole while also reducing the knee protection behind, adding that a lot of lower profile goalies don’t even get the option from their teams to buy the popular model of oversized kneepads, a carbon-fiber product from Switzerland that costs around $900.
“Ask any goalie and they’ll tell you: taking a shot off the knee – and the subsequent damage it does – is crippling,” McKenna said. “On top of the pain, it reduces the knee’s natural range of motion. Basically, if you get hit hard, you’re going to be out at least a week, and maybe up to a month depending if there’s any structural damage.”
Amidst those concerns, it was interesting to note a suggestion from Lundqvist’s backup in New York, Martin Biron, to implement the equipment changes mid season.
“I think we are going deep in the summer which doesn’t leave much time to work on gear especially knee pads,” Biron told InGoal. “Would they be willing to put in the new changes in-season? Let’s say by New Year all goalies would have to be in legal gear? That would give us time to work on gear and practice with it on an every day basis.”
The NHL would counter by pointing out their equipment change proposal was submitted when the competition committee first met way back in the first week of June, which should have provided plenty of time to test over the summer. More than six weeks later, none of that testing has taken place and there is growing concern the full list of changes may go the way of the original sizing chart, which after a summer of squabbling was delayed by one season over concerns there wasn’t enough time for goalies to adjust.
As for how the goalies will adjust, it’s too soon to tell, but most suspect well.
“I’m not sure how it will effect my game,” Lundqvist wrote. “I would say that the last change they did in 2005 probably helped me. It was easier to move. I felt quicker. First few weeks were tough, but as soon as I got used to it I think it was actually better.”