Posted: Tuesday January 16, 2007 1:25PM; Updated: Tuesday January 16, 2007 1:25PM
Hall of Famer Ken Dryden was 6-4, 207, but skimpy equipment forced the premier goalie of the 1970s to rely on his reflexes.
Tony Triolo/Sports Illustrated
E.M. Swift will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
One of the items on the agenda at the NHL general managers meeting in February is whether, in an effort to increase scoring, the league should make the goal bigger. It's now six feet wide by four feet high -- the same as it's always been. The new goal would add eight inches in width and four inches in height -- 80" x 52" -- so if you do the math, that's a 20 percent increase.
Goalies and so-called "traditionalists" have howled in protest ever since Colin Campbell, the league's director of hockey operations, floated the idea in late December. But I think -- no, I'm certain -- that it's an idea whose time is long overdue.
It's not just that scoring is down. The league is averaging 5.8 goals per game, including overtime, this season. That's down from 6.1 last season and way below the seven-plus average from the late 1970s through the early '90s -- before teams even played overtime.
The bigger concern is that certain types of scoring attempts have all but disappeared. The booming slapshots from a wing breaking across the blue line, which popularized hockey and made Bobby Hull a matinee idol in the 1960s; the sniper blast from the sideboards of the kind that made Guy Lafleur, Mike Bossy and Mike Gartner so deadly.
"When I was growing up, I saw a lot of goals scored by guys going down the wing, slap shots to the far corner," says Calgary's Jarome Iginla, a member of the NHL's competition committee. "Those were exciting to see. The bigger nets would give you more chance to have those goals."
Hall of Famer Ken Dryden, the premier goalie of the '70s and now an elected member of Canada's Parliament, says, "You can't really beat a goalie with a shot anymore. The goals now are almost all scored off redirections. The shooter sees a whole lot less space now, which changes the psychology of the contest between the goalie and the shooter. The goalie's equipment has gone from being an instrument to protect the body to being an instrument to protect the net."
I called Dryden to get his views on the larger net. He and I have discussed goaltending at length over the years. Before his great career with the Montreal Canadiens, he had a great one at Cornell. I was a goalie at Princeton. Our college careers overlapped one season. Back then, we were taught to stay on our feet and kick rebounds into the corners. ("Kick save, and a beauty!"). Our upper bodies were protected by shoulder pads made of cotton batting about 1/2-inch thick, so that a hard shot to the shoulder hurt like hell and left a bruise that would last a week.
Masks were only marginally effective at preventing injury. (Bernie Parent's career was shortened by a shot that penetrated his mask, injuring his eye.) There were no neck guards. The butterfly style was infrequently practiced, because it left the head, neck and shoulders in the middle of the net. Goalies stayed on their feet whenever possible, which left the bottom of the net susceptible to a hard, accurate shot. "The shot that was the hardest to stop was the low one to the corner," says Dryden.
It was a reflex position. Most goalies -- notably Gump Worseley, Roger Crozier, and Glenn "Chico" Resch --were small, quick and acrobatic. It was a fun position to watch. Dryden, at 6'-4", was an exception, but even he didn't seem to fill the net as goalies do today. He relied on his reflexes, and tried to catch everything that he could with his hands. When he crouched, his gloves were in front of his body. He wore a snug-fitting, size 48 jersey.
Why is that relevant? Because a few years ago, when Dryden was president of the Toronto Maple Leafs, he checked out the jersey size that Leafs goalie Glenn Healy wore. Healy stood 5'-10" -- on tiptoes. His jersey was a size 60.
Here's what happened over the years, and why a radical change in the size of the goal is needed.