The big goaltender issue
The Stanley Cup Final is barely in the books, yet the business side of things grinds on with GMs concluding a gathering followed this week by various task force confabs. They include the issue that won't go away -- what to do about the girth of today's goaltending garb -- and a new cast of characters is tackling the topic.
Jointly announced by the NHL and NHLPA on April 29 as the Goalie Equipment Working Group, Wednesday's meeting will focus on examining the "configuration and dimensions of goaltender equipment with respect to safety and performance." Any changes to the rules governing said equipment that are deemed warranted by the group will then go to the Competition Committee for consideration.
The guys charged with redefining the fine line between excess padding and protection is an interesting one. GM's Doug Risebrough, Brett Hull, Jim Rutherford and Garth Snow -- the latter two being former goaltenders -- make up the NHL contingency while the NHLPA's representation consists of shooters Dany Heatley and Mike Cammalleri and stoppers Martin Brodeur, Rick DiPietro and Ryan Miller.
That is a diverse and knowledgeable collection, but what can we seriously expect from their efforts? I mean, how do you separate the evolution of the position from the advancements in technology when form and function are inextricably intertwined? Why do most goalies now play the butterfly style almost exclusively? Because it makes sense from a net coverage standpoint and because today's goalie gear makes assuming the position and covering the crease while still in the butterfly stance an easier undertaking.
Part of that is the obvious advancement in the goal pad set up. The inside knee pads act as shims, thus taking stress off the joints, which is a good thing. The elevated knee also allows goaltenders to grip the ice with the inside edges of their skates, affording them once unheard-of lateral mobility while still covering the low corners, which is just plain smart. And this is just one notable example of form and function converging to make for better goaltending.
That leaves fit as the only area where the GEWG might find some -- pardon the expression -- wiggle room for modification. They need to focus on the man in a barrel phenomenon that has become the custom for goaltenders at every level. Extra exterior padding and unnecessary rolls that protrude rather than protect -- interestingly introduced by Garth Snow himself, he of the gladiator style raised ribbing atop his shoulders -- have been previously legislated. But goaltenders are a wily bunch. Smooth the outer regions? No problem. We'll just wear pants and chest and arm pads that are three sizes bigger than required.
Look, I applaud the guile of the goaltending brethren who are tending net today. And I don't know what the proper height/weight to tailored fit ratio should be. But I do know that is where the biggest issue lies. When I speak at USA Hockey coaches conferences, I juxtapose Ken Dryden from the 1972 Summit Series with the similar-in-stature Kari Lehtonen of today's Atlanta Thrashers. Yet, the two images aren't alike at all.
At the very least, accounting for all of the advancements and improvements in both technique and technology, 6' 4" today should be the same as 6' 4" in 1972. And that's not looking backwards, that's looking out for the future.
Former NHL goaltender Darren Eliot is TV analyst and hockey development liaison for the Atlanta Thrashers.