Kris King, the NHL's new goaltending-equipment czar, is bracing for some strange looks from airport security personnel this season. Armed with a tape measure and a set of calipers, King will travel to arenas around the league and patrol netminders like an undercover cop, popping up unannounced to conduct surprise postgame checks on their gear. He'll be on the road so much that the NHL had a special set of wood calipers made for him. Metal ones, the league figured, would cause delays at airport checkpoints. � "None of the security people have asked about them yet," King said of the calipers during a stop last month in Minnesota, where he shot video and photographs of the Wild goalies in their gear and measured every piece of their equipment. "But it's early."
King, who played with five NHL teams from 1987-88 through 2000-01, faces a Sisyphean task: enforcing the perennially ignored Rule 21, which spells out size limits for goalies' equipment. With bulky high-tech, lightweight padding, keepers these days look like Rubens models who have let themselves go. Says one NHL goaltending coach, "We always say that if a guy looks small on the ice, he's got a problem."
The league, whose goal-scoring has dropped from 8.3 per game in 1981-82 to 5.3 last season, has been losing the battle of the bulging goalie for years. A slew of new regulations went into effect before the 1999-2000 season—glove and jersey sizes were reduced, and various cuffs and shields were outlawed—and random spot checks were introduced, but that didn't stop goalies from stretching the rules. "The puck just hits the goalies," New Jersey Devils center John Madden says of the oversized padding worn by netminders. "People say that's good positioning, and some of it is. But other times the puck just hits a piece of equipment, and the goalie's thinking, Hey, great."
This summer the height of leg pads, which had been unregulated, was capped at 38 inches. (Legal width is 12 inches.) The league also banned hard knee boards that many goalies used to cover the lower thigh. Violators will be fined $25,000 and suspended for one game for the first offense, and their equipment will be confiscated.
Those are logical changes. But as with most league initiatives—how about the near annual crackdown on obstruction?—enforcement will be a challenge. King will be backed by officials in the NHL's Toronto office who will watch every game on TV in search of illegal gear. But King, 37, will be the lone soldier out in the field.
To ensure that netminders don't bend the rules, the NHL is relying on a combination of signed statements from team equipment managers vowing that their goalies won't cheat and Big Brother surveillance. However, says Vezina Trophy winner Martin Brodeur of the Devils, "people will always push the limit, and they're hard to catch."
Brodeur, who might use the smallest gear in the league, should have nothing to worry about, but consider the Anaheim Mighty Ducks' J.S. Giguere, who doesn't tend goal so much as eclipse it. When the 6'1" 200-pounder stands square in the crease and splays his legs in the butterfly stance, the lower portion of the four-by-six-foot net disappears behind his 36-inch-high pads. His shoulders, topped by padding that belongs in Jerome Bettis's locker, rise like camel humps to block the upper regions of the goal. The only open areas for shooters are the top corners, spots that snipers alone can hit. "I'd say 50 percent of all saves are not saves," says Detroit Red Wings forward Brett Hull. "[The goalies are] just hit by the puck."
That might not change even if netminders fall into line, because the rules don't address another problem with leg pads: width. Since 1989-90 goalies have been allowed to wear pads that measure 12 inches across. From '27-28 through '88-89 the maximum width of each pad was 10 inches. Those four extra inches meant that more than a puck's width of open net disappeared.
Last spring some general managers suggested returning to 10-inch pads. The league, leery of injuries and the possibility of legal action if a goalie is hurt wearing smaller pads, held off. Now, however, "the protection from pads is so good that you probably could go down to 10 inches easily," says Dave Dryden, King's predecessor as goalie-equipment czar and a member of the NHL's injury panel. "The next step is to build a prototype and test it."
In other words, don't expect pads to get narrower anytime soon. But why wait? During the Stanley Cup finals commissioner Gary Bettman, who was grasping for ways to increase scoring, floated the idea of making the nets larger. That suggestion was roundly disparaged, however, as too radical. Clamping down on goal-tenders immediately is a more reasonable means to the same end. "We had a veteran goalie a few years ago who thought the key to success was just getting bigger," says Hall of Fame netminder Gerry Cheevers, a Boston Bruins scout. "He kept saying, I have to get bigger. I have to get bigger.' "