(Editor’s Note: This article originally ran Feb. 6. Taylor made his first NHL start Monday in Phoenix, and after struggling to go back to a stock blade in his old set up – he said it felt like he was wearing “tennis shoes” on the ice – had switched to the taller Bauer cowling with 3-millimeter Step Steel standard blades, which he said provides a similar feel and attack angle).
Danny Taylor’s feel-good return to the NHL comes with a catch.
Taylor, who signed a two-way contract with the Flames after they lost star Miikka Kiprusoff to a lower-body injury Tuesday night, will not be allowed to wear his preferred Step Steel Xtreme blades in the NHL.
Taylor wore the taller steel while posting his impressive .930 save percentage and 1.77 goals-against average with Calgary’s AHL affiliate in Abbotsford this season. Basically, Step Steel Xtreme blades, which were reviewed in full by InGoal Magazine in the October edition, create a better attack angle for lateral pushes by increasing the distance between the ice and skate cowling.
The Xtreme is almost a quarter of an inch taller than a standard blade for Taylor’s Reebok skate, and that increased height allows goalies to play lower and wider on their inside edge before the cowling makes contact with the ice – InGoal measured a nine degree angle change in testing – which can cause slip out. It also means a goaltender needs to lift their knee that much less before they clear the cowling and establish that skate edge needed to make a lateral push while down.
Ironically, that advantage isn’t what makes Step Steel illegal – yet.
According to NHL goaltending supervisor Kay Whitmore, the height advantage is still under review, and a new measurement will almost certainly be added to the NHL’s Official Rules book. For now, though, there is nothing about skate blades in “Rule 11 – Goalkeeper’s Equipment,” and no rule specifically banning the Step Steel Extreme.
The problem is that Step Steel never submitted anything to be included on the NHL’s list of approved products, which Whitmore said falls outside the measurements he makes to all goalie pads, gloves, pants and chest-arm protection, but does apply to everything else for both goaltenders and players, including sticks and helmets.
“They are under review at present time because the company that makes them did not send them in ever to have them reviewed,” Whitmore said. “We’re in the process of gathering necessary information to make a decision on whether they will or won’t be.”
In the meantime, a source said Taylor’s blades have been changed by the Flames’ equipment staff.
Whether or not it affects his game remains to be seen. There is undoubtedly a difference between the Step Xtreme and anything else, but with Leland Irving starting in Columbus on Thursday and Kiprusoff confident his injury is short term, Taylor may not even get into an NHL game in his temporary blades. It would also be highly unfair to focus too much on the blades, especially considering Taylor posted a .927 save percentage without them last season, starting in the playoffs ahead of Irving.
Taylor’s success, which includes a .940 save percentage in 10 games since his first child was born New Year’s Day, is more about perseverance and mental strength. It’s about rediscovering a low-and-wide, play-deeper style that worked in junior but was coached out of him by the Los Angeles Kings. It’s about always learning and evolving while playing for 11 teams in four leagues on two continents, about buying a tennis ball machine and boat tent to try and discover his optimum hand position in the summer.
All of the above, including style comparisons to Henrik Lundqvist, was detailed in a feature in the January edition of InGoal Magazine, and all of it makes Taylor a great story now that he’s back in the NHL.
As for the Step Steel Xtreme, that’s a story that is still being written by the NHL, one that could have an impact on the growing list of young goalies – many of them top juniors – already wearing them.
For now, Taylor had to take the Xtremes off because Step Steel hadn’t followed proper approval protocol. (Yet InGoal has seen Step Standard blades, with only a two to three millimetre height increase, in the NHL this season and its hard to imagine those were submitted). But Whitmore said that doesn’t mean the Step Xtremes will – or won’t – be banned for sure in the future.
While he has heard from other NHL goalies that see Xtreme blades as absurd and want it banned – ironically most were more concerned with added height than improved attack angle – Whitmore deserves credit for not knee-jerking to a conclusion and recognizing steel is only one part of the formula that adds height and cowling clearance.
The reality is some skate companies have already improved both by increasing the height of the blade holder at the bottom of their goalie skates. Bauer now has a cut out on the inside of its cowlings to provide more clearance before they catch the ice, and Anaheim’s Jonas Hiller has his own one-off custom carbon-fiber cowling designed to increase attack angle and reduce slip out.
In fact, when InGoal measured a set of skates similar to Taylor’s with the Step Steel Xtreme, the distance from the bottom of the boot to the bottom of the steel was only about two millimetres more than a stock skate from another company.
Whitmore recognizes the need for a maximum measurement, and that simply banning Step Xtreme doesn’t solve the problem. With goalies – and goaltending equipment companies – looking for any possible advantage, a more concrete rule is required.
“Visually it’s one of those things where everyone is like ‘wow there’s so much steel, he is so high off the ice,’ but maybe another skate does it with a taller plastic holder and you don’t see it like you do with the metal,” said Whitmore. “If the difference is less then a quarter of a millimeter, is that a big difference? No. If that’s the case it’s easy to say Step Steel Xtreme will be allowed with holder X but maybe not in holder Y or Z. It’s not as simple as just banning it outright.”
It’s also not as simple as the old overdrive blades, which were a separate piece of metal that screwed into the cowling along the edge where it would normally slip out, providing a second edge to balance on and push off. The NHL banned overdrive blades.
“Overdrive was obviously a contrivance but the skate blade is still a skate blade,” Whitmore said. “It affects things in different ways, you can’t say it’s an accessory that allows performance to be improved. It’s just a skate blade so that’s why it’s not that easy to just say no. You want more science and data before you make that decision.
“There are different variables in place between the cowling height on its own and the blade height, and the combination of the two, so it wouldn’t be prudent to make a decision before I gather all that information and make sure I have every model of cowling that is available and that’s what I am in the process of doing right now.”
In the meantime, Taylor has become the League’s first test case. And for now it looks like he’ll have to adjust back to life without Step Steel Xtreme blades as he prepares to try and start a new life in the NHL.
It’s hardly ideal, but if anyone is up for the challenge, it’s Taylor.
Enjoy this photo gallery of Taylor in action from InGoal Photographer Clint Trahan: