Jean-Sebastien Giguere knows there will be some who doubt it, but the Colorado Avalanche backup voted in favor of reducing the height of NHL goalie pads.
Still, Giguere was admittedly surprised by how small his new pads looked when he saw and wore them for the first time at the Reebok CCM Goalie Summit in Montreal this week. Delivered straight from the NHL offices in Toronto, where the League’s top goalie cop Kay Whitmore signs off on each piece (literally, his initials are on on every item), Giguere’s new pads were two inches shorter than the ones he wore in Colorado last season.
It’s all part of a 10 per cent reduction in the knee-to-hip allowance of the NHL’s goalie sizing chart, which was approved by the NHL Players’ Association and first reported by InGoal in mid-July but is not yet official – in part because they are still haggling over other reductions. If you ask Giguere, this is enough.
“I am a little bit surprised how much,” Giguere said. “First of all, I voted yes for the change, which probably will surprise a bunch of people, but I think I need to get re-measured because I think it is awfully short.”
The reduced allowance from 55 to 45 per cent of each goalie’s knee-to-hip measurement should create a two-inch reduction in the overall height of the average pad, though not everyone has been affected as much.
At the Reebok CCM Goalie Summit, Corey Crawford, Marc Andre Fleury and Jonathan Bernier all had roughly two inches chopped off the top of their pads, but Roberto Luongo later told InGoal he will only lose half an inch. One NHL-contracted goalie told InGoal that he will lose three inches off the top of each pad, while others, including Henrik Lundqvist and Craig Anderson, have shown off what appear to be less drastic decreases in the height of their new pads on their various social media accounts.
The changes will affect each goalie differently, not only based on how they wear their leg pads and what size kneepads they wear behind them, but also because of the style they play.
“Obviously it’s a little smaller visually and when you put it on it feels a little smaller, but it’s just an adjustment that goaltenders have to make once in a while,” said Crawford, whose pad went from just over 38 inches to just under 36. “Some guys might take a little bit longer than others, but I think everyone will be all right after a bit.”
There was a lot of adjusting at the Goalie Summit, which included the debut of Reebok’s new Premier XLT line on Crawford, Giguere and Fleury, as well as a first look at the new-look CCM Retro Flex Pro Bernier will wear in Toronto. The four goalies on hand took turns checking out each others’ butterfly and tinkering with their own, trying to figure out how to close down a 5-hole the NHL reductions are designed to open up.
Fleury has switched to a straighter, firmer pad to try and make up for the move from just under 37 inches down to just over 34.5 inches, and was talking about beefing up his knee pads. He even threw out Lundqvist’s name while playing with his strapping, a reference to the Rangers goalie’s custom bootstrap that allows more of the pad to sit higher on the leg and slide into the 5-hole when he drops, something goalies like Anaheim’s Viktor Fasth have since copied. It’s a trend the NHL tried unsuccessfully to curtail by making the thigh rise a separate and specific measurement.
For now it remains just one part of the formula for overall pad height. Most expect the NHL to continue pursuing thigh-rise specific limits next summer. In the meantime, Bernier is hoping a new vertical stitching on his retro CCM pads will at least help visually negate the move from a 36.5 inches to a 34.5-inch pad.
“It feels like I didn’t lose that much on the thigh, so that’s a good thing for me,” Bernier said, “And maybe with the stitching up and down the pad, it’s straight lines and it feels like they are as long as what I had, I guess. Maybe not bigger than what I had, but it doesn’t look too small.”
Crawford said he won’t really know how the change affects his play until he gets into a game.
“No matter how much practice you get there are still game situations that you just kind of don’t get a feel for in practice or scrimmage,” Crawford said. “So once you get in a game that’s when you’ll really get to feel it out. It might affect it or it might not, we’ll see when I get into a game.”
There are many goalies and coaches that believe goaltenders will actually get faster in shorter pads, something that happened when the width was reduced from 12- to 11-inches after the NHL lockout in 2005.
“It’s a little bit smaller, but at the same time it might help us for speed and quickness,” Crawford said.
At least Crawford was allowed to keep his pads straight, something the NHL tried to also make illegal by forcing a mandatory curve or break into the rule book – a change the Players’ Association did not agree to. Still, even losing two inches will affect the intent of Crawford’s rail straight pads, which he likes to form a triangle in front of him in the butterfly to collect any loose pucks that bounce off his torso.
The new pads no longer meet at the top to completely close off that triangle.
“I don’t think it will be as effective as it was before but it’s just something I have to play with and see what works and what doesn’t,” Crawford said.
Ironically, Giguere, who has long been a whipping boy for oversized equipment, may be the least affected despite one of the most dramatic-looking reductions.
His new pad height maximum is 34.5 inches, down from 36.5 inches last season. But because Giguere wears a pad based on a 35-inch knee placement, he actually went from a 35 plus-1 pad, with the extra inch up on the thigh rise, to a 35 minus-1, with half an inch removed from the standard thigh rise. In an era where many goalies order plus-2 or more on their thigh rises at retail – and a few in the NHL were at plus-3 on the thigh rise last season – that will look like a small pad. But anyone who has watched Giguere play knows he doesn’t use his leg pads to close his 5-hole.
While other goalies try to flare out their skates in a wide butterfly that pushes the top of their pads together in front of their 5-hole, Giguere employs a narrower butterfly, with his skates dropping behind him, instead exposing and closing his knees in order to seal up his 5-hole.
“I don’t think it’s going to change how I play,” Giguere said. “The way I play with the blocking style, which probably drives the NHL crazy, I am not going to change it. So it’s not going to change much for me.”
The NHL is still hoping to shrink the width and increase the contouring on the existing kneepad rules at a meeting in late August, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for the League’s goaltenders to adjust. As it stands now, many might be looking at larger options like the models Giguere and Crawford – and at least 20 goalies elsewhere in the NHL – are already wearing. Fleury was already talking about adding them in Montreal, and Giguere believes goalies will need the extra protection as their knees are exposed by smaller pads.
“Guys knees are going to be more exposed,” Giguere said. “I know the League is trying to shrink knee protection again, but this is something I would have a real problem with. Just looking at some of the guys, in my mind their knee protection is not enough and they are going to get hurt.”
It’s an argument that will play out at meetings later this month, with some talk of maybe even giving goalies until the Olympic break to switch to smaller kneepads. If not, it will be a hot topic again next summer, when the League is also expected to try again to make the thigh rise a separate, enforceable measurement, and eliminate the straight pads both Crawford and Giguere will wear this season.
If you ask Giguere, there isn’t much room left to cut.
“There has got to be a limit on how much you can alter goalies equipment before they get hurt and I think we are close to that limit,” he said.