Why insert yourself as the lone voice for goalies on a 10-person committee that meets for the first time Tuesday in Toronto with an agenda that is expected to include the biggest cuts to goaltending equipment since a top-to-bottom trim coming out of the 2004-05 lockout that included reducing the width of leg pads from 12 to 11 inches?
(Editor’s note: Full details on what changes the NHL is expected to propose below.)
Why pit yourself between more than the 600 skaters that want to see more net behind you, and the 60-plus goalies trusting you to keep them safe, an unenviable position that caused Martin Brodeur to quit and often left predecessor Ryan Miller exasperated?
Schneider’s first response showed this Boston College graduate is no dummy.
The levelheaded redhead left himself an easy out clause.
“First of all, talking to the PA, they said it’s not a permanent commitment, so if I do go to this meeting and enjoy it, I can continue,” Schneider told InGoal Magazine over the phone from his hometown of Boston. “But if I don’t, that’s fine as well.”
The extended response showed why there are people on both sides happy to have him involved.
Schneider, who has a degree in finance, was part of the negotiating committee that helped hammer out the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement, and liked “knowing what is going on as opposed to waiting to hear what is going to happen and having no impact on what is going to happen to your career and the careers of your peers.”
Schneider knows a stingier style of play is a more likely cause for the decrease in scoring, but also understands his puck-stopping peers are the easiest target for a fix. Despite reservations among the goaltending fraternity about any pending reductions in the equipment between them and 100-mile-an-hour slap shots, he plans to go into his first Competition Committee meeting with an eyes open, mouth shut mentality.
“So you just sort of sit back and hear what is happening and then make your input known when you need to, but don’t really jump in front of it and be overly militant about it.”
All of which may be a lot easier to say heading into the first meeting.
The Players’ Association, through its voice on the Competition Committee, blocked the implementation of a sizing chart for leg pads for a full season after a frustrating summer of 2009 that included the threat of lawsuits, prompting a frustrated Miller to tell InGoal Magazine at the time, “We chose not to be bullied into a half-assed decision, simple as that. We have a duty to protect players and the league probably feels more strongly about following through on publicly made promises to the fans through the media.”
Schneider hasn’t spoken directly to Miller, who talked at times about being worn down by the role, about his experiences, but they share an agent in former NHL goaltender Mike Liut, and they talked about Miller’s time on the Competition Committee.
“He was on it for a long time so I am sure it can be a little draining,” Schneider said. “You are under a lot of pressure to do what is best for the game and for your fellow goalies and players, but he seemed to handle it with a lot of class and expertise, and I think he was a good spokesperson for goalies.”
Most who know Schneider expect that to continue with him on the committee.
THE PROPOSED CHANGES
InGoal Magazine has learned the NHL plans to present more than one option to reduce the height of the pads, but both are expected to include a significant downsizing:
1. Continued use of the individual sizing chart, but with a reduction in the thigh rise from 55 per cent of each goalie’s measurement from the knee to hip, down to 40 per cent. The NHL targeted a 50 per cent maximum eight years ago, but it was negotiated up to 55 per cent by the NHLPA. Given the average total measurement in the League is around 20 inches, a 15 per cent reduction would equate to three lost inches in pad height. Of course that is three inches per pad, and given most goalies use the top of these pads to close the 5-hole when they are down on the ice, that could mean an additional six-inch opening.
(Tuesday night update: InGoal was informed after the meeting by an NHL source that the proposed percentage change was from 55 to 45 per cent and not 40 per cent as originally planned, meaning an average reduction of roughly two inches per pad, or a four-inch opening of the 5-hole. A complete update, with thoughts from NHL goalies and plans for sub-committee meetings will be posted soon).
2. A fixed maximum for every goalie above the knee, likely between seven and eight inches. This would eliminate the sizing chart for thigh rise, and instead fix a maximum height for every goalie’s pad above the knee. Using the average 20-inch knee-to-hip measurement, an eight-inch maximum would be the same as a 40 per cent maximum.
While abandoning even a portion of a sizing chart the NHL fought so hard to get may surprise some, the reality is establishing pad height based on a standing goaltender has little to do with how it is used on the ice. Goaltenders don’t use extra height above the knee to protect their thighs while standing, they use it to wrap around in front of them when they drop into the butterfly, protecting the knees and closing the 5-hole.
How much extra pad each individual goalie needs to establish that seal depends more on the width, or flare, of their butterfly – in other words, how wide they can spread their legs to the side when on their knees – than their standing height. If a goalie can flare their legs out wide, it won’t take much extra thigh rise to close the 5-hole. Those with a narrower butterfly sometimes need longer pads above the knee to wrap around and close it off.
The question now is whether they believe that 5-hole seal is needed for safety?
Of course, most of the goalies that expose their knees that way do so while wearing massive kneepads behind their leg pads. The maximum width for these kneepads was quietly reduced from 9.5 to 9 inches two summers ago, and they are supposed to contour around the goaltender’s leg. But the reality is many, including a large Swiss-made custom carbon-fiber option introduced by Francois Allaire and now used by dozens of NHL goalies, are designed as much to form a 5-hole wall as they are to protect.
Given most of the goaltenders InGoal talked to this season expected more of their peers to adopt that style of kneepad if their knees are exposed by smaller thigh rises, it’s no surprise the NHL is also trying to trim that padding as part of this summer’s changes. Ensuring smaller kneepads are enough to protect from direct impact, something many NHL goalies have never had to worry about because of their taller thigh rise, is important.
“We have to determine whether it compromises safety first and foremost, make sure guys have the protection they need,” Schneider said of reducing thigh rise and kneepads. “And after we do that we have to determine is it some form of competitive advantage. Part of the process is you have to ask them ‘who do you think in the League looks bigger than they should and why?’ And hear their explanation as to why this guy looks like his gear is bigger than another or who they feel are examples of these things they are talking about and go from there. We’re not trying to get anyone in trouble, or single people out, we just want to even the playing field and have everyone playing with the same stuff.”
Of course not every goaltender plays the same style, so there will always be concerns about forcing them all into “the same stuff” will affect some more harshly than others.
“You have to understand you can’t please everyone,” Schneider said. “There are too many styles and variations and equipment companies to really find something that’s going to make everyone happy. But I think it should be able to make the majority of us happy and not hurt the integrity of the position – that’s what the goal is.”
MEASUREMENT AND ENFORCEMENT
Determining new size limits for equipment won’t the only goaltending issue the NHL and NHLPA will discuss this week. There will also be talk about how they wear it.
One of the things Miller and others stressed in the past was setting limits without telling goalies how they could wear their equipment, in large part of out of fears changes in the gear would also force some to change their style. But in the past few years how goalies have worn their leg pads has also started to affect how tall they sit on their legs.
For starters, the knee-to-thigh measurement was only one part of a formula to establish overall pad height for each goaltender. It wasn’t uncommon, however, for some to then ask their equipment companies to take some of that total maximum off the boot of the pad, which covers the skate, and add it to the top of the pad to help cover the 5-hole.
Needless to say, the NHL wants the new thigh-rise maximum, whether it becomes fixed or remains a percentage, to be applied directly to the thigh rise and not overall height.
Another problem that developed over the past three years was goalies wearing their pads without the lower bootstrap fastened to hold them down at the skate, which allowed the pad to push up their leg and into the 5-hole when they dropped to the ice.
While its hard to imagine the NHL can enforce how a goalie wears his pads – even if you mandate the bootstrap running through the bottom of the skate there is nothing to prevent goalies from wearing it so long and loose that it still lets the pad ride up – there may be a solution that solves both problems: linking thigh rise maximum to the goalie’s knee stack.
The knee stack, or landing gear, is the area on the inside of the pad that a goalie lands on when they are in the butterfly, and missing this target with the knees when they drop means their knees travel lower to the ice, adding stress on the knees, hips and ankles.
By using the top of this knee stack as a base for the new thigh rise restriction, rather than making it part of an overall formula for pad height, the NHL would prevent goalies from adding to their thigh rise either at the manufacturer or in how they wear a pad.
There are some concerns at the NHL level that goalies will find some wiggle room on the knee stacks, pushing them as high as they can while still landing on the lower edge, but the reality is no goalie can risk the injury that comes with missing it altogether, so using it as a base for thigh rise measurements is believed to be an option the League will pitch.
“Knee stack location is pivotal,” Schneider said. “The knee has to sit in the right spot.”
As for enforcement within a season, don’t be surprised if the NHLPA asks for more.
There are also concerns some goalies are tinkering with undergarments, including some with added padding atop the shoulders to force the chest-and-arm unit up higher, or thicker padding under the knees that makes them taller while in the butterfly.
“That falls under the umbrella of enforcement,” Schneider said. “We want everyone with the same stuff. We understand it’s a tough position and everyone does different things to be successful but at the end of the day we all want to be on the same playing field.”
Sometimes it’s easier said than done, but at least Schneider is eager to try.