NHL prepared for feedback as goalies get smaller chest protectors
The new NHL chest protector rules were back in the spotlight when former New Jersey Devils goalie Ken Appleby was forced to leave the ice during a training session after being stung by a high shot he didn’t think he would have felt in his old unit. In addition to sitting down with Appleby to discuss his experiences in the new chest protector, InGoal Magazine has since confirmed the specific sizing changes and rules, the rigorous process that led to them, new technology that will be used to measure the new units, which companies have been approved, including a couple that weren’t in the NHL last season, and what’s next for goalies and the League.
Smaller chest protectors for NHL goaltenders have arrived, and with them a few concerns.
The good news is there is still time – and a willingness – to address any serious ones.
While a half dozen goalies that wear Brian’s had an approved chest protector to try at the start of last season, most are just now getting their new, smaller version as they prepare for next season. And with almost all NHL goalies back on the ice by early August at the latest, the person chiefly responsible for the changes is as eager as anyone to hear their responses after trying the new chest protectors, which are narrower in the arms and shoulder floaters and more form-fitting than before.
“It will be interesting to hear the feedback,” Kay Whitmore, NHL vice president of hockey operations and goaltender equipment, told InGoal Magazine. “I expect more in the first two weeks of August and we are ready, along with the [NHL Player’s Association], to work through those conversations and what needs to be done. The fact we’re having this conversation in late July and into early August is key. That’s why we tried to talk to the manufacturers to get their first units to guys who are on the ice early, not guys who are going to put it in a bag until the end of August.”
Appleby wore his new XL Bauer sample for the first time at the PRO Goaltending development program in Oshawa, Ontario on July 18, and InGoal Magazine was on hand when a shot off the collarbone forced him to stop the drill and briefly leave the ice. Appleby was doing a simple movement drill, pushing out of reverse-VH on the post and into the slot for a shot, the shooter was an instructor and fellow goalie, and based on the velocity, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Appleby figured it was a shot he “doesn’t even feel at all” most of the time. Luckily it turned out to only be a stinger, but an account of the event set off an interesting reaction on social media (come for video of Appleby, stay for the long thread that follows):
Ken Appleby is wearing the new NHL spec chest protectors that will be enforced next season. There is significantly less padding around the neckline and shoulders, which is a bit concerning. pic.twitter.com/W779Ci6tar
— Gregory Balloch (@GregBalloch) July 18, 2018
The ensuing debate included a quote tweet from player agent Allan Walsh, whose clients include Marc-Andre Fleury and Jaroslav Halak, saying he’d “talked to several NHL goalies who feel the reduced padding around neck and shoulders will lead to more injuries.” Appleby wasn’t upset, however.
“There are just a couple of adjustments that need to be done, and I went over that with the Bauer reps,” said Appleby, who signed with the Manitoba Moose after making his NHL debut last season with the New Jersey Devils. “Where the floaters are, they are a little too loose. If you go to make a shoulder save, it may move the floater out to where your shoulder or collarbone is exposed. You could tighten that up.”
Appleby made sure to point out that he hasn’t felt any pain in that area, but he is noticing a few more pucks sneaking through his arm and his body than before, one of the NHL’s goals.
“I actually like it,” Appleby said. “It’s weird because it’s really light. It’s a lot lighter than the old ones. I think it’s going to bring some honesty to the position, I think it will be good.”
That’s the type of reasoned feedback the NHL and NHLPA are hoping to hear as they try to wrap up a process that started in the summer of 2015 to make goaltender chest protectors and pants smaller, something goaltenders at the time favoured instead of making the nets bigger.
“Our focus at the NHLPA has always been the safety of the players and fairness in the game. As goalies are just now starting to receive their new gear, we are in contact with them to gather their feedback,” said Mathieu Schneider, NHLPA Special Assistant to the Executive Director. “This has been a process that has been ongoing for years and we realize there’s still work to be done to get over the finish line.”
It’s not unlike the process they went through with the new pants, which became mandatory in February of the 2016-17 season, but only after a lot of back and forth with goaltenders. That included allowing additional padding for the inner thighs after some goalies were getting bruised regularly.
Whitmore envisions similar conversations about the chest protector before the season starts.
“Get it on, wear it, and what do you guys think and be realistic about it,” Whitmore said. “With pants, some guys needed extensions for longer legs, and there will some of that. We assigned sizes for everyone, and it now includes shoulder width measurements, but it’s not a perfect science when you are dealing with a wide range of body types that includes some goalies who are 6-foot-4, 240 pounds, and others who are 6-foot-3, 170 pounds. This is the time of year to give us some feedback, and if there’s an issue, contact your [equipment company] rep and we’ll address it.”
WHAT EXACTLY HAS CHANGED
The biggest measurement changes involve the elbow floater (or elbow box), arms and shoulder floaters, which were also referred to as clavicle protectors in past NHL rulebooks.
The shoulder floaters can’t be any wider than 5.5 inches at any point now, a significant reduction from the old 7-inch maximum. The maximum width of the elbow floater is now 6 inches compared to 7 inches in the old rules. Of course, that also meant reducing the width of the bicep and forearm pads in order to fit under that elbow box. The bicep pad is now 5.5 inches wide at the top and tapers down to 4.5 inches at the bottom, where it tucks inside the elbow floater. The forearm pad protection starts at 4.5 inches wide as it comes out below the elbow, and tapers down to 4 inches at the wrist.
There wasn’t any official maximum specific to the bicep and forearm protection in the previous NHL rulebook. The 7-inch elbow floater provided a restrictor plate, so to speak, because each piece had to tuck in side it, but some bicep pads measured close to that maximum.
“The arms are rounded,” Appleby said. “That big square at the crease of your elbow has been really cut down and thinned out. Now that’s even rounded around your arm.”
Perhaps more notable is the way companies have angled the breaks, or seams, on the narrower clavicle protector in order to meet the new rules in terms of slope, or how the chest protector fits over top of the shoulders, which will be measured at multiple points. The shoulder floater cannot project or extend above the goalie’s shoulder by more than 2 inches at its lateral edge, by more than 1.5 inches at the midpoint of the floater, and by more than half an inch at its medial edge.
In layman’s terms, the NHL will use these new rules to try and ensure the new chest protectors match the natural angle of each goaltender’s shoulder rather than creating a straight line out from the neck, or in some cases even rising up in a bit of a “V” from the neck out to the corner of the shoulder.
This includes a new rule for the shoulder cap that sits at the edge of the shoulder, which can no longer project laterally beyond the goalie’s shoulder more than 1.5 inches. It’s a more concrete and enforceable way to prevent the shoulder cap from projecting well out to the side, which allowed some companies to create legal NHL units that looked a lot bigger than intended.
Despite some talk about the new shoulder floater padding not being as thick, that isn’t in the new rules. The 1-inch maximum thickness is the same as the 2017-18 rulebook.
“We tried to provide everything the old ones provided,” Whitmore said. “Seams, air gaps, all these things we tried to consider and incorporate. We even sent some units back that met the criteria but we didn’t feel were safe enough, whether it was shoulder exposure, seams in the wrist, or pockets that were too big in the padding. If goalies feel it isn’t protective enough, let’s try to address it in the context of form fitting and rounded shoulders.”
Those conversations started last season. In addition to the approved Brian’s models that were ready early, Fleury wore a prototype in practice when the Vegas Golden Knights went through Toronto. Jonathan Bernier and Corey Crawford also provided feedback after trying it, and Nashville Predators goalies Jusse Saros and Pekka Rinne wanted to take their new test units home right away after trying them during a stop in Toronto in early February.
Maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise: one manufacturing source said the prototype the NHL had built as a guideline was very similar to the original Reebok P1 chest protector, a model several goalies remain loyal to more than a decade after it debuted.
NHL goaltenders will also have more manufacturers to choose from next season.
While the number of approved models from some major manufacturers will decrease – Brian’s has one, which is the same as its retail OPTIK model, CCM has one, Bauer has one, Vaughn has two approved and one more pending – Jon Brown and Kenesky each have versions for the upcoming season that have met the new NHL guidelines. Washington Capitals prospect Ilya Samsonov, who is coming over from the Kontinental Hockey League, already has an approved model from Brown.
NEW RULES, NEW TECHNOLOGY, NEW APPROVAL PROCESS
After first trying (and for the most part failing) to create the new rules by asking equipment companies to build smaller chest protectors without a lot of specifics, Whitmore consulted with companies who build products for the military, and they told him to spec it out and build it. He did, with the help of a biomechanical engineer and the use of a three-dimensional scanner that will be used in the approval process moving forward.
This 3D scanner is typically used for things like accident reconstruction, creating models of buildings, and as-built documentation for everything from historical monuments to machinery that allows them to be re-created to exact specifications. For the new NHL chest protector, every model and size will be scanned sitting on a size-appropriate mannequin.
“This recreates the actual chest protector in three dimensions and you can then extract any measurement you want off it relative to any part of the mannequin,” Whitmore said. “How far does it sit off the bicep, or the shoulder? It’s incredible. I can ask for any 10 measurements tomorrow and they can pull it off there for me. It helped us write the rule.”
It also made the new rules and future interpretation of them less arbitrary.
“It’s not just me saying cut here and there,” Whitmore said. “Every model that comes into our League now has to go through an independent third party and not just the Whitmore eyeball test with the tape measure. It goes on the mannequin, it gets scanned and it looks for slope and width and how it fits on these guys that are sized accordingly. There’s a lot more science behind it than ever before and I don’t know if we could have done it without. It’s the only way to hold everyone accountable. My eyeball isn’t enough anymore. The rule is much harder to exploit.”
After every size of every new model is tested, Whitmore will still measure and sign off on individual units before they can be used in the NHL, using the specs provided by the 3D scanner and a mannequin in his office to make sure each piece matches the original. He’s also warned companies there will be random units sent to the scanning lab in Philadelphia throughout to season to ensure nothing changes.
WHO WILL BE AFFECTED MOST? WILL IT WORK?
So, who will be affected the most by these changes? It’s probably too soon to tell, and will depend on getting the sizing chart right for each goalie. That may take a little tweaking over time, even with the improved ability to separate shoulder width from arm and torso length, a problem in the past that gave some long-armed goalies wider shoulders than needed.
“This addresses arm and torso length without affecting shoulder width,” Whitmore said.
Fair or not, Vancouver Canucks goalies Jacob Markstrom and Anders Nilsson may be the poster boys for the changes because of a pre-season photo of them side by side in street clothes that led to several memes on social media. Jokes about Nilsson being the Pokemon evolution version of Markstrom may have been funny, but the fact that size difference between the 6-foot-6 Swedes wasn’t as apparent while wearing their equipment was an issue.
Nilsson looks like the after photo from when Markstrom has to change his look to escape from the law pic.twitter.com/tyF3aNKPoK
— Wyatt Arndt (@TheStanchion) September 12, 2017
Even NHL goalies are curious to see whether the NHL got the sizing chart right.
“It’s a great question,” Whitmore said. “Goalies ask ‘why do I look like the same size as a guy who is 50 pounds lighter than me?’ That’s been our goal from Day One. I’m hoping it does look like it should. I’m hoping Anders Nilsson looks like the biggest goalie in the League because he might just be the biggest muscled goalie in the League, alongside MacKenzie Blackwood and Freddie Andersen. There are nuances within the system, like stance, you can’t control but from a sizing perspective we’ve tried to do it not just from goalie to goalie but from brand to brand and I think we’ve accomplished that.”
Of course, bigger goaltenders could also end up with bigger holes under their arms.
“If you’re a little bit smaller, you can be more compact, but if you’re taller and lanky, you could create more holes since everything is a little more fitted now,” Appleby said. “I think it’s fair either way, honestly. Everything now is just fitted to your specs and your body.”
As for whether the smaller chest protector will lead to more goals, consider that Tampa Bay Lightning No. 1 Andre Vasilevskiy was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season despite wearing smaller, more rounded 6-inch arms on his Bauer Vapor 1X chest protector.
“There are some guys who used to get away with wearing a big chest protector,” Appleby said. “Now they are going to have to adjust. You’ll have to be more athletic, more of a goalie.”
That was the goal when the NHL started this process in 2015. It may take a while to see how well they’ve achieved it in terms of style and goal scoring, but the visual evidence should come sooner.
~ Next: Part 2 on the new chest protectors looks at what’s next for goalies and the NHL, including the regulation of padded undershirts and the possibility of practice models.