Corey Hirsch Outlines Possible Equipment Changes
On Sportsnet’s Wednesday night broadcast of the Montreal Canadiens/Colorado Avalanche game, there was an intermission segment hosted by Corey Hirsch that outlined possible goaltender equipment changes. Hirsch talked about each piece of gear, and explained how gear manufacturers can reduce the size.
Check out the entire segment in the clip below:
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) February 18, 2016
As goaltenders, it’s important to take this issue seriously. While safety is the biggest concern any time this subject is brought forward, we must also acknowledge that there are goaltenders that bend the rules beyond their intent and wear certain pieces of equipment simply for their increased coverage.
As a former professional himself, Hirsch knows the risk involved in standing in the way of NHL calibre shots. Overall, he presented his ideas in a clear and logical way.
Chest protector: He mentions that the shoulders can be rounded, and the flaps on the chest can be completely removed. The idea behind that is that it will cause the chest protector to hug the goaltender’s body more. Less flat surface will hopefully mean more area to shoot at, without sacrificing protection for the goalie. While that may work to an extent, it may not be as drastic as shown in the video. If there was a human model wearing the gear shown in the video, parts of their upper arms and shoulder would have been protruding from the equipment after they shrunk it. The shoulder flaps can likely be reduced in size, but it may not be possible to get rid of them completely; after all, Florida Panthers No.1 Roberto Luongo fractured a bone last season when a shot found a gap in that exact area. Don’t be surprised if the NHL pushes for a rounded shoulder cap instead of the flap, something that can be sized so it sits right on the edge of a goalie’s shoulder rather than protruding out well past it.
Glove: Hirsch proposes they shrink the overall size of the glove, and completely remove the “cheater” on the inside of the thumb. Shrinking the overall size will disappoint many goaltenders, but should not drastically affect safety. Completely removing the cheater may prove to be more difficult, however. That piece may have been poorly named and has undoubtedly expanded in size over the years, but it does serve a purpose: thumb protection. A cheater-less prototype was made back in 2005 as part of the joint NHL-NHL Players’ Association discussions on shrinking equipment that led to pad width being reduced from 12- to 11-inches, but the idea was scrapped because of how much the thumb as being bent back on shots without it and concerns it would lead to injuries. Shrinking it may be an option, especially with improvements in materials over the decade since that discussion. But completely removing it could be dangerous, and at the very least requires testing, especially since the thinner cuff Hirsch proposed may leave wrists exposed in an area the chest-and-arm does not cover adequately.
Pads: Hirsch wants the thigh rise to be shortened even more than the NHL has already done, and proposes that the width of each pad should shrink to 10 inches, down from the current max of 11 inches. He also wants the outer roll to be removed because it doesn’t serve any other purpose than to control rebounds. This is definitely the most radical of the changes that he suggests. Pads are already smaller than they have been in the last 20 years, and proposing that they become even smaller poses concern. Pads expanded in size during the era when goalies started to frequently use the butterfly position.
Think about that one for a second. The last time goaltenders wore pads as small as proposed in the Sportsnet segment, the butterfly was not actively used by every goaltender. Unless the goal of shrinking the pads is to stop goaltenders from using the butterfly, it could lead to some scary results. Dropping into the butterfly opens up access for the puck to hit the goaltender’s knee. Hirsch suggests that modern knee pads can handle it, but there are some doubts about that, and NHL goalies will tell you the model he displayed is far from adequate protection for the direct impacts that could result from shorter pads.
Current knee pads are designed to protect against deflections and awkward shots that somehow find their way through the rest of the goalie’s equipment. A direct shot to the knee pad can still cause breakage. As sad as it is for shooters to hear, butterfly goalies (which every goaltender in the NHL is) need the length on their pad for protection. That is not something that should be tweaked, but current restrictions could probably be monitored and enforced better.
The sizing chart that currently ties each goaltender’s pad height proportionally to the length of their leg produces a total maximum height, but does not dictate how that height is worn. A lot of NHL goalies have found ways to shift more of the pad up their leg by how they wear it, pushing more of it above the knee and into the area that closes the five-hole when they drop into the butterfly. Making the sizing chart specific to how much of the pad is above the knee, something that was shot down by goalies and the NHLPA last time, will rectify this.
As for the width, goalies were concerned about proper rotation if pads got too thin in 2005, but the reality is with the exception of Marc-Andre Fleury, pretty much every goaltender in the NHL currently wears a pad with a inset leg channel on the back side, so losing that inch seems possible, and removing the outer roll, which helps deflect pucks back down to the ice and prevent them from skipping over the pad and into the net, might add a goal here and there.
Pants: Hirsch suggests that each NHL goaltender is fitted for their waist size, and given an appropriate pair of pants. He also suggests that they are made to be less baggy. Pants are one of the easiest ways that goaltenders currently cheat for extra size, and making those changes are definitely a step in the right direction.
Blocker: He wants gear manufacturers to make them flat again. That seems like a bit of pointless tinkering since technically the curve at the top of the blocker doesn’t take up any extra space, but if it will make people happy, go for it. Be forewarned, though, that part of the design of that curve is to open up space on the back and prevent interference with the bottom of the chest and arm, which frees up wrist mobility. Less of it may prevent some of the “athletic saves” analysts keep demanding amid talk of blocking goalies that no longer exist.
Stick: He questions the length of the stick blade, and the end of the stick. He proposes that the paddle of the stick stays the same, but the other areas are reduced. Again, it’s not certain that these changes will have a huge effect on goal scoring. It would certainly make puckhandling more of a challenge for goaltenders, though.
This clearly isn’t the first time that goaltender gear changes have been discussed at length in the public forum. This is the first time that it has been laid out, piece by piece on national television. While the finished product may look tantalizing to viewers that want more scoring, expectations have to be tempered. Even if the gear was reduced to what we saw in the video, would scoring increase by 2+ goals per game? Unlikely, but it’s a step in the right direction to weed out goalies that are pushing the intended limits with their gear size.
While the changes to the pants, stick, and blocker could easily be made, the chest protector, pads, and glove are harder to tweak. The last thing that the NHL wants is to reduce gear size, then have a bunch of goalies miss time the next season with gear-related injuries. There are also serious legal implications if that occurs.
With that in mind, the NHL’s goaltending supervisor Kay Whitmore has taken on the challenge, and we will likely see some new gear prototypes, which were shown to goalies at the All Star Game, rolling out soon. The league tried to take similar steps in 2005 after the first lockout, but had to scrap many of the ideas because of concerns over goaltender injuries. Hopefully with some of the new materials that are now being used, some of those changes can actually take place.
Just don’t expect them to happen overnight. As good a job as Hirsch and the Sportsnet producers did with their segment on Wednesday, it’s a lot easier to magically trim goalies with television graphics. The reality of manufacturing equipment is these changes will take a year to make, and given the severity of some, proper testing is needed before that process even starts.