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New NHL goalie equipment rule changes hard to spot

Henrik Lundqvist told the New York Times he had to cut “something like half an inch” off his pads under the new rules, but the New York Rangers star would have lost a lot more thigh rise under the original proposal.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. It’s a cliché for a reason, one that appears to be a perfect fit (pardon the pun) as the National Hockey League season got underway with a new sizing chart for form-fitting goaltending equipment.

Sure, there are new goalies on new teams all over the league, including reigning Stanley Cup champion Antti Niemi going to San Jose. But did anyone notice a difference in the size of the leg pads they were sporting as play got underway for real on Thursday?

A similar lack of change caused a minor uproar last season, as the promise to make the pads proportional to each goalie’s legs was put off after a summer of heated debate between the league and the NHL Players’ Association, including threats of legal action from the union.

A year later, the new rules are in place, using a three-part formula and a new measuring tool to ensure all leg pads come no higher than 55 per cent up the thigh. But unlike the disputed proposal from a season earlier, which was to affect as much as 60 per cent of the league, this time only 15 per cent of NHL stoppers had to trim from the top of their pads.

In fact, with the trend towards mammoth goaltenders like Calgary newcomer Henrik Karlsson and out-of-nowhere Canucks prospect Eddie Lack, the number of goalies given permission to wear pads that would be longer than the old 38-inch standard was more than double the amount of goalies forced to cut back on length.

“A good number of the guys are staying right where they were,” Kay Whitmore, a former NHL goalie now in charge or organizing – and policing – the changes among his old puck-stopping peers, said on a conference call earlier this week. “They’re comfortable with the pad length that sits at 55 per cent between their knee and pelvis in an area that we believe is safe for them and a reasonable number. Could it be less? Maybe five per cent, but I think at this time the risk of an injury to a kneecap or something like that isn’t worth that right now.”

That extra five per cent may not seem like much, but considering most knee-to-thigh measurements are around 20 inches, it would take an extra inch off most pads, meaning an extra two-inch gap for a lot of 5-holes when those goalies drop and try to squeeze the space between their legs with the top of their pads.

For now, though, the changes only affect about nine of the NHL’s 60 regulars.

“You see a few sneak in, you wonder if that’s what it was,” Whitmore said.

It’s inevitable that some will wonder how many more might have snuck in had the changes been more dramatic, and don’t be surprised if the powers that be come back to Whitmore for more. But count goalies like Boston’s Tim Thomas and Minnesota’s Niklas Backstrom among those happy the changes didn’t go further, if only because they’ve seen enough of the hip surgeon lately.

While Thomas wasn’t willing to draw a direct line between his summer surgery to repair two badly torn labrums and the reduction in the thickness of knee stacks two years ago, Backstrom was. The Wild’s No.1 said his surgeon told him the need for surgery two summers ago could be directly linked to renewed enforcement of a one-and-a-half inch limit on knee stacks that forced goalies to travel further to the ice every time they dropped to a butterfly. Considering Bauer has a study equating the force of that motion to an Olympic weightlifting clean and jerk, it is little wonder a rash of knee, groin, and hip injuries followed the change two seasons ago.

“I felt it,” Backstrom said. “It’s tough on your knees and your hips, because your knees go too far down to the ice. It’s really tough on your body.”

Goalies have since adjusted and the rash of injuries have decreased. But some still worried that a dramatic reduction in the height of pads would have forced some wide-butterfly goalies to flare their legs out wider to close the 5-hole.

“We’ve already run into the law of unintended consequences, and that’s the thing I am most afraid of,” said Thomas, again being careful to point out he had no direct, indisputable evidence linking equipment change to his hip surgery. “They changed the knee lift height that the goalies land on and there’s been lots of goalies having hip surgeries and the hip doctors are saying it’s related to the fact the knee lifts got lower and it’s putting more stress on the hips.”

For now those injuries should be as rare as actually spotting a difference in the pads. For now.

Thanks to Wendy Bullard for use of the photo

About The Author

Kevin Woodley

Kevin Woodley is a rec-league target and former contributing editor of the Goalie News magazine. He has written about the Vancouver Canucks and NHL for The Associated Press, USA Today, Sports Illustrated and The Hockey News for the last decade, and covered the 2010 Olympics for The AP.


  1. John Shep

    Its not the height of the pads that is the problem it is the width. Its easy to do, look at what Marty wears and use him as your scale for other goalies.
    JS Giguere would lose a lot of padding if they did that

    • David Hutchison

      I agree width makes a difference – but they do measure it now. 11″ down from 12″

  2. Joe

    Pad width is already regulated at 11″!!!

  3. paul szabo

    Contrary to John Shep, I think that pad length is very critical. If goalies were still wearing pads the way they did in the days of Kelly Hrudey or Bernie Parent (barely above the knee), the butterfly position would be impossible. Brodeur’s pads aren’t designed for that style and that’s part of the reason he doesn’t use it much. The huge thigh rises we see mean that a goalie can seal the five hole without having to make his knees touch together.

    I agree that limits need to be set on pads, but often wonder how Kay Witmore and the NHL bureaucrats can make this so complicated. I am no professional but here is my simple solution: measure the distance from the middle of your ankle up to the crotch. Measure from the end of the toe, along the top of the foot to where it meets the leg. Add the two. When I use this method, I get exactly the measure of the pads I am currently using.

    I say that any pad that comes up higher than the bottom of the crotch should be banned. In any case, pads that go up higher than that are as much a hindrance as a help.