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NHL sets Feb. 4 as date for new goaltender pants

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom practices in his new, slimmer-legged pants on Dec. 30. (InGoal file photo)

The NHL has set February 4 as the date all goaltenders must be wearing their narrower-legged, proportionally-sized pants.

The new was broken by TSN’s Bob McKenzie on Twitter morning:

Ironically, there were rumblings in the goalie community that some type of announcement was coming on Monday but when InGoal Magazine checked in with other NHL goaltenders, more than one doubted it because they had yet to have their new pants finalized or approved. While some wonder about setting a mid-season date that will mean some goalies and teams play more games in smaller equipment than others – if the League really thinks this will make a difference to goal scoring, then how can you effectively mandate a competitive imbalance with so many teams so close in the battle for a playoff spot? – the concerns among some goaltenders run deeper than that.

InGoal has been quietly polling NHL goalies about their new pants since they began arriving in late November through December. All asked for anonymity in exchange for openness, and while some readers may question the decision to grant it, the biggest concern among the goaltenders was the very reason it needs to be granted: the seemingly arbitrary differences that appear to exist from brand to brand and goalie to goalie in how the new pants fit, especially at the waist.

“There is so much difference from pant to pant,” one NHL goalie said this week. “Manufacturers didn’t know what they were supposed to make and they still don’t.”

Before listing any specific concerns, however, it’s important to note that half of the NHL goalies that InGoal talked to did not have any problem with their new pants.

Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy began wearing his in mid-November and posted back-to-back shutouts in his first two starts, and Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov did the same, perhaps because they share the opinion of Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Garret Sparks, who wrote a detailed review of the NHL’s new pants on the GGSU blog way back on Nov. 22, including photos, and summarized by saying the new pants would actually make goalies faster and more mobile, mirroring the unintended consequence of the last two attempts to narrow and shorten goalie leg pads:

“The mobility was crazy, they weighed a fraction of the pants I was currently wearing and the pants I was currently wearing weighed a fraction of what I was wearing prior. Based on that comparison alone I knew that these pants would go a long way toward making the athletic freaks that mind NHL nets even freakier, precisely what the NHL was trying to avoid.”

Sparks review is well done, including specific details on how the pants helped with some of his post integration issues, and well worth a read (by clicking here).

It also echoed some of the thoughts from other NHL goalies who believe it will be a relatively easy adjustment to the changes, which can be broken down into two key parts: 1. a more defined, restrictive sizing chart at the waist to try to limit the barrel effect achieved by oversized waists and undone laces at the front of pants being held up by suspenders, and 2. a new, narrower (by one inch), rounded leg piece that was outlined in a memo to equipment manufacturers late last summer:

There are a three key differences between those new thigh restrictions and the old guidelines. The most obvious is it is now a maximum of 9-inches wide instead of the old 10-inch standard, but perhaps the biggest difference is that the new thigh piece is rounded instead of almost flat across the face, something a couple NHL goalies noted produced less predictable rebounds more likely to bounce to the side instead of staying in front of them they way rebounds did with a flatter surface on the thighs.

The NHL’s goal, in addition to less predictable rebounds, is that some of those pucks are more likely to bounce off a rounded edge and into the net, rather than deflecting away off the sharper corners of previous pants. And by narrowing the width, they hope to not only reduce coverage and increase what the shooter sees, but also make it harder to seal up holes under the arms in a blocking butterfly, which might affect the block-react dynamic negatively for some goalies who will drop their hands earlier and more often, thereby opening up more space up high. It’s not unlike past attempts to make it harder to seal the ice in the hope more goalies would worry about low coverage and feel they had to drop sooner.

The NHL also eliminated the extra piece, or strip, that used to attach at the sides of that front thigh section in the old pants, according to that same summer memo:

“Any padding on the inside or outside of the thigh cradle must not exceed one inch (1″) in overall thickness, must be attached on the inside of the curved thigh guard and must not create a seam, ridge, extend beyond or increase the width of the curvature of the thigh guard.”

The reason was simple and understandable. Rather than wrapping around the side of the goalies legs, these side sections or “ridges” too often stuck out beyond the edges of the main thigh piece on both the outside and inside of the pants, essentially expanding the front of the pants beyond the intended 10-inch width restriction, sometimes to the point the pants stuck out past the width of a goalie’s 11-inch leg pads.

As you see when Markstrom wore his new pants in practice, the narrower leg no longer stick out wider than an 11-inch pad the way old pants did on a lot of goalies in the NHL. (InGoal file photo)

The problem with eliminating that side protection is some goalies now feel exposed on the side of the leg when using techniques like reverse-VH to seal off the posts on sharp-angle attacks.

“It’s not like it’s just the back of my leg,” one goalie said. “I am exposed right up to my IT band on the side.”

Since Florida Panthers Roberto Luongo fractured a bone in his shoulder on a seemingly harmless shot  from a dead angle late in the 2014-15 season, the risk of injury from such a play remains a legitimate concern to some goalies.

“There’s not enough protection left between the legs,” another goalie said of the removed strips on the inner edge of the pants.

It was not the only exposure concern among goaltenders.

The new pants also have a new 6-inch restriction on the maximum height above the waist line, something that didn’t exist in the old rules. And while 6 inches above the waist might seem like plenty to most goalies, the reality is some old models extended higher and some of the goalies that used those pants and tucked their chest-and-arm unit into them felt like they had to hike up the new pants, which left them exposed at the knee and around the crotch.

“It created too big a gap at the bottom of the pant and pulled my [jock protector] up too high,” one goalie said.

Another goalie who also tucked his chest-and-arm into his pants felt exposed on the top of the hips by the reduced allowance above the waist.

“I took one off my hip bone the first time wearing them in practice,” he said.

In some cases, it’s simply a matter of adjusting their equipment, and another example of just how complicated a process this is, which some have argued is a good reason to delay the pants until next season, the same way they have after failing to build a chest-and-arm prototype anyone could agree on. Mostly, though, the goaltenders InGoal talked to seemed to be upset with the discrepancies from one pant to the next and how tight or loose the fit was on various goalies.

Despite increasing the sizing matrix options to include five different sizes from 32- to 40-inch waists, and even with a 6-inch allowance for tucking in a chest-arms-arm unit, some goalies received a first set of pants that looked like they belonged on a defenseman, while others were pleasantly surprised at how loose their first set was around the waist. There are also concerns about the differences from brand to brand, with some goalies trying multiple pairs from different suppliers because of those differences in fit and overall size. Ironically, two goaltenders felt their new pants were actually bigger than their old ones, but one still had concerns about the protection in the new ones that didn’t exist in his old ones.

Ultimately, if every brand trends towards the one that fit the biggest and still got approved, the overall size reduction is itself reduced. It’s just one of the many challenges the NHL faced making these changes, and something they will have to continue to monitor to make sure the pants don’t start growing again at the waist. Thankfully, the League appears to have learned its lesson with the chest and arm and is working with a well-known equipment designer who no longer makes gear for NHL goalies to come up with a prototype for the new upper body unit rather than continuing to ask equipment companies to come up with their own without any firm guidelines. Some NHL goalies wonder why they couldn’t also wait until next season to make sure they get the pants exactly right too.

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1 Comment

  1. Paul Ipolito

    Good technical article. Thanks. I’m looking forward to the first Washington-Pittsburgh game that ends 14-12. Should be big fun.