Goalie equipment size: main contributor to less scoring

Long gone are the days when the NHL scoring leader finishes the season with over 200 points. We may never see most of Wayne Gretzky’s record being challenged, let alone broken. The arrival of “the trap” in the mid-90’s, combined with better coaching and attention to details through more accessible technology has also contributed to making the game a tight checking, defensive struggle most nights.

And this is why the NHL has decided to change a few rules and apply some that were already there when hockey returned from a year off due to the lockout, in hope of generating more offense. While the game may seem a bit faster, the crackdown has certainly not produced the desired effect on goals’ scoring.

On an individual point of view, here are the top points getters and goals scorers each year since 2000-2001:

2000-2001: Joe Sakic 118 points, Pavel Bure 59 goals (3 – 50+ goals scorers)
2001-2002: Jarome Iginla 96 points, Jarome Iginla 52 goals (1 – 50+ goals scorer)
2002-2003: Joe Thornton 101 points, Milan Hejduk 50 goals (1 – 50+ goals scorer)
2003-2004: Martin St-Louis 94 points, Kovalchuk, Iginla & Nash 41 goals
2004-2005: Lockout
2005-2006: Joe Thornton 125 points, Jonathan Cheechoo 56 goals (5 – 50+ goals scorers)
2006-2007: Sidney Crosby 120 points, Vincent Lecavalier 52 goals (2 – 50+ goals scorers)
2007-2008: Jarome Iginla 98 points, Alex Ovechkin 65 goals (3 – 50+ goals scorers)
2008-2009: Sidney Crosby 103 points, Alex Ovechkin 56 goals (1 – 50+ goals scorer)
2009-2010: Sidney Crosby 109 points, Crosby & Stamkos 51 goals (3 – 50+ goals scorers)

The league collectively has seen a substantial increase in goals scored in the first year after returning from the lockout, but things quickly came back to “normal” in the following seasons.

2000-2001: 6,782 goals
2001-2002: 6,442 goals
2002-2003: 6,530 goals
2003-2004: 6,318 goals
2004-2005: Lockout
2005-2006: 7,443 goals
2006-2007: 7,082 goals
2007-2008: 6,691 goals
2008-2009: 7,006 goals
2009-2010: 6,803 goals

Now when we take into consideration the arrival of overtime, the increase is rather insignificant when looking at the big picture.

But what’s the league to do in order to get pucks in the net on a more constant basis? Everything has been discussed, from not allowing players to lay in front of shots, teams having to serve the full two minutes of penalty regardless if the other team scores, to getting bigger nets. But none makes more sense, in my opinion, than targeting the goaltenders.

Former NHL referee Andy Van Hellemond was discussing the topic in an interview with The Hockey News recently.

“It all comes back to that,” he said. “You’ve been to a lot of games and you’ve seen how big some of those goalies are and how they cover the net. The net stays the same size and the equipment – they keep saying they’re going to police it, but I don’t know…you don’t hear about it. So the goalies are keeping the games 2-1 and 3-1 – and now they’re athletes, where, way back when, in the late ’60s or early ’70s, the goalie might not have been a great athlete.”

Looking at some games, some pictures, it’s hard to argue against Van Hellemond who has seen a few games in his life, and from up close. A players’ equipment is meant to protect the players. In the case of goaltenders, it is painfully obvious that the equipment used nowdays is more than for protection. One only has to think of a piece on the goalies’ catching gloves that’s even called the “cheater” to realise. The chest protectors are also built bigger and bigger. You see a goalie in plain clothes and you can’t recognize him as he’s suddenly half the size you imagined him to be!

As an example for the purpose of the exercise, let’s just look at the pads goalies wear today. With the popularity of the butterfly style, goaltenders and equipment manufacturers have been working hard at finding every way to gain an advantage on the shooters, but none is more obvious than the length of the pads. The longer the pads, the more of the “five-hole” it covers and since hockey is a game of inches, it’s an advantage that goalies will gladly take. As clearly shown on some of the following pictures, it is not a matter of protection.

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So if the NHL wants to make its product more exciting, give more goals to the fans, it must not make the nets bigger, nor should they come up with more gimmicks like the shootout. They do however have to find a way to better legislate the size of the goalies’ equipment.

En français: L’équipement des gardiens et le manque d’offensive

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