As goalies get bigger, should NHL consider enlarging nets?

As goalies get bigger, should NHL consider enlarging nets?
April 14, 2013, 12:00 pm
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Tampa’s Ben Bishop is aptly nicknamed “Big Ben.”
He’s the tallest goalie in the NHL at 6-foot-7. His counterpart with the Lightning, Anders Lindback, is tied with Florida’s Jacob Markstrom as the second tallest at 6-6.
Four others are 6-4.
The Flyers' two goalies, Steve Mason (6-3) and Ilya Bryzgalov (6-2) aren’t giants, but they’re big.
The significance of all this is that goaltenders have sprouted in size in the current NHL as we know it.
Once they put their pounds of equipment and pads on, they resemble Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man.
Mind you, Bernie Parent was considered “big” in the 1970s and he was just 5-foot-10. Jacques Plante won four more Stanley Cups (six in all) than Bernie, and he was barely 6-0.
This week, the NHL’s competition committee held a sidebar discussion on how to increase scoring. Not a formal meeting, just a kick-the-bucket kind.
Among the thoughts for discussion was an old one -- enlarging the nets.
You remember the 2004-05 lockout? This became a rather radical discussion during the meetings in the Midwest that lockout when the committee looked at various net designs.
Traditionalists scream at such notions, but the bottom line is this: When a guy like Bishop puts on all that gear, there is very little room left in the net for someone to shoot at.
“If that were to happen, all the records set and the people who worked hard for those records, it kinda puts asterisks to them,” Mason said. “I don’t think you can do that. It changes the games too much.
“Hockey has been this way for 100 years. To change the main icon –- the net -- you can’t do that. You can change equipment as players get bigger and stronger. But to change such a staple, no.”
Last month at the general manager meetings in Toronto, Mike Murphy, NHL vice-president of hockey operations, suggested creating six more inches of height to nets to add space.
“I know the traditionalists will say it will alter all the records,” Murphy told a Toronto newspaper, “but if it makes the game more entertaining, isn’t that enough of a tradeoff?”
Most people in the league would prefer to handle this problem by further reducing the length, thickness and width of the goalie pads.
Steven Stamkos, who led the NHL last season with 60 goals, told the Globe and Mail recently, “I don’t really shoot five-hole very often anymore. Goalies are just so good down low. First of all, you have to raise the puck 13 inches just to have a chance.”
Remember Garth Snow’s pads? They were the most illegal things in hockey at the time.
So where are we on all this?
“Lots of side discussions about coaching techniques and the difficulties of getting shots through to the net let alone getting the pucks past the goalies when they do get through to the net,” said hockey ops czar, Colin Campbell, in an e-mail to this week.
Campbell said the league has tried a lot of “small adjustments” in the past to create offense and counteract defensive coaching, but the issue of goal scoring continues to come up.
Five clubs in the NHL this season average 3.0 goals or more per game. That’s up by three teams this season over last.
Not surprisingly, the Pittsburgh Penguins lead at 3.29. The Flyers are 14th at 2.63.
Last season, the Flyers were second to Pittsburgh with 3.17 goals per game. The Penguins were 3.33.
So what does Flyers GM Paul Holmgren think about enlarging the net?
“I haven’t heard that come up for a couple years,” Holmgren said. “I read something ... somebody else made that comment.
“The last meeting I was at, we talked about goaltending equipment. I think we’re going to focus more on that, at least work with the players on that.
“I mean, the goalies’ pads and equipment, even though they’ve made the pads smaller in the last few years, it’s still way bigger than it was.”
Goalies, led by Marty Brodeur on the competition committee, say they need the protect themselves. Less padding means more chances of injury.
Mason said you’d be surprised at how hard players shoot, and that the goalies feel it in their pads.
Does anybody really believe goalies are more risk to injury than skaters?
“And you wonder, are their pads that big for protection?” Holmgren asked. “I don’t know if that is. I mean, we have forwards and defensemen sliding to block shots with a lot less protection than the goalies have.
“So I think that’s something that we’re delving into now. The net part was talked about I want to say two or three years ago and it sort of just died. So I don’t think there’s anything to that.”
What does Snowy think?
“Well, he sits in the meetings,” Holmgren said. “He was actually strongly in favor [of a decrease in the pads]."

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