04 August 2008

Taking away the goalie's advantage

Clavicle protectors and pads trimmed

By Fluto Shinzawa, Globe Staff
August 3, 2008

Last season, when the NHL rolled out new Reebok uniforms, the "upgrade" flopped. They were too tight. They ripped. Sweat rolled off the jerseys and drained into gloves and skates.

This year, the NHL is hoping the next round of equipment tweaks will be more successful.

On June 11, the Goalie Equipment Working Group - general managers Doug Risebrough (Minnesota), Garth Snow (Islanders), Jim Rutherford (Carolina), and Brett Hull (Dallas); goalies Martin Brodeur (New Jersey), Rick DiPietro (Islanders), and Ryan Miller (Buffalo); and skaters Dany Heatley (Ottawa) and Mike Cammalleri (then Los Angeles, now Calgary) - convened in Toronto to address what could be done to shrink goaltenders, without resorting to hunger strikes.

The result? Knee pads and clavicle protectors will be trimmed for the 2008-09 season.

Because most goalies play the butterfly style, shooters would see the following: a netminder standing tall with his legs spread, inviting them to go five-hole. But as soon as a player shot the puck, the goalie would drop into the butterfly and close the opening, aided by 6 or more inches of knee protection on top of 38 inches of pads, all to protect a net that is only 6 feet wide.

"A lot of goaltenders wear extraneous flaps," said Glenn Healy, the director of public affairs for the NHL Players' Association. "It's like an airplane wing. You push a button and, 'Whoop.' It all accordions down so there's no room to score down low. Take a pad that's 38 inches. Put two of them back to back and you're covering the entire bottom part of the net plus 4 inches."

The group concluded that the knee pad could be limited to 2 1/2 inches in length without compromising goalie safety. With less blocking area low, skaters have a better chance of scoring five-hole.

"Particularly with goaltenders, the cardinal rule is, 'Don't get beat five-hole,' " said Healy, a former goalie. "You get beat once, fine. If you get beat twice, you're done. You're sitting on the bench. If you can plant a seed of doubt in the goaltenders that you can get beat there and you're vulnerable in that spot, the head worms start going. And once they start going in a goaltender's game, he's in big trouble."

Meanwhile, torso protection will be contoured. The clavicle protector, previously allowed to be 7 inches long, will become smaller, although Healy didn't have exact dimensions of the new piece. All goalies have been apprised of the changes and equipment manufacturers are making the alterations so netminders will have their new gear for training camp in September.

The reduction of the Michelin men won't be the only advantage for shooters in 2008-09. In the next few weeks, more than 100 NHLers will test the Thermablade Elite II, the heated blades that were introduced in February to a 10-player group. Four Bruins are taking part in the trial run. Marc Savard, who had expressed interest in the system previously, is expected to be one of them.

According to Sam McCoubrey, Thermablade's vice president of sales and marketing, the new model features more robust electronics that will give players 75 minutes on a two-hour charge (the blade plugs into a standard electric outlet). The concept is that heated blades (approximately 41 degrees, powered by battery and a microprocessor in the skate's undercarriage) reduce friction and vibration between the skates and ice, giving players quicker starts, tighter turns, more speed out of turns, and greater efficiency that will lead to more energy late in games. Nashville forward Martin Erat, who wore the previous model last season, said he had better speed coming out of corners.

Based on feedback after this summer's trial, the NHL will decide whether to approve Thermablade (retail price: $299.99) use leaguewide. One concern has been how heated blades might impact ice conditions.

"The expectation is that by early September the league will have made that decision, in large part based on feedback from players," McCoubrey said. "They need to do tests to confirm there's no negative impact on the ice. And there isn't. We've done enough testing and have had enough players use them at this point."

More shooting space. Better skaters. Evolution continues.


nebcanuck said...

Really, I'm all for trying to make the game fun to watch, but these goaltender things aren't going to help. The emphasis is on artificially increasing the number of goals, and that really won't make the game more fun. It'll just increase the number of blowouts.

The league's problem is that teams still have too much ease defending against opponents. That slows games down. Do I care if one team gets yet another blueline goal? No. I want it to be easier for them to cycle the puck and get real quality chances.

Maali said...

Maybe if they made obstruction a major call and put the guy away for 5 minutes and let the other team score as much as they want. I dunno. All the obstruction CALLS ruin the flow of the game too, y'know?