Friday, August 27, 2010

Changing Goalie Leg Pads

Apologies for the small break in posting. I was busy with work and moving apartments. But Flashy Glove Save is back!

The NHL has been putting a lot of energy into changing the restrictions on goalie equipment in recent years. The popular adjective used to describe the new equipment is “form-fitting.” It contours more closely to the body and tends to make the goaltender look “smaller.” The NHL is requiring that all pads be measured by the NHL. It’s messy and complicated over something that may appear to be only a small change.

Specifically, we’re going to take a look at how the leg pads are being altered. According to the new standards, the knee risers on the side of the pad will be smaller by about half an inch. It may not seem like a lot but that’s half an inch where a puck could slide under when going into the butterfly. Additionally, the calf protector is no longer wedged out from the leg, but sewn close to it. Another potential weak spot for pucks to slip past. But the most controversial change is the potential chance in the height of the leg pads. There is no real blanket limit for all goalies, but instead an individual measurement, proportional for each. While this may sound fair, it means that the smaller goalies will have smaller pads. Larger goalies, who already can cover more of the goal, will be allowed larger pads to possibly give them even more of an advantage.

Thanks to the magic of Twitter, we can get some insight on how goaltenders in the league are reacting to these changes.

Dan Ellis (of the Tampa Bay Lightning) is among those who have confidence that the new equipment will only help goalie speed. When asked about the new rules, he answered:

“…smaller equipment only helps to move faster”

Later, he tweeted about the official changes he had to make:

“New standards had my pads 1/2" shorter...looking fwd to the change! Easier to move. Thx NHL”

Dan Ellis is 6’0. He’s amongst the “smaller” goaltenders that have to adjust to slightly smaller leg pads. It’s probably not enough to make any change to his abilities and he can easily adapt to his new gear.

Mike McKenna, a member of the New Jersey Devils system, is 6’2. He also seemed confident that playing ability will not be hindered by the pads.

“I could go up to a half inch bigger if I wanted. Not many guys are losing inches. It won't matter anyway. Athletes > gear.”

He also was one of many to note how complex this seemingly simple change actually is.

“34+4's for me...doubt they'll fly. Short shins. Proposed rules package resembles college calculus so who knows.”

As already mentioned, this means that bigger goalies are not really impacted yet smaller goalies must have smaller pads. Bigger goalies may even be able to have bigger pads than they had before. For goalies 6’0 and under, such as Jose Theodore, Marty Turco, Chris Osgood, etc, they have to work even harder to make up for their lack of size.

Now some may argue that there aren’t many goaltenders 6’0 and under and therefore it wouldn’t make too much of a difference. However, this new change could impact goaltending prospects. How will the future of goaltending change because the NHL keeps changing their equipment measurements? Currently, shorter goaltenders are sometimes preferred because they are usually lighter and speedier. But with smaller equipment, speed alone might not be enough.

The NHL officials mention two “advantages” of the form-fitting equipment. First, they believe it be safer for goaltenders. And, secondly, they foresee the game becoming a more high-scoring event. Let’s focus on the safety issue first.

Even though the NHL believes the new restrictions to help goalie safety, many are concerned that it will do the opposite. With these new measurements and adjustments, goalies may be forced to make quicker movements and faster reactions to stop a goal. These changes have raised many concerns about an increase in injuries to goalies. On Twitter, Kevin Weekes pointed this out:

“Me no like, enough gear changes already! When will it ever end? Hip, knee surgeries are through the roof. Scorers still score goals”

Related to the above tweet, the other selling point of the new equipment changes is the potential increase in goals per game. From a marketing standpoint, it’s a good idea. It’s easier to sell hockey to a new audience that is unfamiliar with the sport when there are high-scoring games. To those of us already in love with the game, it’s not really great news. Personally, I think that some of the most exciting games are the ones that end with a 1-0 score. And it definitely seems that guys like Alex Ovechkin, Sydney Crosby, and Ilya Kovalchuk don’t seem to be having a problem finding room to score.

So, is this going to be a concern for the goaltenders of the Capitals? Long story short? Not really, not yet. Semyon Varlamov is 6’2, Michal Neuvirth (and Braden Holtby if we look even farther) is 6’1. If any of them have to make changes to their pads, it will be very small. All three also play very aggressively so I don’t think that their style will be negatively impacted.

No word yet on how Brett Leonhardt’s game will be affected.

All photos are my own work. You can see more at my Flickr.

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