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NHL goalies will have to switch to more 'form-fitting' equipment in 2010-11 season

Aug 7, 2010, 11:15 AM EDT

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bigpadsgiguere.jpgWhen you look back at classic sports clips, every league looks a little different. Basketball players wore hilariously short shorts. NFL players went from insanely skimpy helmets to ones that are almost like today’s standard. Baseball players … well, let’s just say many of them were a lot, um, smaller.

For hockey, the most glaring difference* is the way goalies of bygone eras looked (and therefore played) compared to the bulked up versions of today. I’ll never forget how much it blew my mind to see how dramatically skinny Dominik Hasek looked when he was wearing the typical couch cushion leg pads and other various “protective” garments. Simply put, goalies wouldn’t feel safe to play butterfly styles if they sported the limited equipment of the old days, but there’s no doubt that they’d also take up a lot less of the net too. It’s a chicken-and-the-egg argument of protection vs. goal prevention that will probably restrict a full-blown change from taking effect.

That being said, Rory Boylen of The Hockey News points out that the NHL is moving to a “form-fitting” restriction for goalie pads.

The NHL 2009-10 rulebook reads that there is a 38-inch height restriction on all goalie pads. However, the form-fitting direction the NHL is moving to next season means each goalie will have his own pad dimensions, i.e., smaller goalies will have smaller pads.

Of course, some have pointed out this will negatively impact the smaller goalies much more than the bigger ones. Whereas they could wear the same sized equipment last year, next year padding will be in proportion to the goalie’s size.

Will the goalies of today ever look like the lightly protected goalies of yesteryear? Of course not. Just as it would be insane to make goalies remove their masks, it would be just as crazy to pare down equipment to that extreme. After all, padding is there to protect. It’s a natural evolution of equipment that spun out of control for goalies and became more about stopping pucks than protection. So now the NHL is finding a middle ground and reeling it back in. We’ve already seen rules put in place against the cheater pads on the glove and in the five-hole.

George Malik actually brought this story to my attention in this article, in which he explains how the rule change will affect the Detroit Red Wings goalies. What might be most interesting from a “micro” prospective is that even larger goalies will be impacted.

I talked to Thomas McCollum during the Red Wings’ prospect camp about his gear, and he said he’d lose 3/4″ off his thigh rise–and McCollum stands at 6’2″ and at least 200 lbs–so you can fully expect that everyone from Jimmy Howard to Chris Osgood will wear leg pads with shorter thigh rises, smaller chest/arm protectors, and tighter-fitting goalie pants. McCollum told me that he actually planned on wearing his now-illegal gear at the AHL level, and would only wear the legal stuff if he was called up.

The rule won’t affect Jimmy Howard too much, but Chris Osgood won’t be able to wear 38″ leg pads anymore, no way, no how.

Interesting stuff. As I’ve mentioned before, NHL general managers have been drafting Chara-esque goalies in recent years, even if the Devan Dubnyks of the world haven’t exactly lit the world on fire. In an article about that draft trend, Gary Joyce pointed out that some are trying to stay ahead of rule changes, particularly the seemingly far fetched possibility of the league enlarging the net. (My guess is that the league won’t ever have to alter the game in such a drastic way unless referees stop blowing their whistles on obstruction again.)

Later today, I’ll take a brisk look at which goalies might be hurt the most by such an equipment change. I apologize in advance to short people everywhere. There might be some new Napoleon complexes introduced to the hockey world on this seemingly innocuous Saturday in August.

* Aside from players not wearing helmets, maybe. I get a particular charge out of seeing the holdouts of the helmet-free era skating with guys who wore full protection. Macho behavior can reach some insane depths, can’t it?

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