It’s never fun being the only goalie on the NHL’s competition committee.
Everyone, after all, is out to get you.
Or at least your equipment, anyway.
The man in that position these days is Vancouver Canucks‘ netminder Cory Schneider, who has been in discussion with the NHL’s goalie regulator Kay Whitmore over the past few days about potential new guidelines on the size of padding that are expected to come in for next year.
Schneider and Whitmore are the odd ducks in the discussion group as the only two men to have recently played the position so it falls to them to try and work through the league and players’ requests to trim the size of goalies in the hopes of boosting scoring.
And this has traditionally been a losing battle for the NHL.
Even with some poor performances in goal this year from the likes of Marc-Andre Fleury and Carey Price, the average save percentage in these playoffs sits at .920, the second highest mark all-time and a huge shift from 1995 and earlier when it was almost always in the mid to high .800s.
Goal scoring, as a direct result, remains low: Teams have averaged roughly five goals per game in these playoffs, which is right about where it has hovered for much of the last 15 years.
While the debate often centres around whether it’s the NHL’s style of play or the goaltenders that have caused this trend (and realistically both have been contributors), it’s worth noting that opportunities to put pucks on goal have been as prevalent as ever.
This season, for example, NHL teams have averaged a combined 63 shots per game in the postseason, which is actually up about 6 per cent from the average of 59.3 over the previous 25 years.
The NHL postseason: Still a lot of shotsGoal scoring has dropped down again in the playoffs over the last two years, but NHL teams are still putting plenty of pucks on goaltenders. In fact, shots on goal totals are actually slightly higher than they were 20 years ago when teams were still routinely scoring seven goals a game.
Statistically speaking, in other words, it’s rather clear where much of the problem lies, as shooting percentages dipped dramatically in the mid-1990s when goaltenders switched en masse to Patrick Roy’s butterfly style and have never rebounded.
Padding increased in that time frame, too, but so did the size of the men in goal, as the average height of an NHL netminder became much more important once they were often playing on their knees and climbed roughly three inches – to an average of 6-foot-2 – in that relatively short span.
And there’s no easy solution to the fact that, with pucks now coming quicker and harder than ever off increasingly well engineered composite sticks, goalies need more padding than ever on those already large frames.
(For proof of that, just look at some of the pictures of ugly bruises tweeted by goalies like Ben Scrivens and Mark Dekanich in recent months.)
Kevin Woodley at InGoal Magazine spoke with Schneider earlier this week about the various changes the NHL is proposing for next season, and it appears the key target will be the size of “thigh rise” padding above the knee that can be used to close the five-hole when a goalie is in the butterfly position.
The concern on the goaltenders’ side here will be over safety, not only when they’re being hit by pucks, but in how their hips, knees and legs are affected by changing the size and shape of the gear cushioning their limbs when they hit the ice again and again.
Serious hip surgeries have become almost routine for NHL goaltenders playing a butterfly style these days, and there remains fear among goalies that these problems could be exacerbated by any further trimming.
“We have to determine whether it compromises safety first and foremost,” Schneider told Woodley, “make sure guys have the protection they need.”
That’s why it was interesting when NHLPA executive Mathieu Schneider called the potential changes “major” after he left Tuesday’s meeting, insisting that this time goaltender equipment would be shaved down substantially enough (and those changes subsequently enforced) that they didn’t have to tinker with it every off-season.
As Woodley notes, this kind of conflict between goalies and skaters is hardly new. It came up repeatedly with the competition committee’s earlier iterations as Martin Brodeur and Ryan Miller tried to protect goalies’ interests, creating a divide between players based on their position.
But, even if the goalies are ultimately overruled, it seems unlikely the floodgates are going to open under these new guidelines.
As much as fans, media and even those in the game like to point to reducing goalie equipment as the magic bullet solution to getting away from every game being 2-1 or 3-2, even the most dramatic cuts proposed will mean two to three inches taken off the top of the main goal pads.
It will not change the way goaltenders play their position, the fact teams are scouting netminders more and more for size or the fact that much of the other protective equipment will remain unchanged.
It will also not change the fact the NHL will remain a low scoring league, just as it’s been for a generation of players now.
The rise of save percentage
NHL goaltenders now save on average 92 per cent of the shots they face in the playoffs, which means that even an average goalie would allow fewer than 50 goals in a typical 20-game run. Kings netminder Jonathan Quick, meanwhile, has posted a previously unthinkable .944 save percentage over the past two postseasons.