Like any fraternity that finds itself under constant fire, NHL goaltenders tend to close ranks. For most of the past 40 years, goalies have been fiercely protective of the equipment they wear to fend off pucks, often fired at them at more than 100 miles per hour.
Nothing better illustrates the way that equipment has evolved than when one of the goalie greats passes away; photos and televised highlights of the start of his career show him in the skinniest of gear, looking like a scarecrow.
Now, no matter how small he is off the ice, every NHL goalie has ballooned in size to Michelin Man proportions.
That's because goalie equipment underwent a metamorphosis. Instead of just protecting the netminders – its original purpose – it was redesigned over the years for another reason: to help them stop the puck.
Pads became lighter. Pants became wider. Shoulder pads grew and were sometimes designed to be worn with one pair affixed atop the other.
All that innovation coincided with a time when NHL scoring was sinking fast. It was easy to see a direct correlation – and to recognize that the simplest way to get a scoring uptick was to rein in the size of goalie equipment.
But simple is probably not the best way to describe the process. It has been anything but. There has been foot-dragging every step of the way – mostly by goalies, of course, who didn't want to lose the competitive advantage that their bloated gear provided.
Finally, on Saturday night, a small but potentially game-changing initiative, years in the making, took its first tentative step.
Goaltenders were obliged to wear new, slimmed-down pants. The rounder pant leg has been contoured to fit individual goalies and, among other things, does not flare out the way previous versions did. Some goalies had been trying out the design for weeks; others waited until the 11th hour to adopt the new pants.
Most seemed to find the new, form-fitting pants a bit snug. Over all, the reviews were mixed, with much of the support coming from the goalies who advocated for the changes – the likes of Cory Schneider (New Jersey Devils) and Braden Holtby (Washington Capitals).
Shrinking the pants is supposed to be just the first part of a comprehensive equipment overhaul; the rest of the changes will be rolled out this fall for the start of the 2017-18 NHL season.
As a card-carrying member of the ex-goalie guild, Greg Millen says he understands that goalies need to be protected.
"I totally get it," Millen said. "And I understand the players shoot the puck better now than they ever have – and the equipment has to change to reflect that. I don't want the goalies of today to be how I was – where every day I'd wake up with a newly bruised collarbone. That's no good.
"But I'm also convinced they can be protected and still get the size of the equipment down – because now it's unruly."
Millen played 604 NHL games for six teams between 1978 and 1992 and now works as a colour commentator for Rogers Sportsnet. On Saturday, while working the Ottawa Senators-Buffalo Sabres game, he made a public plea to the league and the players' association to work together to make the equipment initiative succeed.
"The thing that bothers me: One little fix probably won't be enough," Millen said. "Everything needs to be done this summer. Goal pads, knee pads, shoulder pads and the cheaters in the gloves all have to be done – everything. It's not going to be effective until the complete thing is done at once."
According to former goaltender Darren Pang, reducing the pant size means "you no longer will have a goaltender who is 190 pounds looking like they're 230.
"The guys who wore their [pant] laces so wide open and made it like a barrel, they can't do that any more," Pang said. "Will they find a way to stretch these pants out a little bit? Yeah, they will. But … why should a goalie my size wear a suit tailor-made for a Ben Bishop?'"
At 5 foot 5, Pang would be the smallest goalie in the league right now – more than a foot shorter than the towering Bishop, who is 6 foot 7.
Millen, who was also relatively short (5 foot 9) by today's NHL standards, believes goalies of his stature or Pang's have no chance of playing professionally these days.
"Thanks to great rule changes, we've managed to get the little guy back in at the forward position," Millen said. "We need to do the same for the goaltending position. If you shrink the equipment properly, the big guys are going to have more holes. Once again, speed will become important in the goalie position, the way it has up front.
"What we're doing now is chasing goalies out of minor hockey because they see NHL teams won't draft anyone under 6 foot 2."
Pang, who was the runner-up to Joe Nieuwendyk for the 1988 Calder Memorial Trophy as the NHL rookie of the year, received a primer on the new equipment from Blues goaltender Carter Hutton. Now a colour commentator for Fox Sports West in St. Louis, Pang discovered the new contoured pants leave gaps that shooters can potentially exploit.
"If I'm a team, I'm right away taking every short-side shot that I can," Pang said. "I'm testing those little holes between the post and the side of the pants, maybe 12 inches above the ice and under the armpit. I do believe we're going to see more goals just barely squeezing in there."
He also believes the overall improvement in athleticism among goalies means they'll find ways to adjust.
"Most of the goaltenders' attitudes are great," he said. "Their hands will adjust. They'll catch more pucks. They'll challenge more. They won't cheat on the short side. They're like, 'OK, give it to us, we'll find a way. We'll prove to you that our ability to adjust is greater than the shooter's."