Back during the People's Lockout of Naught Four and Five, the NHL rules and competition gurus handed down some significant tweaks to goaltender equipment sizes. Since then they've been on a somewhat bi-annual crusade to continue to scale down goalie gear. This off-season saw them take a closer look at the portion of the goalie's leg pads that extend above the knee, known as the thigh-rise.
The mechanism to date to control thigh-rise limits has been as a function of the player's knee-to-hip measurement. The restriction was placed at 55% of this distance. The NHL Players Association had staunchly refused to have a separate maximum length imposed, such as 8 inches max, as they contend this would unfairly punish taller goalies (who would presumably have a higher allowable thigh-rise when taken as a function of the knee-to-hip measurement) or unfairly benefit shorter goalies (who could presumably have the maximum 8 inches regardless of its proportion to their knee-to-hip measurement). The league also attempted to force a mandatory curve into the top of the pads to prevent the stiff thigh rises favored by some goalies. This off-season the league and association did manage to approve a 10% reduction to the measurement, resulting in a maximum thigh rise of 45% of the knee-to-hip measurement. Initial responses to the rule change were tepid.
The results have been varied. According to reports, Corey Crawford, Marc Andre Fleury and Jonathan Bernier had about 2 inches taken off the top of their pads. Roberto Luongo has about half an inch. Man crush Henrik Lundqvist also saw a reduction. Craig Anderson appeared to lose a little over an inch:
2012 vs 2013 - just some slight changes (per league rules). pic.twitter.com/VH1ahmegdW— Craig Anderson (@CraigAnderson41) August 22, 2013
The real concern with any change to portions of the equipment that provide any degree of protection is injuries. Several prominent goalies have expressed concern about increased knee injuries as a result of the rule change, including our own Jean-Sebastien Giguere.
“Guys knees are going to be more exposed. I know the League is trying to shrink knee protection again, but this is something I would have a real problem with. Just looking at some of the guys, in my mind their knee protection is not enough and they are going to get hurt. There has got to be a limit on how much you can alter goalies equipment before they get hurt and I think we are close to that limit."
The changes have also brought out the usual gaggle of complainers about goalie gear size compared to the good old days (you know when everybody played without masks LIKE MEN, skate saves were still thought to be somehow useful, and you could legally have AMERICAN child labor). Remembering back to the "glory days" for a basis of comparison to modern goaltending is a fool's game. Nobody plays any aspect of the position with anything even remotely resembling the era of 11" deer hair pads and wooden sticks. There's no other way to say it other than this: Goalies today are BETTER than they have ever been in the past.
If anybody was following the conversation I was having with Dario and wflan a couple of weeks ago, you probably know how I feel about this stuff. The short version is this: I don't expect anything approaching an appreciable increase in goal scoring as a result of this rule change. Goalies today are too fast, too strong and too talented to let a small tweak like this markedly affect how they play or perform. Goaltender equipment is a convenient scapegoat for a league that is backsliding on interference enforcement and trapping systems and watching the goals-per-game number slowly tick down again. Even if, for some unfathomable reason, we do see the occasional 5-hole goal I think it's important to remember Giggy's advice:
“Coaches and GMs, you guys want that, you’ve been asking for more goals [through the] five hole, so if your goalie gives up a goal five hole, you need to take a breath and remember that you asked for it.”