The NHL’s competition committee is basically a clean slate at the moment. Which gives it a perfect opportunity to decide what it wants to be – a legitimate guardian of what is best for the game or a territorial, partisan group interested more in pursuing an agenda than doing what’s best for the sport.
The NHL almost never makes drastic change and things almost move at a glacial pace. After all, how long has it been talking about hybrid/no-touch icing? Much of the reason for that is the competition committee has looked out for its constituents’ best interests and in doing so, has had the same effect sand has on gears.
But now it has a chance to make itself relevant. In Wednesday’s GM meetings, the game’s managerial power brokers gave the NHL a clear mandate to reduce the size of goaltending equipment and institute hybrid icing. The only fly in the ointment is now the competition committee holds the power to either push it along to the board of governors or kill it.
The dynamics of the board have created this. According to the collective bargaining agreement, the board consists of 10 members, five from NHL management and five appointed by the NHL Players’ Association. In order for anything to pass, any rule change recommendation requires seven votes. So if the players or owners decide to vote as a block, they can effectively block anything they want.
Clearly, goaltending equipment was a hot-button issue with the GMs. As a result, they voted unanimously to recommend the reduction of the “thigh rise” of the pad – which is the top part of the pad above the knee – and to ensure that the knee pads contour to the knees better and are not too bulky.
“We want to provide adequate protection above the knee, but nothing more,” said the NHL’s goaltending supervisor, Kay Whitmore. “We want the knee pads covering body part, not space. The guys who are wearing the maximum allowed, they’re entitled to do that, but there are guys who are the same size wearing much less than that, so it tells you that it’s probably not a safety issue because the guys who are wearing the smaller stuff are not being hurt and there’s no documentation of lower body injuries because of puck impact. There’s probably a standard that’s a little tighter than it is now.”
That standard is currently 55 percent of the distance between the goalie’s knee to his pelvis. That was established in an effort to settle on the mid-thigh, but most of the pads now are going up to the goalie’s inseam. The kneepads that go under the main pads have a very vague measurement of a nine-inch contour, but it has become a piece of equipment goalies can use to gain an advantage.
“I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but when you have a piece of equipment that is called a cheater, that should set off some alarm bells,” said San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson.
Wilson brought up some good points in the meeting and afterward. In fact, he suggested that the increased size in goalie equipment might be a boon to goaltender protection, but it creates safety hazards in other areas. He has noticed that defensemen from the point, knowing there’s almost no chance they’ll score on the bottom half of the net, are shooting higher than they ever have. That, of course, creates a hazard for players standing in front of the net. And because they have to work so hard to score goals, they tend to crash the net more, which can result in injuries to goaltenders.
As far as hybrid icing is concerned, the GMs advocate a system where the decision to call icing would be based on the status of the players chasing down the puck at the faceoff dot. If there is a reasonable expectation the call could go either way, icing would be waved off. But if it’s clear the defending player is going to get to the puck first, it would be called. The American League had used that rule, but abandoned it this season because it did not want to confuse the players.
They seem like two very reasonable proposals, but again, it will be up to the competition committee to decide. At the moment, it appears the only active member of the committee is St. Louis Blues captain David Backes. The players hope to have their four slots filled by the time the committee meets during the Stanley Cup final. The league, meanwhile, has to appoint all five of its members before then.
The other major news from the meetings came from NHLPA advisor Mathieu Schneider, who said players would be polled on the possibility of invoking a grandfather clause as it relates to mandatory visors. If the players vote in favor, it will be brought to the competition committee, then to the board of governors. The league has long favored a rule enforcing visors, but the players have balked.
The NHL’s director of hockey operations, Colin Campbell, said the league doesn’t need an endorsement from the competition committee, but it’s a desirable step. He actually acknowledged that if the league wanted to, it could take its recommendations directly to the board of governors and have the players file a grievance if they disagree. He also said the league does not need the players’ approval to make visors mandatory.
“We could just push it through and let them grieve it,” Campbell said. “I’d like to see what they’d say to an arbitrator when we’re looking out for their safety.”
With the paralysis the competition committee has created over the years, perhaps it’s time the league did just that.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.