NAPLES, Fla. – Shrink the goalies. Again.
That was the unanimous message from the NHL’s 30 GMs Tuesday as they tried to address once and for all an issue that’s played over and over again like Groundhog Day.
“Everybody is tired of the conversation,” said Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland. “If we can’t get this right, then we have to sit down and look at the alternatives. And obviously bigger nets is one of the alternatives. That’s something I don’t really think anybody wants to do. Our hope is to get the goalie equipment right.”
Day 2 of the GM meetings produced a minor trade – veteran defenceman Jaroslav Modry was sent from Los Angeles to Philadelphia for a third-round draft pick. The meeting also dealt with other topics such as the IIHF-NHL player transfer agreement and other collective bargaining issues but the clear headliner was the decision to forge ahead with a plan to further reduce goalie equipment.
“It’s the right thing,” said veteran New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello, whose own goalie Martin Brodeur is certainly not among the cheaters. “Time has finally come where it’s sort of taken a life of its own. As far as we’re concerned, Marty probably wears the smallest equipment out there. But I don’t think that’s the point.
“What was impressive today was that it was unanimous, that every manager, no matter what their thought process was before, that it’s finally got to the point where it has to get addressed.”
The GMs agreed to form a committee of current and past skaters, goalies and GMs to come up with a way to further reduce and streamline equipment without putting the goalies at risk. The inclusion of current skaters and goalies is key – they can’t make these changes without the endorsement of the NHL Players’ Association.
“That’s a huge problem,” said former star player Brett Hull, now co-GM of the Dallas Stars. “They have to get on board with us. I’d like to know why they don’t. Are we here for the good of the game or what? Should be better for the fans and if the PA doesn’t want that, maybe there’s something wrong with their leadership.”
New NHLPA executive director Paul Kelly seems somewhat open to the idea.
“Reduction of the size of goalie equipment was an issue discussed at length with each of the teams during our recent fall tour,” Kelly said Tuesday in an e-mail. “The majority of players favour some modest modification of goalie equipment size – pants and chest protectors in particular – so long as the changes are made with input and guidance from a committee of current NHL goalies, and without compromising the safety or our netminders.”
The NHL came out of the lockout in 2005 having reduced goalie equipment by 10 to 15 per cent. Either that wasn’t enough, or some goalies simply aren’t complying and haven’t been caught. It could be a little of both.
“If we felt everybody was complying right now, it wouldn’t have been a topic of discussion today,” said Minnesota Wild GM Doug Risebrough. “It’s obvious there is some leakage, there are some guys that are finding ways to get around it. There are some culprits. We now have guys (goalies) saying, ‘I’m doing my thing, but what about the other guy?’ And so if we don’t do something about it, those who are complying who might be in the majority might all of a sudden be in the minority.
“And then whatever we’ve gained, we’ve lost. It would not have been the biggest topic of dicussion today if we didn’t think there were still some problems.”
Holland says the game remains much better post-lockout with more flow and more scoring chances – but the goals are still hard to come by.
“We’ve got a tremendous game,” said Holland. “The goalies are so good. We want to allow them to show their skill but again, make sure that their equipment is what we deem appropriate for our sport.”
It’s a conversation that’s far from over.
The GMs also agreed Tuesday on a transfer agreement proposal for the IIHF to look at. European hockey federations opted out of the former agreement earlier this season in large part because they were frustrated that a large number of young players left their system for North America only to play minor-league hockey instead of in the NHL. The NHL agrees and Tuesday essentially came up with a plan where players aged 18-21 would be returned to Europe if they don’t make NHL rosters.
“We basically want to buy ourselves a year to see if we need to rethink the whole thing or if we can kind of continue in the same framework,” said NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly.
One item that didn’t get enough support Tuesday was Brian Burke’s idea of retaining salary in trades. The Anaheim Ducks GM has lobbied hard on this issue for two years but it appears it’s matter that will have to wait until the next round of collective bargaining.