Commentary

NHL to take another look at downsizing goaltending equipment

Updated: February 19, 2008, 9:25 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

NAPLES, Fla. -- Stop us if you've heard this before, but the NHL is ready to take one last, hard look at downsizing goaltending equipment.

NHL GMs voted unanimously Tuesday to establish a committee to take another run at making goalie equipment more streamlined. Many believe this is the final step in trying to boost scoring before radical changes, like larger nets, are introduced.

[+] EnlargeMartin Brodeur
Christopher Pasatieri/US PresswireSome league officials believe equipment can be made to more closely conform to a goaltender's body.
"I think it's important," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Tuesday. "I think the guys in room have a real sense of urgency to address this issue in a meaningful way. Kind of one last try to try and do something about this, and if they're not able to do that, they're going to look at what else they can do. More dramatic changes."

GMs said not all goalies are complying with the league-imposed standards on equipment size, although no goalies have been fined for illegal equipment. Still, there is significant concern the issue needs to be addressed one last time.

Netminders' gear was downsized after the lockout with restrictions on size of pads, circumference of catching gloves, types of flaps on pads and height of shoulder and belly protectors. All told, the changes were expected to reduce the size of equipment by between 12 and 15 percent.

"It's better, but there is a ways to go," said Detroit GM and former netminder Ken Holland. "It's a hot topic because not only are they big and we need to shrink them, but they're good. I think goaltending has had the biggest impact on the game in the last 20 years -- the style, the athleticism, and obviously the equipment."

Holland said NHL goaltending equipment consultant Kay Whitmore, a former NHL netminder, believes equipment can be made to more closely conform to a goaltender's body.

"Basically, custom-sized goaltender [equipment] for the size of the athlete versus all the edges and the things on the equipment to take up space," Holland explained.

The NHL Players' Association is on board with the plan.

"Reduction of the size of goalie equipment was an issue discussed at length with each of the teams during our recent fall tour," NHLPA executive direction Paul Kelly said in a statement. "The majority of players favor 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 also hopes it's taken a step toward repairing the fractured relationship with European hockey federations over transfer agreements. League GMs agreed Tuesday to a new proposal that would see NHL teams return young European players between the ages of 18 and 21 on a loan basis to their European teams if they don't make NHL clubs.

Under the previous agreement, NHL clubs had only to return 18- and 19-year-olds if they didn't make NHL rosters. The issue may address concerns from many of the international federations that their young players are better served playing a year or two in their home countries than being sent to the minors in North America. Naturally, the elite leagues in the European countries would benefit from having more players available to them, as well.

The proposal will be sent to the International Ice Hockey Federation and Daly hopes they will decide quickly if it will satisfy their concerns. The crucial test will be how the proposal is viewed by the Swedes, who recently opted out of the IIHF transfer agreement.

"If the Swedes aren't in, I'm not saying it's over, we'll probably explore other things, potentially with the PA. But if the Swedes aren't in, it probably doesn't make sense for us to have this agreement at all," Daly said.

The Russians, who haven't been part of the transfer agreement for more than three years, aren't expected to embrace this new proposal, either. "I don't expect that they would be part of this," Daly said.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.

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