Sabres' blueprint one of several to be considered

Updated: April 1, 2005, 3:33 AM ET
Associated Press

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- First, blue ice. Now, funky-looking, rounded hockey nets.

The Buffalo Sabres aren't lacking for ideas on how to improve the appearance of the game -- once the NHL resumes playing.

After experimenting two weeks ago with new ice-surface colors, including orange blue lines, the Sabres have designed a new goal cage that features outwardly curving posts and an upwardly curving crossbar. The new design expands the opening of the standard 6-by-4-foot net by about 13 percent in an effort to increase scoring.

The Sabres' design will be one of three up for consideration when NHL general managers meet next week in Detroit. The other designs are proposed by the league -- one that is similar to the Sabres' model and another that simply increases the size of the current rectangular nets.

"It comes from the premise that somehow we've got to find a way to open up the game," Sabres GM Darcy Regier said Thursday. "I do think we have to change some things. And I think that's a good thing."

Before the lockout that canceled this season, scoring had fallen well off the pace of the NHL's heyday, when the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers compiled 400 or more goals a season five times in the 1980s.

Compare that to 2003-04, when Ottawa led the league with 262 goals and 11 teams failed to break the 200 mark.

Besides more teams emphasizing defensive-oriented styles, the drop in offense also is attributable to goaltenders not only bigger in size, but bulked up further in padding.

The idea behind the curved-post design is that it not only expands the net opening, but the rounded shape makes it more difficult for goalies to hug the posts to block short-angle shots.

Regier acknowledged the proposed change might not go over well with traditionalists at first, but added there have been more dramatic changes to the game. Regier noted that goalies weren't allowed to leave their feet until 1929.

He noted that former New York Islanders star Mike Bossy once scored 50 goals in nine consecutive seasons. In 2003-04, Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk led the league with 41.

"Was Wayne Gretzky getting over 200 points tradition? Or was last year tradition?" Regier asked.

The Sabres' net was the brainchild of the team's managing partner Larry Quinn, who first sketched the design on a napkin.

The sketch was forwarded to Frank Cravotta, the team's creative services director, who eventually had a prototype built and tested by members of the AHL Rochester Americans, the Sabres' minor league affiliate.

"I've looked at it so much that now that I look at the old nets and they look out of place to me," Quinn said. "And I think people will have that reaction when they see it."

The Sabres' design also decreases the side and back of the net that juts out into the playing surface, making it easier for players to maneuver.

"Our players can skate better than they ever could. They can shoot the puck, pass the puck and do things with the puck more than they were ever able to do," Quinn said. "So we should find a way for that talent to be exhibited in the game, whether it's a bigger net or whatever."


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press