Monday, February 13, 2012

Editorial: Widen The Net, Please

It doesn't have to be all statistics and graphs here at Driving Play. Sometimes we actually have opinions about the games we're not watching (we're not watching because, obviously, we're too busy looking at our FenwickCorsi in Tuesday night games played in October). Still, the opinions expressed herein are the sole property of Triumph, and not Driving Play at large.

In 1992-1993, the league added two franchises, and scoring exploded. The league went from 6.95 Goals Per Game in 1991-92 to 7.26 Goals Per Game. It's been mostly downhill from there - the league is currently at 5.37 Goals Per Game, and it seems the trend is towards less scoring. I see more and more games with 1 or 2 power plays for a particular team, and that can only mean that scoring is going to continue to fall.

It was somewhat of a revelation when Kevin Weekes publicly questioned former teammate Martin Brodeur's equipment choices three weeks ago. Weekes told the Marek vs. Wyshynski Podcast that he felt that Brodeur did not take advantage of new equipment regulations. We've all seen the picture of an 80s goalie in his net with net peeking out behind him on all sides, whereas a picture of a current goalies leaves nothing to shoot at. Here was Weekes acknowledging that yes, basically the current trend in goaltending is to strap as much equipment as is legally possible to your body, which makes them look like Veruca Salt in Willy Wonka. If the Everlasting Gobstopper actually did make your body expand like that, you can bet goalies would be interested.

I'm completely fine with the standup goaltender having gone the way of the barefooted placekicker and the scheduled doubleheader, although I have memories of watching Chris Terreri make acrobatic kicksave after kicksave at the old Brendan Byrne Arena. Still, isn't there more to being a goalie than just being square to the shooter and sitting down in the right place for 40 times a night? Isn't there more to defense than getting men and sticks in lanes and defying the puck to go through the mass of men, composite sticks, pads, and Size 251 jersey?

Rules changes can often have unintended consequences - hell, this could possibly make everything worse, but why not, right? We know the goalies aren't giving up their enormous equipment any time soon. So here's a list of pros and cons to widening the net:


1. Bring back the shot off the wing!

The red line is gone. The stretch pass is in vogue. Yet no one scores off a 1 on 1 rush without a massive failure of goaltending or a phenomenal move around a defender. Maybe this play isn't that exciting, I don't know, but now it's basically out of the game because missing the net on these plays can be so dangerous and can lead to scoring chances the other way, whereas scoring on it is damn near impossible.

2. Maybe change the way defense is played in the NHL

It's funny how people still trash the neutral zone trap, but I never hear a peep about the Tortorella-style defense in the defensive zone where everyone collapses into the center of the ice and we watch teams try to generate scoring chances through a labyrinth of players. I think this style of D is going to become more of a trend over the next five years, and I'd hope that a wider net would make this strategy less viable.

3. Bring back the acrobatic save

I see acrobatic saves all the time because Martin Brodeur's reflexes and positioning are shot so he's basically gambling on any dangerous play. But I don't see enough of it from other goalies. I'm not entirely sure if widening the net would lead to more highlight-reel saves, but I suppose it couldn't hurt in that regard.

4. More goals = more lead changes

Defense isn't going away. If defenses continue to grow more stalwart, we will see a return to the late 90s, early 00s where you could basically turn a game off if one team had a lead going into the third period.


1. Alters how goalies play

Goalies learn on one net their whole lives - changing it will fundamentally alter the game from the highest to the lowest levels of hockey. It's entirely possible that there are some goalies who would be incapable of adapting.

2. Might alter game into table hockey

I love the idea of guys coming down the wing and blasting the puck, but a game full of it might be horrendous - no flow, less passing, no board work, less beating guys 1 on 1 down low - I don't like the sound of that any more than I like the NHL's future as a series of 2-1 games.

3. Might introduce more luck, not less

Goals off crazy deflections and fluky bounces are a part of hockey, but one imagines more shots off skates and shins ending up in the back of the net with more net to cover. It might become more of a strategy to blast pucks from the point, and more of a strategy to block shooting lanes and passing lanes closer to the goalie.

Anyway, it's a fantasy - how could the league possibly introduce this? Just throw it on players before the season? And how much will it be widened? I guess they could test it out in the AHL for a season, but I don't see them being too thrilled about the position. So, it won't happen, and goal scoring numbers will continue to decline year after year.


  1. If the problem is that equipment now fills the net, why do you prefer widening the net rather than shrinking the equipment?

  2. The reason is that the average size of goalies has increased too. Here's a look at the goalies who were top 5 in save percentage in 1985:

    Warren Skorodenski: 5'8", 165
    Pelle Lindbergh: 5'9", 165
    Andy Moog: 5'8", 175
    Mike Liut: 6'2", 195
    Reggie Lemelin: 5'11", 170

    Here's last year's top 5:

    Tim Thomas: 5'11, 201
    Pekka Rinne: 6'5", 209
    Roberto Luongo: 6'3", 208
    Semyon Varlamov: 6'2", 209
    Jonas Hiller: 6'2", 194

    So yeah, shrinking the equipment would probably do something, but I don't see it happening - the players' union will claim it's a safety issue when it isn't, and that'll get thrown out.

  3. Fair enough. I just suspect that widening the net is going to sound awfully drastic to people, so it seems unlikely to happen until/unless other methods of increasing scoring look hopeless.