I am tired of people making comparisons to Sawchuk and Plante to the goalies of today.
Yes, their pads were smaller. But does anyone realize the revolutions the game has undergone in the last 30 years? Orr revolutionized back-end mobility. Gretzky revolutionized puck movement in the offensive zone (i.e. set-up and lateral goal-scoring). And Roy popularized the butterfly.
What is going on with declining goal-scoring in the NHL is not a symptom of larger equipment, rather it is correction of the previous events.
All those elements are now a part of the game. Players are coached on them. Goalies are coached on them. These are no longer revolutions; they are merely a piece of the system.
The reason there is a decline in goal-scoring is three fold.
One, the goalies are better now than they have ever been. Need proof? Watch the revolving door of NHL-ready goalies. Every team has at least two goalies in their system that can step up and play at the NHL level. Some even have two starters on the roster (i.e. Lalime/Khabibulin and Thomas/Fernandez). That's a tremendous pipeline.
Secondly, the goalies are bigger than they have ever been. Take any goalie from eras past: Plante, Sawchuk, Esposito, Vachon, Smith, or Hall. These Hall of Famers all are under the six-foot height benchmark of today. The exceptions are Dryden and Parent, and even then, you cannot argue that much of their success had to do with their size.
Today, six feet is small in goalie terms. Do you think Vanbiesbrook would be considered for an NHL job? No. No, you get Roberto Luongo (6-foot-3), Brodeur (6-foot-2), LaBarbera (6-foot-3), and Miller (6-foot-4). This is new standard in the NHL. Yes, there are few smaller guys, but the benchmark is six feet.
The game is too fast, too lateral, and too positional to afford anyone smaller than that.
And finally, the defensive systems in place are there to stop goal production; Pee Wees and Bantams are learning how to use a trap at the youth level. The creativity in the game that produced the Orr, Gretzky, and Roy revolutions has been cut out entirely.
The reason Crosby is not in the same league as Gretz has very little to do with his skill set. It has more to do with the fact there is not as much open ice as Gretzky and Lemieux had and therefore his offensive prowess is snuffed.
The NHL has to prevent defensive systems from being used to keep fans in their seats. They have to think outside of the box to solve goal production, instead of constantly attacking the goaltenders.
The NHL should come up with other ways to promote goal-scoring: The curve rule must be relaxed and the puck should be reduced by an ounce and a quarter of an inch on the diameter.
This would solve the goal-scoring "problem."
The players would have to go back to the wood sticks (which NHL owners would love in terms of cost) because the passes would be too hard to control and the puck would move much faster producing... more goals.
That's outside the box.
Matthew Onstad, Valencia, Calif