Kris King, the NHL's new goaltending-equipment czar, is bracing
for some strange looks from airport security personnel this
season. Armed with a tape measure and a set of calipers, King
will travel to arenas around the league and patrol netminders
like an undercover cop, popping up unannounced to conduct
surprise postgame checks on their gear. He'll be on the road so
much that the NHL had a special set of wood calipers made for
him. Metal ones, the league figured, would cause delays at
airport checkpoints. ¬∂ "None of the security people have asked
about them yet," King said of the calipers during a stop last
month in Minnesota, where he shot video and photographs of the
Wild goalies in their gear and measured every piece of their
equipment. "But it's early."
King, who played with five NHL teams from 1987-88 through
2000-01, faces a Sisyphean task: enforcing the perennially
ignored Rule 21, which spells out size limits for goalies'
equipment. With bulky high-tech, lightweight padding, keepers
these days look like Rubens models who have let themselves go.
Says one NHL goaltending coach, "We always say that if a guy
looks small on the ice, he's got a problem."
The league, whose goal-scoring has dropped from 8.3 per game in
1981-82 to 5.3 last season, has been losing the battle of the
bulging goalie for years. A slew of new regulations went into
effect before the 1999-2000 season--glove and jersey sizes were
reduced, and various cuffs and shields were outlawed--and random
spot checks were introduced, but that didn't stop goalies from
stretching the rules. "The puck just hits the goalies," New
Jersey Devils center John Madden says of the oversized padding
worn by netminders. "People say that's good positioning, and some
of it is. But other times the puck just hits a piece of
equipment, and the goalie's thinking, Hey, great."
This summer the height of leg pads, which had been unregulated,
was capped at 38 inches. (Legal width is 12 inches.) The league
also banned hard knee boards that many goalies used to cover the
lower thigh. Violators will be fined $25,000 and suspended for
one game for the first offense, and their equipment will be
October 12, 2003
Those are logical changes. But as with most league
initiatives--how about the near annual crackdown on
obstruction?--enforcement will be a challenge. King will be
backed by officials in the NHL's Toronto office who will watch
every game on TV in search of illegal gear. But King, 37, will be
the lone soldier out in the field.
To ensure that netminders don't bend the rules, the NHL is
relying on a combination of signed statements from team equipment
managers vowing that their goalies won't cheat and Big Brother
surveillance. However, says Vezina Trophy winner Martin Brodeur
of the Devils, "people will always push the limit, and they're
hard to catch."
Brodeur, who might use the smallest gear in the league, should
have nothing to worry about, but consider the Anaheim Mighty
Ducks' J.S. Giguere, who doesn't tend goal so much as eclipse it.
When the 6'1" 200-pounder stands square in the crease and splays
his legs in the butterfly stance, the lower portion of the
four-by-six-foot net disappears behind his 36-inch-high pads. His
shoulders, topped by padding that belongs in Jerome Bettis's
locker, rise like camel humps to block the upper regions of the
goal. The only open areas for shooters are the top corners, spots
that snipers alone can hit. "I'd say 50 percent of all saves are
not saves," says Detroit Red Wings forward Brett Hull. "[The
goalies are] just hit by the puck."
That might not change even if netminders fall into line, because
the rules don't address another problem with leg pads: width.
Since 1989-90 goalies have been allowed to wear pads that measure
12 inches across. From '27-28 through '88-89 the maximum width of
each pad was 10 inches. Those four extra inches meant that more
than a puck's width of open net disappeared.
Last spring some general managers suggested returning to 10-inch
pads. The league, leery of injuries and the possibility of legal
action if a goalie is hurt wearing smaller pads, held off. Now,
however, "the protection from pads is so good that you probably
could go down to 10 inches easily," says Dave Dryden, King's
predecessor as goalie-equipment czar and a member of the NHL's
injury panel. "The next step is to build a prototype and test
In other words, don't expect pads to get narrower anytime soon.
But why wait? During the Stanley Cup finals commissioner Gary
Bettman, who was grasping for ways to increase scoring, floated
the idea of making the nets larger. That suggestion was roundly
disparaged, however, as too radical. Clamping down on goaltenders
immediately is a more reasonable means to the same end. "We had a
veteran goalie a few years ago who thought the key to success was
just getting bigger," says Hall of Fame netminder Gerry Cheevers,
a Boston Bruins scout. "He kept saying, 'I have to get bigger. I
have to get bigger.'"
Until Kris King and the league stop him, he will.