Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Is BIGGER Better?

Well, I guess it depends on what one is referring to. In this case it's the size of the nets in Hockey we're talking about.

E.M. Swift writing for SI.com thinks it's time to expand them...
One of the items on the agenda at the NHL general managers meeting in February is whether, in an effort to increase scoring, the league should make the goal bigger. It's now six feet wide by four feet high -- the same as it's always been. The new goal would add eight inches in width and four inches in height -- 80" x 52" -- so if you do the math, that's a 20 percent increase.

Goalies and so-called "traditionalists" have howled in protest ever since Colin Campbell, the league's director of hockey operations, floated the idea in late December. But I think -- no, I'm certain -- that it's an idea whose time is long overdue.

It's not just that scoring is down. The league is averaging 5.8 goals per game, including overtime, this season. That's down from 6.1 last season and way below the seven-plus average from the late 1970s through the early '90s -- before teams even played overtime.

The bigger concern is that certain types of scoring attempts have all but disappeared. The booming slapshots from a wing breaking across the blue line, which popularized hockey and made Bobby Hull a matinee idol in the 1960s; the sniper blast from the sideboards of the kind that made Guy Lafleur, Mike Bossy and Mike Gartner so deadly.

"When I was growing up, I saw a lot of goals scored by guys going down the wing, slap shots to the far corner," says Calgary's Jarome Iginla, a member of the NHL's competition committee. "Those were exciting to see. The bigger nets would give you more chance to have those goals."

Hall of Famer Ken Dryden, the premier goalie of the '70s and now an elected member of Canada's Parliament, says, "You can't really beat a goalie with a shot anymore. The goals now are almost all scored off redirections. The shooter sees a whole lot less space now, which changes the psychology of the contest between the goalie and the shooter. The goalie's equipment has gone from being an instrument to protect the body to being an instrument to protect the net." [...]

For those who believe that tinkering with the size of the goal violates the traditions of the game, Dryden counters with this: "If you're a pure traditionalist, the goalie can't wear a mask and he has cricket pads on his legs. But things change. When we played, we wore equipment designed to stop pucks shot at 70 mph. Then the banana hook was introduced, and guys began shooting it at 100 mph. Eventually you manufacture better equipment. All that gets added to the traditional framework, but the traditions have changed."

Why not decrease the size of the goalie equipment still further, as the NHL did last season?

"The goalies are saying that because of safety concerns, you can't go any further in that direction," Dryden says. "How do you argue to make something less safe? So the only thing left to give is the size of the goal they're protecting. You give it a try, make it a little bigger, and see how the goalies deal with it."

Dryden adds, "The real tradition we need to protect is the fair contest between the shooter and the goalie. You want a balance where real skill gets rewarded, and if the balance gets out of whack, the traditions have already been broken. The real traditionalist looks for a situation where the shooter has a chance, and the goalie has a chance."

Amen. Let's bring on the super-sized goal.

(my emphasis)
I agree, count me in also as one that would like to expand the nets. Pretty much for all the reasons mentioned. The game has always evolved. It was once played with no forward passes allowed and just two sticks stuck vertically in the ice with no cross bar, obviously things changed and it's time for things to change again. It's been a looooong established tradition in the sport for things to change.

So, bring it on I say.


Anonymous said...

Someone the other day proposed to me the idea of flattening the inside of the posts. So that 1/2 of "hit posts" would head inside. I thought it to be genius. Et Tu ?

br. t. said...

Hmmmmmmm, interesting anonymous, but a flattened edge of the posts might increase injury risks for players crashing the net. Smacking a rounded post with ones face is bad enough, a flattened one with a edge might be really dangerous. Interesting idea, but I'm still in favor of simply expanding the nets.

PJ said...

I'd say, make them wider, but not much taller. That way, we might see a re-emergence of the smaller, more athletic goalies of yesteryear, rather than the ginormous 'cover as much space as you can' goalies of today.

br. t. said...

Hmmmmm, I'm not sure. Not a bad idea, especially if it does help the return of the smaller more athletic goalies of yesteryears. However, it'll probably still put a premium on tall goalies who butterfly since they'll be able to cover more of the wider net with their looooonger legs when they drop down into position. Leaving the nets unchanged as far as highth will thus give these taller goalies an advantage since their torsos are taller in covering the upper areas of the goal. If you expand the net higher it'll make them think twice about automaticlly dropping down into the butterfly since they have to worry about the higher net. So, I'm still leaning towards an overall expansion of the net.