In the 2003-04 NHL season, teams scored an average of 5.14 goals per game – the lowest mark in the NHL’s expansion era. The result was a tidal change in the league’s rules and practices, all with the intention of increasing scoring in the game. But one thing didn’t change: the size of the net.
The NHL has toyed with the idea of changing the size of their nets before. The solution has come up in some form pretty much every time that NHL scoring has dipped. But this season, with goals down to 5.32 per game from a mark of 5.5 per game at this point last year, the idea is gaining more traction than usual.
Is the NHL Serious About Changing the Net Size?
The NHL is far from sure about its course of action, and obviously, nothing will change mid-year. But we’re hearing about the net size issue from some pretty high-level guys this season. Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock voiced his displeasure with the net size earlier this season, and Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy has also proposed the larger net. Most notably, NHL senior vice-president and director of hockey operations Colin Campbell has acknowledged the debate and hinted that the NHL may finally take the step that it’s avoided for so long.
“Maybe we have to look at bigger nets,” Campbell admitted after a meeting with General Managers. Clearly, nothing’s been decided yet – but, just as clearly, a change in net size is very much on the table.
A Shrinking Target
If goals have stayed the same size for so long, then what is behind the decline in goal scoring? Well, the size of the guy blocking it, for one.
Athletes in all sports are generally bigger and stronger than their counterparts were a century ago, and hockey is no exception. The average goalie in today’s NHL is 6’2”, with the very shortest being 5’10” Jhonas Enroth – and he’s a backup. As recently as the 1990s, the average NHL goalie height hovered around 5’11”. Plenty of the starters from that era would be the shortest starting goalie in the NHL if they were playing now, and that’s a change that’s taken place over just 20 years or so.
The goalies aren’t the only ones getting bigger. Their pads are growing, too. Take a moment to imagine an old-time goalie, or, better yet, google a picture of someone like Ken Drydan or Terry Sawchuk. Compare their pads to what you see now. It’s a massive difference, and giving today’s oversized goalies a suit of armor only increases the challenge of scoring in today’s NHL.
Of course, increasing the size of the goal isn’t the only way to boost scoring the NHL. The league could also look into limiting the size of all that goalie equipment that we discussed above. Goalies have already seen their pads shrink due to rule changes over the past decade, but further steps could be taken. One proposal being floated around would involve requiring tighter sweaters for goalies, which would in turn require them to find smaller pads that fit.
It’s clear that something ought to be done to end the NHL’s scoring drought, but is altering such a fundamental aspect of the game a good idea? It’s not clear yet what the best option is, but NHL fans will be watching their league very closely this coming offseason.