Through the Wickets: Will Shorter Goalie Pads Lead to More Scoring?

The NHL and NHLPA came to an agreement to use shorter goalie pads starting in the 2013-2014 season, but will it increase scoring as a whole for the league?

As you can see in the photo, Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins is a man who is used to having a lot of pad covering his 5-hole.  In this picture he even employs a common technique used by many of today’s elite tendys: the pad overlap.  This technique uses high thigh rises (above-the-knee pad lengths) to eliminate any 5-hole openings a shooter may see, regardless of how tightly the goaltender is squeezing his knees together in the butterfly.  This is the primary reason the 5-hole has been a source of goalie pads experimentation over the past decade, and why it is still under the microscope today.  However, there are a few other common denominators in the equation.


Pad Restrictions and Their Purpose

If you look back at the history of the NHL you will see a lot of equipment changes, mostly in the past 2 decades (just take a look at this Martin Brodeur rookie card below and compare it to today’s netminders).  It has been over that time that goalie pads have expanded to ginormous proportions, and have been regulated back into reality for the good of the game.Martin Brodeur hockey card

The original restrictions covered almost all of the tendy’s equipment in order to reduce the size of the goalie in the net, in turn increasing scoring (supposedly).  We saw what happened when these were implemented in the early 2000s: goalies got more precise, quicker, and were able to negate most of the restriction’s primary purposes.

Athletes that play the position also got a little smarter with their pad requirements.  They realized that they could use the above-the-knee measurements to their advantage, covering their 5-hole constantly, and allowing for more dynamic saves in every situation.  This brings us to our newest restrictions.  The latest rule change set to eliminate the pad overlap problem by reducing the above-the-knee pad length from 55% to 45% of the knee to pelvis measurements.  Will this 10% make a difference in the average game scores next season?


Ace in the 5-Hole

I think we will be on the lookout for more restrictions on goalie pads in the future, as this latest one is open to interpretation.  Since it is a relative decrease, and each individual goaltender has always been able to select their personal pad preference, I don’t think this change will have much affect on their play as a whole (i.e. across the league).

I do think that some goaltenders (mainly those with very high thigh rises, +2 and higher such as Fleury) will find these new restrictions a bit much at first, but over time will adjust their game accordingly.  This means shoot early and often against shorter goaltenders, and try and snipe corners on the big guys (nothing new there).  Overall this 10% pad decrease will open up the wickets for quality deflections and quick snipes, but if history is any indication, it won’t last long.

As shown in this video (courtesy of, many of the league’s elite are already becoming comfortable in their new goalie pads, and aren’t looking back.  It has been said that they do look and feel like a lot less pad, but only those with very wide butterflies such as Marc-Andre Fleury will be most affected.  Overall, I think this is a step in the right direction for the game, but only time will tell.  The NHL needs to make another round of cuts to the equipment, which I feel should be its last.


When is Enough, Enough?

The line between increasing scoring and goaltender safety is blurring quickly, and knowing that more restrictions are coming is unsettling for any goalie.  Thigh guards have already been the culprit of a cut, and currently you must wear thigh guards that contour your knee and are worn solely on the knee itself.  This can leave certain areas unprotected, which will need to be addressed in the near future.

At the end of the day regardless of what limits to goalie pads are in place, one fact remains: NHL goalies are extremely good athletes.  No matter how you slice the cake, history has shown that whatever the task may be, a goalie is up to the challenge.  So will this last round of rules finally increase the scoring around the league, I don’t think so.  Will it cause some interesting scenarios behind the bench, yes.  Look for the trend of large goalies around the league to continue as they should be least affected by the new pad restrictions, and look for more focus on off ice flexibility to become prominent in every goalie’s game.

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5 thoughts on “Through the Wickets: Will Shorter Goalie Pads Lead to More Scoring?”

  1. I’m actually getting new pads so we’ll see I guess. I’m used to using pads that have no thigh rise and have played probably as long as you have. IDK what my thigh rise is supposed to be for my height but it’s nothing too outrageous.

    I know I’m not the first person to say that thigh rise probably doesn’t make a huge difference though. There’s plenty of other goalies who have said the same thing I did, it comes down to the individual more than the specifications of the equipment imo. Goalies opening up holes is more about technique than the equipment itself, I know when I slide now with no thigh rise I’m pretty good about not opening the five hole or any holes for that matter. In all honesty it’s more of a hindrance if you get anything larger than a 2′ thigh rise on most leg pads. Obviously we’re talking NHL goaltenders though and they are a bit more athletic and can deal with the absurdly large thigh rises, but I’m not entirely convinced that shortening those thigh rises is going to lead to any type of long term scoring increase. They decreased pad width after the first lockout and even changed the rules to allow less hooking/holding etc. Scoring eventually reverted back to late 90’s numbers. I try not to be the guy who makes the “slippery slope” argument but sometimes I wonder if they’re gonna make goalies wear lead tape on their pads to slow them down a bit or do something equally ridiculous.

    I don’t think wide ice would make that much of a difference, there are plenty of college teams that trap successfully on larger ice. I just think that the defensive systems that teams employ are the biggest culprit by far (shot blocking emphasis) and it’s not something a quick rule change is going to fix.

    • Kris,

      I agree with everything you’ve stated. The thigh rise question is that for each individual and it does depend on each goaltender’s athletic ability. Once you learn how to have fluid movements with more pad above-the-knee it does help, but it isn’t a do or die scenario.

      As long as your angles and depth are on point, and you stay focused on the puck, the pads (whatever they may be) work for you. The decrease we saw in the early 2000s actually made everyone quicker and more nimble (something that I loved when I had to switch to pro spec)which resulted in a lot more pucks stopped (and some awesome saves we’ve got to witness too). As far as lead weights in pads goes, I hope we never have to see that, and I feel the same way about bigger nets. Both are possible future moves the league could make if they really wanted the higher scores, but as we have both previously stated, it won’t last long because the goalies will find a way to keep that puck out of the net. It is what we do.

  2. Anyone who actually plays goalie can tell you that the thigh rise only does so much and you still need to have your legs tight together in order to stop five hole shots. The increased size above the thigh doesn’t do that much really.

    The reason for less scoring is the defensive systems that focus on shot blocking and packing it in in front of the net. Not to mention a lot more teams seem to play their versions of the trap and stack the blue line so that it’s difficult to gain clean entrance into the zone. These factors have more to do with lack of scoring than goalie equipment (which they constantly decrease the size of only for nothing to change).

    • Kris,

      While I agree that there are many reasons that contribute to the lack of scoring in the NHL today, I think you may be underestimating the thigh rise. I have played goal for over 15 years at many different levels, and have even been a CODP, camp, and private instructor as well. Indeed you must still squeeze your thighs to ensure proper butterfly execution, but having more pad above the knee and a higher knee stack creates a much easier blocking face in almost all situations.

      You no longer have to worry about your lateral movements exposing large holes for deflections, rebounds, and one timers during play so you can stay more composed, and focus on your angles and depth which allows for even fewer holes to emerge.

      I do think that most of the tenders in the NHL today are such great athletes that no matter what the league decides to do they will adapt. If they were to switch to international ice sizing however, I believe the problem you addressed may actually lead to more scoring because of the extra open ice and odd man rushes it would create. This theory is not supported by KHL stats which show almost the same goals per game average as the NHL.

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