Bigger nets, bigger scores
Post-to-post coverage threatened
AL STRACHAN -- Toronto Sun
|Goalies such as Marty Turco will have a lot more room to cover in the butterfly if the NHL goes to a larger net. (Edmonton Sun File/Darryl Dyck)
The future has been on display at the Ricoh Coliseum for the last few days -- and not just in the form of players.
Granted, the rookies are there for a four-team tournament, but perhaps more importantly, the games are being played using the wider net that is almost certainly destined to come to the National Hockey League.
Last year, the tiny segment of the NHL hierarchy that actually does something useful -- the hockey operations department -- instituted a dramatic series of rule changes that improved the game tremendously.
The goalies were forced to stay where they belong -- near the net -- and the restraining fouls were punished. There were other moves, including the removal of the red line as a factor in offside calls. To the surprise of many general managers, that too had a significant positive impact.
But really, the moves didn't go far enough. League-wide scoring increased, which was the whole purpose of the exercise, but closer examination showed this to be the result of an explosion in power-play scoring.
At even strength, the teams were no more potent than they had been in previous seasons.
So, if you believe that after a full season, the players finally have realized that the crackdown is here to stay, then you also have to believe that there will be fewer power plays. And therefore, the scoring drought will once again be a problem.
Anticipating this development, the league is evaluating further changes that will improve the offensive aspect of the game. That is why the experiment with the larger nets is under way. They are eight inches wider than the standard six feet, and are six inches higher. That puts them at 4-feet-..
That extra six square feet should provide the scoring increase that most fans covet. But if the league decides to make these nets a part of the regular season, there will be an inevitable backlash from the purists. Although roughly 80% of the fans approved of last year's rule changes, there were still some vocal critics.
And to change the rules is one thing. To change the structure of the game is another.
The purists will say that the game should not be revamped so drastically. They will say that records will be skewed -- for obvious reasons -- and they will not go quietly into that good night.
But the game needs the larger nets, and it won't be as bad as the purists suspect.
For one thing, when you walk into the rink and look at these nets, they don't appear to be appreciably larger. It's not as if you're looking at a soccer net. You have to study the frames to realize that they are larger than their predecessors.
But they will make a major difference in the game because of that extra eight inches in width. The extra height will have some impact, but the extra width is a much bigger factor.
It means that goalies no longer will be able to flop down into a butterfly position and cover the entire lower quarter of the net without exposing the five-hole.
Goalies have been getting taller and taller over the years and, like players at other positions, have become more proficient. But they've also learned how to make themselves more efficient with the minimum of work.
If they drop down, they don't need to see the puck or make any further moves. They have already forced the player to shoot high, but not too high. That is not easy if you are on the edge of the crease.
But with the wider nets, goalies will be forced to move. If they merely drop down and expose those extra inches inside the post, the shooters will soon learn to take advantage.
Goalies will have to move to the puck, and once they move to one post, they will create a larger opening at the other post which the accurate shooters will exploit.
The larger nets will demand more from goalies but reward skilled offensive players.
And that is what fans want.