Are larger nets wide off the mark?

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:44 AM ET

The question was posed and Paul Maurice's face mirrored mock surprise and disbelief.

The Maple Leafs coach had just been asked to comment on the fact that Colin Campbell, the NHL vice-president in charge of shaking the tree to see what falls out, has suggested that the issue of larger nets may once again be up for discussion.

"You mean they weren't (larger) last night?" said Maurice, his face breaking into a grin, perhaps for the first time in the 14 hours since his team was waxed 7-3 by the lowly Florida Panthers.

"Don't know whether you know, but we've actually been trying them out the last two games. We've just got to get a better handle on which end they start at."

If you're a Leafs fan, or a Leafs coach, or a Leafs goalie or if you're Hal Gill, it just seems like the nets are 10 feet wide these days. Truth is, if the Leafs were the benchmark, then nobody would be grousing about the perceived offensive pullback this year in the NHL. One league-wide study, which appeared in the Sunday edition of The New York Times, says that regulation-time goal production, which was at 5.94 goals per 60 minutes of regulation time last season, is about a third of a goal less than that now.

Despite those league figures, Leafs games have produced 6.63 goals per game of regulation time this year, which is one full goal above the league average but still well off the 7.6 goals per game in the Gretzky era of the 1980s.

Maybe that's the reason Toronto goalie Andrew Raycroft disputes the need for bigger nets and higher-scoring games. That and the fact that, well, he's a goalie.

"Obviously I'm not too crazy about it," said Raycroft. "There are a lot of goals being scored. Every night there's a 7-2 game."

Maybe not every night, but on Tuesday, when the Leafs got lit up by Florida, there were 85 goals scored in 11 games, an average of 7.73 per game, a number that would seem to tell us that goals are not always hard to come by. All but one of those goals was scored in regulation time.

"How many more goals do we need?" Raycroft asked. "If 85 goals in one night aren't putting people in the stands, then it's not the goal-scoring. A 15-12 game? It almost goes the other way and gets a little ridiculous.

"I would probably be more for it and more understanding if it was 2-1 every night the way it was pre-lockout. But it's just not like that any more. It's a hard game and there are a lot of goals being scored.

"Even if it's a 3-2, 2-1 game, it's not the same 3-2 game it was with 15 shots per team and no power plays. There are a lot of chances. If it's a 2-1 game now, there's probably a lot of posts and a lot of missed chances and a lot of good saves.

"I don't see (bigger nets) being the solution to putting butts in the seats."

This is probably one issue where goaltenders will simply be isolated voices in the wilderness. They are, after all, greatly outnumbered by guys like Darcy Tucker.

"I'm all for it," said Tucker with a laugh. "I'm sure you're going to have debates both ways but, for me, I'd love to see bigger nets. Anything that gives me a chance to score more goals. Now, I'm sure our goalies feel a bit differently."

Then of course, there is the beleaguered Hal Gill, who has done a quiet, workmanlike job on the blue line, killing penalties and blocking shots, contributing in an unspectacular way until he became a deer in the headlights against the Panthers, vilified for a ghastly pair of giveaways, one in the final minute of the first period and the other in the first minute of the second, allowing Florida to break open a close game.

Naturally enough, Gill, whose two goals so far this year put him well ahead of pace to surpass his career high of four, had other things beside larger nets on his mind yesterday.

"I don't really care," he said. "They've changed enough rules the past few years trying to run me out of the game."

Whatever side of the debate you're on, one thing is sure: the nets won't grow overnight. It will take a lot of thought and even more talk and more than a few "bored of governors" meetings for that to happen. And if it does happen, the nets will be the same size at both ends, as opposed to Maurice's fantasy. Meanwhile, he has more important things on his mind.

"I love this game," the Leafs coach said, "and I don't have a lot of solutions to some of the perceived problems. I think that if you have a problem, then you should have a solution. And I don't really have a lot of problems."

As far as he knows.


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