Saturday, October 19, 2013

Fix the NHL: We Want Goals

Bigger Nets

Just look at how sad he is
The NHL should not strive to make goalies this sad.

Brendan: I am reluctant to believe that scoring and entertainment value/quality are directly related. The NFL is doing a fantastic job of trying to prove me wrong, but this is a subject for a larger debate. I think this is the one thing that you and I will never, ever agree on no matter what hard evidence one of us (likely you) presents to the other (likely me).

Patrick: I'm not as hard-line points-oriented as you think. I loved high scoring baseball games until I learned the game and then wanted to see well-organized offenses do what they're built to do rather than see a pitcher implode. I still like high-scoring lacrosse games more than the NCAA, whose rule changes have all more or less backfired. 8-6 is great in lacrosse, frustrating in baseball, and downright impossible in hockey. I think the challenge is to make it feel like there's a possibility of a scoring run. I watch hockey and go ballistic wondering why people aren't shooting the puck in traffic like they do in lacrosse. I go into hockey games thinking the final might be 2-1 if we're lucky, with one of those goals being a stupid poke in from a tussle around the crease. BORING. I want to see slapshots and wrist flicks in traffic because those are COOL. Fast breaks are the best. I don't know enough of the rules of hockey to say exactly what should be changed, but I know it's not bigger nets. Bigger nets makes it unrelatable! Either little league hockey programs are going to A) buy new nets, making an already expensive sport more expensive, or B) play on regular-sized nets and then one day magically get more space to shoot at. The game is supposed to get harder as people get better, and players in the NHL should say "that goes in in college," not vice versa. Also, bigger nets would change gameplay around the crease and behind the goal. My solution is something that we cover later.

Is this easily instituted at lower levels? No, because there is no "2OT shutout epidemic" in hockey at all levels. Changing this at the NHL level is an attempt to alter an NHL issue, if you want to call it that, and I err on the side of the pro league being a model of the sport in its purest form - not a separate sport with problems unrelated to lower leagues. Until little Johnny Canada stops scoring goals in middle school, there isn't a problem with the sport itself. Oversized nets are feasible for lower leagues but would likely not be instituted, thereby making the game different at lower levels.


Smaller Goalie Equipment

I don't even know if these are large pads or small pads

Brendan: Now this is a much better solution than bigger nets for improved offense. Goalie equipment is getting borderline ridiculous, something that Martin Brodeur (New Jersey Devils goalie) has mentioned numerous times recently and that fact isn’t coloring my opinion of this one bit, how dare you suggest such a thing! Shrinking their pads would also increase the value of a good goaltender, which one could argue is a market inefficiency rampant throughout the NHL at the moment. The value of goaltenders in hockey right now is actually very reminiscent of running backs and kickers in football and relief pitchers in baseball. By and large, it seems like its not due to the role they play on the team but because of how often they oscillate in and out of the roster and how overvalued they are given their largely inconsistent level of performance. There are very, very few great goaltenders and if you don’t have one, you’re basically like everyone else unless he’s truly horrible (see: Fleury, Marc-Andre). Another recent trend in the NHL has been to platoon goaltenders, or at the least rotate them in and out with more frequency than in the past few decades, much like running backs in the NFL. An interesting parallel that I hadn’t really noticed until I thought about this suggestion, but worth noting because making goaltender equipment smaller would likely expose some of the replacement level talent at an earlier stage and probably lead to a more efficient market for goaltending, at least in theory.

Patrick: Do it. It's interesting that a quality goaltender improves a team like a QB, but that they're treated like relief pitchers and RBs. Either way, make the pads smaller. Most goalies seem to be for this, actually. The Capitals goalie just voiced his opinion recently as well. Goalies wear less as they get older in lacrosse, they should do the same in hockey. Goalies should make pad decisions based on whether they play butterfly or upright and each should carry advantages and disadvantages so that there's a stylistic and value-based choice to be made. For instance, if I'm on a team that somehow plays defense in such a way that forces shots high, I would want an upright goalkeeper. Anything is better than the current "is there a net back there?" method of goaltending.

Is this easily instituted at lower levels? Yes, with the exception of the pad differences between butterfly and upright, but I'm willing to let that be an NHL quirk. Or maybe I'm underestimating the willingness of hockey parents to buy a new set of pads when little Johnny Russia decides to learn butterfly this season. Either way, the game should be harder at higher levels, and that includes for the goalies.


Observational Studies co-founders Brendan Porto and Patrick Dougherty are debating the merits of the most popular ideas proposed to improve the NHL. The rules for improvements are laid out here. Send us your own ideas to fix the NHL and we'll share our commentary on a new post.

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