NHL goalies are taking up an unfairly large amount of space in their goal

This makes me envision a “soccer version of basketball” where the soccer-sized goals are replaced with hockey-sized goals, there are no goalies, the midfield line is a 3-point line, shots in front of that line are worth 2 points, and penalties are rewarded with 2 unobstructed shots worth 1 point each. All other rules of soccer still apply normally.

Dryden was complaining about the quality of the game 50 years ago in his book “The Game” …too many fights, not enough emphasis on passing the puck…and his viewing of old films showed it was no golden age either.

Interesting note. Russian coaches told Dryden, one of the tallest NHL goalies and players of his era although now there are a number of goalies taller than him, that their studies showed he was too tall to be a goalie. He replied he could block shots shorter men couldn’t reach. Not enough to compensate for slower movements said the Russians

There’s always Bandy

Nice article. I’m only a very casual hockey fan, but I’ve noticed that a lot of goals do seem to come from scrums where several players crash into each other in front of the goal, and somehow the puck ends up in the net. For me a viewer that’s somehow less satisfying than a shot from long distance, or a goal off a breakaway where the offensive player manuevers around a defenseman, like a fast break in basketball.

Enjoyed that article. The hockey net is a mere six feet wide. If a big guy in pads plays on his knees, three feet of that is torso.

I’d love to hear announcers describe it that way: “Smith passes to Jones, he gets around Roberts now- they’re piling up at the net…and somehow the puck winds up inside the net!!!”

I’m sure I have heard that a few times

I disagree with most of this article (the hockey parts anyway; I don’t watch basketball any more). I watch a lot of hockey. I don’t see the things he sees. There are still lots of long shots. Lots of amazing passing. The majority of goals are not scored in a scrum in the goal mouth. If he watched the Stars/Tampa Bay playoffs he should have noticed some amazing goaltending by a pretty SMALL goalie for the Stars (there are several of them, these days), and several players who were fast enough to get that open ice he wants, with spectacular puck handling and shooting and passing.

And on another note, reading the commenters here I get the idea that many of you think hockey would be a better game if there were more goals scored. I sure don’t agree with that.

I read it a couple of days ago. I laughed out loud at this:

In its first season, fewer than three three-point shots a game were attempted, by both teams, and even fewer than that went in.

I didn’t get that sense from anyone here.

Goalie equipment sizes were cut back during the dead puck era, and the NHL also put a stop to things like raised shoulder pads and voluminous jerseys that functioned as underarm webbing to catch pucks.

Back in Dryden’s day, if you were the runty kid who couldn’t skate playing youth hockey, they made you a goalie. There aren’t anymore 5’6" goalies like Darren Pang, but hockey players at all positions are bigger and yes there are plenty of goalies that are 6’2" or even 6’6". Yes, they can still play athletically and are not lumps like sumo players. Dryden talked about Vasilesky having a “potbelly”, but goalies from Dryden’s era, such as Gerry Cheevers, had actual potbellies because they didn’t really train. Every team has a dedicated goalie coach, something unheard of in Dryden’s day.

Approximately the same number of goals, but less of them being “…and somehow the puck winds up in the net!!!”. If you want hockey to return to full contact don’t do it with a scrum in the crease, go back to hand to hand combat.

A couple of random points:

-Ken Dryden has been writing about the decline of hockey basically since the day he retired as a player.
-Goalie equipment size has been cut back twice since the dead puck era of the early 21st century. I think the only area with room for reduction might be chest protector width. Blockers are actually smaller than they were in Dryden’s day. Ken Dryden looked like he was playing with a dinner tray strapped to his arm.
-Hockey players play with super-light but tough graphite composite sticks that snap and flex like a whip and can get among velocity off their shot. When someone like Alex Ovechkin rips a slap shot with a one-timer, goalie is not going to snatch that out of midair, especially if he doesn’t it see it cleanly. It’s either a)Ovechkin misses the net, b)the puck hits the goalie or c)Ovechkin scores a goal
-One of the reasons why teams in the 70s and 80s scored so much was huge disparities between the top and the bottom teams. The NHL was expanding rapidly, and bad expansion teams plus perennial bottom-feeder franchises meant that the Gretzkys and Lemieuxs could pad their stats and highlight reels against teams with less than 20, 15, or even 10 wins in a season.
-Another reason is, aside from a few D in the Bobby Orr model, there was a huge skill/speed discrepancy between forwards and defenseman. Defensemen were mostly selected to be big, tough and mean. It didn’t matter if you were a lumbering skater if you could lay the lumber on opposing forwards around the nut. Teams with skilled players that could punish teams that had pylons for defensemen.
-One reason why there were less goalmouth scrambles for goals in the old days is that defenseman had carte blanche to cross-check, slash, hook, hold, and even punch or tackle any forward who dared to set up around the net. The ref ethos was to just let ‘em play and would just put their whistle away, especially in the third period. When the NHL finally tried to end the dead puck era by actually having refs enforce the rules, then forwards starting hanging around the front of the net more.
-A lot of Dryden’s complaints have more to do with coaching emphasizing team defense doing things like paying conservatively to avoid giving up breakaways and collapsing around the goalie to force opposing teams to play on the perimeter and have a hard time getting shots through.

but, but…no mention in the article about the TERRIFYING GARTH SNOW ? ! ? ! ? !

And thank-you, bmoak, for just beating me to it in stealing about, oh, 95% of my thunder, here.

And on the Seventh Day there was The Cheater Flap.

That would be nuts, though. Soccer goaltenders stop the great, great majority of shots on net.

Dryden’s article is fascinating, and his reference to basketball is interesting too (and he clearly understands basketball and what the 3-point shot has done to the game.) Basketball has changed its rules in modern times more than any of major sport I can think of, all in an effort to keep the game balanced and entertaining.

The point Dryden is trying to make is that a larger NHL net would do for the NHL what the 3-point shot did for the NBA; open the game up, make it more visually interested, use more of the court/ice, and rebalance the importance of all players. He’s very likely right, but the question is, how many goals is the correct number?

Right now the NHL averages about six goals per game. The record is eight, in 1981-1982. That’s a very large difference; it was in 81-82 that The Great One set the goal record of 92, and a points record of 212 only he has surpassed. Gretzky was still preposterously beyond anyone else, but consider that the #2 man in points, Mike Bossy, picked up 147; as of this year, it’s been 25 years since anyone had that many points or really anywhere near it. I’m not sure if eight goals a game is the right number, and I’m quite sure it’s not 5.14, which it was in 2004 before they made a few small changes to try to increase it. I suspect it’s higher than six, though.

This is a really good point. Actually it’s everything. All major pro sports are MUCH better played now than they used to be, in part because the information is there. They used to look at a guy and say “I think he’s a little slow,” but now they know that he turns to his left in a circle that’s 4.87m in diameter and that in the NHL you’d better cut that to 4.7m or else you’re going to get absolutely murdered every time that guy is out there, because the other team knows he’s just a tiny bit too slow to that side and they’ll exploit it. In a time when there are million dollars decisions and the info is there for the taking and in your database, it will be used.

Now, having said that, the number of shots per game is phenomenally consistent. In the high water scoring year of 81-82 teams took 31.1 SPG; in 2019-2020 it was 31.3, so it’s not that fewer shots are being take now.

I don’t see how it’s necessarily clear that reductions in talent make goal totals go up. The single greatest percentage increase in expansion was the 1967 doubling of the league, from six teams to twelve, which resulted in… no increase at all in goals. Goals only climbed later on, steadily increasing until the high water mark in 1981-1982, with no obvious connection to expansion. The 1979 expansion from 17 to 21 teams when the WHA was absorbed resulted in no increase that year, but then it went up the next year, and then when the league started expanding again in the 90s, goals per game started dropping to levels not seen in decades. (Incidentally, Mario Lemieux’s career and amazing accomplishments don’t line up with expansion effects at all.) One could just as easily argue that less talent results in fewer goals. It’s a theory with just as much support. One does not see whole scads of goals being scored in AHL play, after all.

Good points all @RickJay. Your grip on pro sports is amazing.

FYI … I wasn’t supporting @Keith1’s contention, just explaining what I thought he meant. IANA soccer/futbol expert, but ISTM it’s surprising how effective futbol goalies are vs the obvious size difference between a futbol goal and an ice hockey or lacrosse goal.

ISTM Dryden’s got a point that hockey goal-scoring has gotten constipated with the frequent scrum in front of the crease. The scoring is still happening, but it feels more like random shots slide in somehow after bouncing off 2 oblivious players who’re successfully crowding the net. And getting an “assist” for their efforts. Sheesh!

Contrast that with things like the amazing Al MacInnes’ (Go Blues!) slapshot that goalies could see but could not stop. That was exciting to watch; the current frenzied flailing at one another and the puck a foot outside the goalie’s reach is not.

I’m not persuaded the goalie simply statically filling the goal is the problem, nor that increasing the size of the goal would fix it. Or at least that alone wouldn’t fix it. Maybe they need a larger goal and a larger painted area in front of the goal that’s off limits to any player except the goalie. Anybody else skating into the forbidden zone is a (possibly delayed) penalty. Or something.

But I do agree the game needs some tweaks. It also needs reliable aggressive refereeing. Either the rules are the rules followed by everyone enforced all the time, or the rules should simply be abandoned. Search ‘em for switchblades and zip guns before the game then let the carnage begin. [/sarcasm’]

I didn’t say reductions in talent, I said disparities in talent. Both at a team level (best team against worst team) and at a player level (best players against worst players). There is much more parity in today’s NHL due to the salary cap, improvements in scouting, the phasing out of sub-optimal player types like goons, a wider international talent pool to draw from. Expansion teams are also given a much better pool of talent to build their teams from (see Vegas Golden Knights) Of course, an emphasis on team defensive play is also a great equalizer.

The six-team expansion of 1967 wasn’t really a factor because the NHL placed all the expansion teams in their own division and their own playoff bracket. (The St. Louis Blues did not make multiple Stanley Cup finals appearances because they were the 2nd best team in the league.) The 90s expansions were blunted because the clutch-and-grab era of low scoring hockey was already coming into play.

Outside of just expansion, there were perpetually bad teams in the 70s and 80s, who went years missing the playoffs in an era where almost everyone made the playoffs: The Scouts/Rockies/Devils, the Golden Seals, the 70s Caps, the Detroit Dead Things, the Maple Laffs, the Hartford Failures, the pre-Hawerchuk Jets, the pre-Lemieux Pens. The NHL had divisions of five teams, and it wasn’t uncommon for there to be a 40-60 point difference between first and last. Playing against these teams allowed elite players to pump their scoring totals, even it didn’t lead to big gains in scoring league-wide. While Gretzky was notching multiple 200+ point seasons, some of those bad teams he was playing against couldn’t ice a single skater with more than 70, or even more than 60 points.