Bigger nets, smaller pads? GMs will discuss

TORONTO -- Bigger nets?

Well, probably not.

That was the old threat from nearly a decade ago when the NHL and its 30 GMs attempted to find ways to wrestle the league out of the dead puck era.

The bigger-net threat went hand in hand with the goalie equipment conversation. As in, if goalies didn’t accept to trim down coming out of the 2005 lockout, bigger nets were a possibility.

Guess what’s back on the agenda when the NHL’s 30 GMs gather here Wednesday? Once again, the GMs and league hockey operations staff will discuss how they can reduce the size of goalie equipment, specifically the size of the blocking area of goalie equipment, according to sources.

As part of the conversation, it wouldn’t surprise me if a GM brought up the old threat of bigger nets. But the real aim of this topic Wednesday is to once again look at reducing the height of goalie pads.

Feel like Groundhog Day?

The league, the GMs and the NHL Players’ Association have been down this road before, that’s for sure. Changes to reduce the size of goalie equipment were put into effect in 2005-06, 2008-09 and 2010-11 -- the most important change of all coming seven years ago, implementing a policy where all goalie equipment goes through an NHL clearing house, via former NHL goalie Kay Whitmore, before getting on NHL ice with netminders to make sure it’s within the parameters of the rules. And Whitmore has worked tirelessly with the league’s goalies to make this happen.

But the sense among some GMs is that the goalie pads are still too big on some goalies.

Sharks GM Doug Wilson, for example, has felt for more than a year that because of the goalie equipment, players are consistently shooting high and coaches are directing their troops to crash the net looking for rebounds, believing it’s the best way to score.

And in Wilson’s mind, that has put goalies at risk of injury.

That’s an interesting way of looking at it because one of the reasons reducing goalie equipment has been such a tug of war with the NHLPA is that the goalie fraternity has always been very reluctant to minimize the equipment for fear of injury.

And given that the NHLPA has the hammer on these matters (via the competition committee), it would still require further convincing to shorten pads a few more inches.

Then again, if you ask the 640-odd skaters who have almost nothing to shoot at whether they want smaller goalie pads, you know what their answer is: likely different than that of the 60-odd goalies.

But at the end of the day, the NHLPA’s first inclination on this matter has always been to listen to the concerns of its goalies who fear injury.

Bigger nets, then? You know the goalies don’t want to hear that. The NHL actually developed models of bigger nets a decade ago, which was enough to scare goalies at the time to sign off on the some of the equipment changes instituted for 2005-06.

But now some GMs want more.

The sense is that goal scoring, or specifically goal-scoring chances, are down. Fact is, at least through Sunday night’s games (420 games in total), the NHL was on par with the average it had through the same number of games over the past three seasons.

Goals per game

Through 420 games of each season.

It’s going to be a packed day when the GMs gather from 10 a.m. ET to about 5 p.m. ET at the NHL’s Toronto office near Air Canada Centre. Some of the other planned discussion points:

• For starters, the NHL will have the GMs split into breakout groups that will focus on different items. For example, one group will talk about interference on the forecheck, another group will talk about diving/embellishment, etc. The groups will then report back to the main group for general discussion later in the day. The breakout groups are an annual practice at the GMs meetings, although usually they’ve got three days to work with.

• There will be discussion about the merits of a coach’s challenge for video review of goals. This was brought up a couple of years ago by Dale Tallon but got very little traction with GMs at the time. Now, it appears there is more appetite for this conversation. Part of the conversation as well could be simply to give the war room in Toronto a bigger scope in terms of what it can review on goals. Right now, it’s essentially just whether the puck was in or not and on kicking plays. But if the GMs want, they can widen the war room’s scope to include goalie interference plays on controversial goals, etc. Should be an interesting discussion.

• It’s not clear whether it’s actually on the agenda or not, but you can expect at some point GMs might try to bring up the standard of officiating. The level of angst among GMs has been quite high with what they’ve seen called on the ice this season, the frustration mostly on the apparent inconsistencies.

• No surprise that player safety will be brought up, given the scary injury to Erik Karlsson, which sparked the talk of cut-resistant socks, as well as the Marc Staal injury, which renewed the debate on visors. The GMs will beat this up again. Hybrid icing -- which went through a trial in the AHL during the lockout -- will also be discussed.

• The NHL Players’ Association has been invited to take part in some part of the GMs’ meeting Wednesday. Mathieu Schneider, the special assistant to executive director Don Fehr, and divisional player rep Rob Zamuner will take part when the larger group of GMs discusses player safety issues (visors, socks) and for any on-ice rule change and/or equipment conversation. It’s a smart move by the NHL to include the NHLPA here because any resolution by the GMs on these matters would need union approval via the competition committee, so might as well have the NHLPA in on these matters from the ground up.

• Deputy commissioner Bill Daly will have a wide-ranging presentation to the GMs: reports on a number of items, such as the new CBA, Olympic talks, draft lottery and the rookie orientation program.

And, of course, getting 30 GMs in one city for 24 hours or so will spark more trade talk. Several GMs I’ve spoken with over the past few days said they were looking forward to the face-to-face time -- albeit a short window -- to advance conversations they had already begun with other teams.

The trade deadline is just more than two weeks away, folks.