What if the NHL made hockey nets bigger and no one noticed?

I am a hockey fanatic. For most of you reading this, saying that is akin to exclaiming “water is wet” or “night is dark”. But nonetheless, it had to be said. If there’s a game on TV, odds are high I’m watching a good chunk of it. It doesn’t matter if it’s NCAA or pros, it’s quickly added to the many sports events I’m paying attention as I flip networks watching multiple games at once.

It was not uncommon in the Worcester Sharks days for me to be watching/listening to three or four hockey games at the same time when the WorSharks were on the road. Yesterday I watched my first National Women’s Hockey League game on NESN between the Boston Pride and the New York Riveters. It was a real good game, and I need to check back on the NWHL to catch more of that.

My one big issue with pro hockey is there just isn’t enough goals being scored. Over the last twenty NHL seasons scoring is down over a full goal per game. The scoring bump that was seen after the 2004-05 lost lockout season is long gone. With the size and skill of goaltenders continually rising finding open spots to shoot the puck into the net is getting harder to find. Shrinking the size of a goalie’s equipment will help a small bit, but for guys like Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price it won’t matter one bit. Highly skilled goaltenders are simply stopping too many shots taken against them.

Take a look at this chart. It lists the last five NHL seasons and includes the current quarter season they’ve played so far just for comparison. It’s just a simple save percentage list, and the numbers are pretty similar.

15-16 Price 0.933
14-15 Schneider 0.925
13-14 Khudobin 0.926
12-13 Lundqvist 0.926
11-12 Quick 0.929
10-11 Varlamov 0.924

There is one bit of information missing from that chart, but it’s the same for all of them. They all finished fifth in their respective seasons in save percentage. That means each season there were four goalies better than the ones listed. You should also note none of the names repeat.

Now you could claim I’m cherry picking my information to prove my case, but no matter how you look at it the evidence shows that there are a lot of different goaltenders making saves on a high percentage of shots against them. Using the same timeframe my chart covers there are 30 slots that would comprise a combined “top five” list, and there would be 22 different goaltenders filling those slots. That means if they were spread out evenly over the entire NHL nearly three out of four NHL teams would have had one top five save percentage goaltender since 2010.

The easiest solution is one that traditionalists will have huge issues with: make the nets bigger. It’s something I’ve been wanting to happen for a significant amount of time, and it’s an idea that’s starting to gain some traction. To be honest, it’s long overdue. Now I’m not talking about making them the size of soccer goals, I’m talking about making them just a tiny bit bigger.

Right now a hockey goal is six feet by four feet high, for 24 square feet. By moving each dimension out just a single inch to six feet, two inches by four feet, one inch you add 1.18 square feet for shooters to aim at. That’s enough extra space so now every shot from the front of the net that currently hits the posts will have a far greater chance to go into the net, plus now with the net wider more shots have a chance to carom off the posts and into the net. The best part of it is that visually no one will notice the net is a little bigger. It will look like the exact same net used now, and I’m willing to bet goaltenders won’t notice the bigger net if you don’t tell them it’s bigger.

That’s right, they won’t notice.

Proving they won’t notice is easier than you think. Simply don’t tell them. Set up a rink with a current regulation net on one end and the new, bigger net at the other. Play a scrimmage and watch just the goaltenders. Then afterward tell them that one net was bigger, and ask them which one it was. You could further test them and make both nets bigger and then tell them one is an older, smaller net and pick that one out. Then put them back on a rink with the current sized nets and ask which one is the new, bigger net. After you gather that data I’m positive you’ll find that goalies can’t tell them apart.

If fans won’t be able to tell, and goalies won’t be able to tell, what’s the big deal about making the nets just that tiny bit bigger to give shooters a little bit of an advantage?

The excuse that other levels of hockey will have to follow suit is hogwash. If the NHL makes their nets bigger than the AHL and ECHL should do so also, but the rest of the leagues don’t have to. It’s not like there isn’t ample evidence of amateur sports having different field and equipment dimensions from professional sports.

There certainly is no reason why the NHL doesn’t test bigger nets in the off season before training camps start. Just get a few guys together, a sheet of ice, add a couple of the bigger nets and let them have at it. Trust me, it won’t be the end of the world. I mean, it’s not like we’re painting the posts blue and putting ads on them, right?

Oh, ummm…

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