• Embiggen your goalies for more cromulent results

    by  • January 11, 2011 • Uncategorized • 21 Comments

    On April 4, 2004, the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers wrapped up their seasons with third place in the historic Southeast Division on the line. Although the game didn’t involve a particularly historic set of teams, it did feature two lasts in NHL history. The 6-6 tie was the last time an NHL game ended in a draw.* It was also the last time that a goalie who stands less than 5’10″ has appeared in an NHL game, as Arturs Irbe played the final game of his NHL career.

    James Mirtle has a fantastic post up about goalie size on his blog at the Globe and Mail and I thought I’d chime in with a little data because the extent to which small goalies are being chased out of the game is surprising to me.

    The first table is a simple table that shows the percentage of shots faced since 1997-98 by goalies of a certain height, in inches. The second table shows the cumulative percentages. As you can see, no goalie under 5’10″ has faced an NHL shot since the lockout. Just to explain the second table a little, 20.9% of shots in 1997-98 were taken against goalies 5’10″ or shorter; just 2.9% were last year.


    The percentage of shots seen by goalies 5’10″ or under will fall this year – there are only three guys 5’10″ who’ve seen at least a shot this year – Jonas Enroth, Richard Bachman and Chris Osgood. Osgood’s closer to the end of the trail than the start. It’s possible that, within a few years, we might get a season in which nobody shorter than 5’11″ sees an NHL shot.

    As I took a look through the data, something struck me. It’s no secret that the league average save percentage has been drifting up over time. This started before 1997-98, but from 1997-98 to last season, the league average save percentage moved up from .9062 to .9113. That doesn’t really sound like much, but it’s as if each team loses 12 goals or so over the course of a season.

    It’s generally been thought that this was simply due to improvements in goaltending technique and in the capacity of teams to take away quality scoring chances as the league became more defensive. James suggested to me that goalies getting bigger might have had something to do with the increase in save percentage.


    As you can see from this table, there’s probably something to that. Generally speaking, that seems to be the case: the taller the goalies, the better the save percentage. You can see the impact of the rule changes and calling so many penalties post-lockout in this data – save percentages for most heights are down. Due to the shifting of shots away from lower save percentage smaller goalies to higher save percentage taller goalies though, the league average in the seven years preceding the lockout matches the league average in the five years since at .9071.

    This is, I think, a pretty fascinating development. James touches on some of the reasons for it in his story but teams are really focusing on bigger goaltenders in the draft and otherwise than they once did. There’s been a bit of a running joke with Brian Burke signing goalies but it’s worth noting that he keeps acquiring large ones – JS Giguere (6’1″), Ben Scrivens (6’2″), Jonas Gustavsson (6’3″) and Jussi Rynnas (6’5″) are all big fellows acquired by Burke since joining the Leafs.

    I think, tactically, that this is a pretty sensible thing to do. I’ve linked to Vic Ferrari’s post before about the reaction time that a goalie has but his comments are worth revisiting, I think:

    At the risk of sounding like a goalie apologist, some shots are just unstoppable. Just are. If the shooter is in close and makes his shot, or if there is a deflection of a point shot from within 20 feet of the goal, the goaltender literally doesn’t have a chance.

    There is a time delay between seeing something and reacting to it, the time it takes to hit a red button whenever a light goes on, for example. The average for a healthy person is .19 seconds. Reacting to sound is a bit quicker, at .16 seconds.

    There’s a great chart there showing where the goalie is at the mercy of a shooter or a bounce. My sense is that shooting has really improved over the years, although I don’t have any empirical evidence to back it up. Composite sticks, better training…it’s a different game than it was in 1970 or 1980 or even 1990. Ultimately, I think that the interesting question is where this leads if the trend continues. I like to think that I’m a pretty traditional guy when it comes to hockey – I’m not wild about cheerleaders in the rink – although I suppose I’d be fine with a fighting ban and a ban on headshots, so I suppose I’m a bit more liberal than I realize. The grand poohbahs of hockey, both at the IIHF and NHL, might want to consider whether or not bigger nets might be something worth considering.

    I certainly accept the argument that more goals does not necessarily mean more entertainment but, at the same time, it’s in the interests of the people who govern the game to engineer a game in which leads can be blown. It’s beyond the confines of this post but one of the tactics that has become a lot more common in recent years is players collapsing towards the net, permitting shots from the outside that have to find their way through a maze of bodies and an (increasingly large) goalie who is trained to be in the position that the puck is most probably going to be in. If the net’s bigger, all of a sudden it becomes less profitable to let guys hammer away from the outside, as it’s harder to take away the net, which opens up space in the offensive zone for talented players to do their thing as forwards have to guard against shots from up high more aggressively.

    It’s all inter-connected and, if this trend continues, bigger nets are a discussion that should be revisited, regardless of the traditionalist view. 4 foot by 6 foot nets don’t make hockey a great game – it’s the peculiar blend of speed, violence, beautiful plays and the potential for sudden reversals of fortune. When developments in training, technique and player selection threaten that blend, it’s in keeping with the game’s tradition to take steps to preserve that blend. It’s worth keeping an eye on.

    *(“Fun” aside for Oilers fans: If Carolina had won that fateful April 4, 2004 game, they would have had the ninth pick of the first round instead of the eighth. It is, at the very least, plausible that they might not have been able to trade up to fourth from the ninth spot. If they hadn’t been been able to trade up to fourth, they might not have obtained Andrew Ladd. Doug MacLean’s Columbus Blue Jackets, who traded the pick, used the picks that they acquired to get Alexandre Picard and Kyle Wharton. MacLean was, of course, fired shortly thereafter. Ladd went on to break Dwayne Roloson as the Oilers finished a goal short of the Stanley Cup. Doug MacLean is a managerial Angel of Death – somehow his trade poisoned the well for two teams.)


    21 Responses to Embiggen your goalies for more cromulent results

    1. Julian
      January 11, 2011 at

      When I was a kid I collected as many hockey cards as possible (for someone living on a different continent anyway), and I used to play all kinds of games with them. I remember checking every player’s hight and weight, and I still remember that McSorley was the biggest guy, at 220 pounds. This was 1990 or 91 or so.

      If the average hight and weight of players has gone up even 10% since the rink and goal weight were standardized (how big was Ariel Joliet? 5’3 and 130lbs? That’s my mom’s size), I think the size of the environment could stand to increase as well.

    2. Travis Dakin
      January 11, 2011 at

      I have always been of the mind that increasing the size of the nets would require putting an asterisk on all future point totals. This however, is a pretty sound arument in favour of a slight increase. Well put.

    3. January 11, 2011 at

      I’m kind of curious about how much accuracy is in… well, whatever source you got your data. I’ve looked at weight/height myself before, and it was nearly impossible to find two sources (that didn’t just copy one another) with the same information. hockeydb says this, cards say something else, wikipedia has something else again, team site is different from nhlpa, whatever. Also, some players seem to have their heights measured with their skates on, if you know what I mean.

      Not saying your source was incorrect, just that I have, in the past, found inconsistency by as much as a few inches. There’s no question that goalies are, generally, getting bigger. The likes of Darren Pang will probably never again grace the NHL’s creases.

      Julian, I can’t imagine 30 NHL rinks all agreeing to a size increase. I believe they’re all fairly standardized, now that the old Chicago Stadium is gone, no? Can’t just embiggen one or two – that’s a pile of money. And the only place to make the size is by cutting out some seats, so revenue from some of the pricier seats will disappear at the same time as owners are renovating. I can’t see that one flying.

    4. Triumph
      January 11, 2011 at

      Agree 100% – unfortunately bigger nets is one of those things that would have to be shoehorned in over the shouts of traditionalists. If we see scoring continuing to decrease, it may happen, especially if there’s a protracted labor struggle in 2012-13.

    5. Jeff J
      January 11, 2011 at

      My beef with bigger nets is changing the infrastructure of the game at every level everywhere just to fix a perceived problem in the NHL.

    6. Quain
      January 11, 2011 at

      I have always been of the mind that increasing the size of the nets would require putting an asterisk on all future point totals. This however, is a pretty sound arument in favour of a slight increase. Well put.

      I understand this sentiment, but really, the eras do a good job themselves of making point totals incomparable year over year.

      Historical Goals per Game — Hopefully this is accurate, but the general trend is reflected.

      The guy who holds many of the points/goals records played much of his career in an era when scoring was over seven goals per game. I’m not saying let’s increase the net size to get back to seven goals per game or so that Crosby has a shot at more of Gretzky’s records, but I think fidelity to a baseline point estimate is well out the window at this point.

      My only real concern would be, like Jeff said, infrastructure, but I can’t imagine it’d be THAT difficult. I’m in favor of widening the ice a bit as well, but that’s something I could see being more difficult in practice. I feel like this should be a negotiation between traditionalists and non-traditionalists… we’ll go back to ties and ditch the trapezoid, but you give us bigger nets and bigger ice. Everybody wins, especially when Luongo retires in a huff.

    7. Scott
      January 11, 2011 at

      Has anyone ever seen any research on composite sticks? Do they really increase the velocity of your shot all that much? If at all? Where’s Street Cents when you need em?

      The increase in the size of the average goaltender notwithstanding, I still think more can be done to reduce the size of goaltending equipment. In nearly every other facet of manufacture the trend has been to less material, lighter material, more efficient design. With advances in foams(you can tell this is my area of expertise, right?) and other technology surely blocking surface can be reduced while still keeping goaltenders safe.

      I’d much rather explore that avenue before we even consider increasing the size of the net.

    8. mclea
      January 11, 2011 at

      Or you could make the goalies smaller by preventing them from leaving the crease to cut down angles.

    9. January 11, 2011 at

      Has anyone ever seen any research on composite sticks? Do they really increase the velocity of your shot all that much? If at all? Where’s Street Cents when you need em?

      It sure *looks* like they do. Every time I see Ovechkin wire one of those shots from just over the blue line past the goal I think, “that would never have happened without a composite.” Then again, my Platonist tendencies make me doubt anything I see, so…

    10. Tyler Dellow
      January 11, 2011 at

      I was curious about this, found a Wiki page called “Hockey Stick Controversy” and thought I was home free. Nope.

    11. Quain
      January 11, 2011 at

      I’d guess they add velocity to the shot, but the gain there is offset by all the times Stoll tries to take a one-timer and breaks his stick.

    12. Scott
      January 11, 2011 at

      This only looks at slap shots, but it’s all I could find for now.

      “Equally clear as the need for these technical adjustments is the extant literature’s recurring theme that player technique and strength are the most important variables influencing slap shot velocity. Across studies of players from youths to professionals and of sticks from wood to composite, stiff to flexible, the preeminence of player influence on achieved slap shot speeds rings consistently true and thus deserves to be the primary focus of performance-driven hockey coaches and players alike.

      That said, this review has uncovered several findings relating to hockey sticks themselves. First, current research does not clearly demonstrate any advantage for one particular stick composition (wood, aluminum, or composite) over others. Instead, scholarly findings point to stick flexibility as the key mechanical consideration in stick selection. Several investigations attest to the mechanical benefits—most notably in stick deflection and strain energy storage—achieved with highly flexible sticks.”


    13. Julian
      January 12, 2011 at

      Yeah, the time to expand the standard rink size (I would have gone for another 2-3 feet on either side only, from 85ft wide to 90 or so, maybe 92) was in the early 90s, before expansion and the majority of cities got new rinks. Now, it’ll be another generation before you can try again.

      I gotta say though, I play on an intnl sized rink, and I love the extra space and time. Probably because I’m not exactly fleet of foot, and the extra space gives me another quarter second to check my options before blindly throwing it away up the slot.

      I would have sworn that composites give you more speed and a quicker release than wood sticks. I’ve certainly noticed a difference, but maybe it’s just my technique has improved or I’m actually paying attention to what flex is best for me.

    14. Julian
      January 12, 2011 at

      All that said, the all star game fastest shot competition hasn’t been seeing records broken over the last decade has it? Neither has the fastest skater competition, which I would have thought would have occurred given the advances in skate weight and stiffness over the last 15 years or so.

    15. January 12, 2011 at

      All that said, the all star game fastest shot competition hasn’t been seeing records broken over the last decade has it?

      Last year, Chara reset the official record at something like 107.1 or 107.3, while Souray unofficially set the bar at 107.9. So long, Al Iafrate.

    16. Scott
      January 12, 2011 at

      Considering Chara’s 6’9 and Souray’s 6’4 while Iafrate’s slight shorter at 6’3, these new records may simply be attributable to stick length and not construction.

      “After taking the top of each player’s backswing as a starting point, Robinson assessed the speed with which each player met the puck. Weber and Tootoo had similar mechanics in their shots, with their sticks perpendicular and their left arms parallel to the ice at the top of the top of their swing, and each took about 0.2 seconds to get down to the puck.

      The difference?

      “One of them is 5-foot-8, and the other one’s 6-foot-4,” Robinson said. “One of them is swinging a bigger stick, so the angular velocity is much faster.”


    17. January 13, 2011 at

      Julian, or maybe your technique just better-matches a compo stick than otherwise. The narrative isn’t that it makes the best guys miles faster, but it raises speeds for people who’d be otherwise less-effective. It smells of “of course they suck, it’s the first game back from a road trip” and “THAT was an important goal, he sure knows how to score a game winner” and such, but who knows.

    18. Julian
      January 13, 2011 at


      This site has the NHL skills comp records since 1997, composite sticks came into use in 2001 or 02…. there’s no noticeable uptick in shot velocity, either by team average or individual players since then.

    19. January 13, 2011 at

      @Scott: Good call on the size issue — hadn’t thought of that, but it makes obvious sense, and that was a fun little article to read, given that that’s my filed of study. I guess it comes down to how much more energy can be stored in the flex of the composite stick versus wood, and whether the motion of a slapshot really allows that to begin with (obviously a wrister does). One of my profs has done some studies on composite sticks; I’ll ask him.

    20. Scott
      January 13, 2011 at

      @Doogie2K: Cool, looking forward to it.

      Wait, is your prof the Easton equivalent of this Dr.? http://img820.imageshack.us/img820/4382/picture1ek.png

    21. beingbobbyorr
      January 15, 2011 at

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