An argument for making hockey nets bigger

Ken Dryden—an author, and former NHL goalie and Canadian politician and author—has written an intriguing piece on the ballooning size of goalies, and how it has changed pro hockey.

Basically, as goalies have gotten taller, and their padding bulkier, they take up more space in net; so much, indeed, that there's now only a small chunk of the nearby rink from which you can plausibly score. This has the effect of making the activity on the rest of the ice less relevant. No matter how much the players in those other positions hone their skills, they're less relevant to the game.

How to fix this situation? Putting less padding on goalies isn't very easy, because they are, after all, having pucks shot towards them at ferocious speeds. So maybe one idea is to make the nets slightly bigger, Dryden concludes:

Maybe there is no foreseeable way to make the goalie smaller. Maybe you have to make the net bigger. Don't fight using an old, losing narrative. Change the narrative. New golf-club technology made courses too short, so championship courses got longer. A lighter soccer ball allows players to do tricks with its flight, in some ways making soccer's already huge net even bigger. A player can shoot the ball several feet outside the net's 24-foot width and curl it around the goalie ("bend it like Beckham"). Or he can shoot it several feet above the net's 8-foot-high bar and drop it down ("loop it like Lionel" Messi). A hockey puck is too dense and moves too fast for that. But the size of a hockey net could change, and the change needn't be too much. Maybe only six inches or a foot wider, maybe only six inches higher. And only for those in junior and college leagues and above. Just so a goalie's carefully constructed, seamless wall can't cover everything. So a goalie has to move, has to play off his goal line, has to go up and down. So he has to open up. So the slivers of open space are a little bigger. So he doesn't think he can stop everything, and a shooter can think he might score. So an unscreened shot from farther than 20 feet might go in. So more "off the rush" goals might be scored. So players would want, and need, to spread out. So the action doesn't always funnel and congest. And the rest of the ice surface matters. So all the skills the other players have developed, and will develop, matter. So the game is defined by every player on the ice, not just the goalie. So the dog isn't wagged by the tail.

It's a long and nuanced essay, touching not just on hockey but how transformations of other games—like basketball—illuminate the challenges that face hockey. Go read the whole thing!