Should the NHL adopt bigger nets?

As usual, whenever changes are discussed to the NHL landscape, increasing scoring is on the agenda. One thing that refuses to die is the idea of bigger nets.

Whenever the NHL discusses ways to increase scoring in hockey, they come up with a couple ideas that are just inherently bad. One of these ideas is to alter the size of the nets, since goalies are bigger now and it's harder to score.

A few years ago this idea was brought up, and they wanted to change the shape of the net too, which led to the idea of this ridiculous monstrosity:


The NHL no longer wants to do something so foolish as that. The idea being talked about is expanding the width of the net by a few inches. Some people say two inches, some say by more (Rangers fans say 8 inches, but they always say that).

On the surface, I can see how people who don't understand the goaltending position could see this as no big deal. Goaltenders are getting bigger, make the nets slightly bigger, scoring goes back up. However the increase in goalie size in the last generation of netminders isn't the only thing effecting goal totals.

The way I see it, you've got three major contributors to lower scoring:

  1. Goaltenders are bigger now than ever.
  2. Goaltenders are more talented now than ever.
  3. Defensive systems are better now than ever.

Where would you rank those factors in terms of importance? Personally, watching a ridiculous amount of hockey, I would rank the size of goaltenders as the least important of the three. However it's the one thing that sticks out as easily fixable.

The big problem that hockey faces as far as viewership goes isn't about goaltenders making saves.

But do bigger nets actually fix the problem? Big goalies aren't dominating right now simply because they're big, although it can lead to som frustrating games. Chris Boyle pointed out today that Ben Bishop (6'7") didn't make the NHL consistently until he was 26 years old, and he has a below league average save percentage in his career. Would a bigger net disproportionally hurt his numbers more than a goaltender like Carey Price, who's both big and incredibly talented?

It's an interesting question, and the answer is hard to know, but considering Price relies on skill, positioning, fundamentals and crazy footwork, while Bishop relies on his size and pucks sometimes hitting him, it seems to me that you're weighting the field even more towards big goalies who are short on talent.

How is a goaltender like 5'11" Jaroslav Halak going to adjust to bigger nets? He's quick, and far superior to Ben Bishop, but now he has to move even further to make saves.

Another thing to consider is that you're changing everything a generation of goaltenders have learned about positioning in the course of their lifelong training. All of a sudden the angles that they've worked on to cut shooters off leaves a nice juicy spot to shoot at.

What you're essentially doing in creating bigger nets is punishing a skill. It's very similar to the trapezoid rule. You're removing a skill from the the game as a cheap, gimmicky way to attempt to increase scoring. And sure, for a short amount of time, it might work. Then you have factor #3 to account for.

Defensive systems are probably the largest reason why there are fewer goals now than there were before. Coaches are pretty smart when it comes to hockey, and they adjust pretty quickly. The boost to scoring following the rule changes from the 2004-05 NHL lockout only lasted a couple years, then they evened out.

The big problem that hockey faces as far as viewership goes isn't about goaltenders making saves. No hockey fan minds watching a high tempo game that ends 2-1 because both goalies were flat out brilliant, what they hate is watching a game that ends 2-1 because there were no scoring chances.

What's the first thing that's going to happen in the NHL if you increase the vulnerability of goaltenders? Teams will look to protect their goaltenders at all costs. If you expand the area where you're likely to score from, teams will begin searching for ways to make it tougher to shoot from those areas.

This balancing act has always happened throughout NHL history, and making bigger nets is not going to stop it. It's a band aid on an issue that has little to do with goaltenders. A goaltender doesn't make a game boring. The effect they have have on the flow of a game is extraordinarily small.

If you don't want the Ben Bishops and Anders Lindbacks of the world dominating the NHL (spoiler, they already don't dominate the NHL. Only 3 of the top 17 goaltenders in the NHL this year are over 6'3"), then you have to exploit their weaknesses, and that isn't the size of the net, it's mobility.

It makes you wonder why this is an issue right now? Is save percentage in the NHL drastically up over last year? Actually no, it's at a hair over .909 when last season the average save percentage was .913.

Find a way to increase puck movement and limit defense at even strength, and you'll find out how to get giant goalies to let more goals in. What can the NHL do? I'm not 100% sure, but it's also not my job to come up with these ideas. Now allowing players to lay down to blocked shots was something that always interested me. Or maybe the officiating system could be revamped so that there's less human error.

The NHL needs to stop looking for bandaid solutions to persistent problems.

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