Why Mike Babcock’s wrong about wider NHL nets

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP
Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP

There he goes again. Mike Babcock wants bigger nets behind increasingly bigger goalies.

“It’s impossible to score,” the Toronto Maple Leafs coach said this week. “All you gotta do is a math equation. You go to 1980 when the puck went in the net. You got the average size of the goalies in the NHL and the average size of the net. You keep growing the net bigger, that would make the game the same … The net’s too small for the size of the goalies. Period. The goalies are too good for the size of the net."

What the overtime shootout was to his former GM Ken Holland, big goalies/small nets is to Babcock – something he will opine on whenever given the chance.

Babcock in 2013, while coaching the Detroit Red Wings:

“If the goalies [are] getting bigger then the net is getting smaller,” Babcock said. “By refusing to change you are changing. Purists would say you can’t do it because you’re changing the game but by not changing you are changing the game.”

We used to assume this was PTSD after watching Chris Osgood barely fill the net for several seasons, but Babcock truly believes that the key to scoring more goals is to fundamentally change one of the basic, standardized pieces of equipment in the NHL.

We should also note the unintentional hilarity of the former coach of J-S Giguere complaining how modern era goalies fill the net.

Which brings us to the obvious solution to the issue Babcock raises, which is to shrink and simplify the goalies’ equipment. The pushback from the NHLPA, as it is with any equipment change, is player safety. But restricting the size, or the weight, of goalie pads goes a long way to achieving what Babcock wants, which are more shots flying into the back of the net.

[Play Yahoo Daily Fantasy and get a 100% deposit bonus with your first deposit]

Shrinking the equipment also doesn’t throw away decades of goalie training and basic skills, which is the real concern for widening the nets.

“If you make the nets wider, you fundamentally change the way goalies play the position. All the instincts. All that stuff.”

That’s Mitch Korn, goaltending Yoda for the Washington Capitals. He knows that the outcry for more goal-scoring might eventually lead to the NHL widening the nets. So does goalie coach François Allaire, who backed that prototype featuring curved pipes – the “parenthetical net” – that many purists widely mocked. The Buffalo Sabres created one in 2005, and the results were several new holes in the brick walls that are goaltenders. Alas, it looked a little stupid.

Korn actually believes if the NHL ever decided to widen the nets, they need to think up rather than out.

“If you make them higher, all the saves goalies make just because they’re big, you can score. And if they have to protect the top of the net in case the puck is elevated, well, guess what: They’re going to have to stand up more, and that means the bottom of the net will be exposed.”

But again, this might leave us with silly looking monoliths behind goalies.

Look, Babcock’s point about an increase in scoring is a valid one. Shot totals have remained remarkably stable through the years; the average goals per game has not. This is due to several dozen factors, none the least are goalies generally playing their position better through coaches like Korn and Allaire as well as systems like the trap and the left wing lock – which Mike Babcock coaches – stressing defense that leads to offense.

But if it’s goals you want, we’ve always said it’s easier to shrink the gear than to widen the nets. Hell, we'd make every penalty a two-minute major than ask every goalie in the league to fundamentally re-learn their position for the sake of a 4-3 game.