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Hockey

Dear NHL: please don’t mess with tradition by making the nets bigger

Jhonas Enroth

Kings goalie Jhonas Enroth makes a pad save against the Islanders during a game on Nov. 12.

(Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

The NHL never seems happy with its game.

The league constantly tinkers with the rules, generally to try to boost scoring. It has made the neutral zone smaller, created a trapezoid to limit goaltenders’ ability to play the puck, made nets shallower to add maneuvering room behind the goal, gone from four-on-four overtime to three-on-three overtime, and so on. General managers inched closer to a drastic change last week by reviving the idea of making the nets bigger, though that’s considered a dire option.

Please, don’t do it.

Streamline goalies’ equipment. Make an effort to further reduce obstruction. Have players serve the full two minutes on a minor penalty. But don’t mess with tradition and cheapen existing records by expanding the nets.

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“It’s sacrilegious,” said Tommy McVie, who has played and coached for 60 years and scouts the Western conference for the Boston Bruins. “I think it’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard a lot.

“I would hate that if that would happen. I can’t even explain to you how I would feel. If it’s not big enough the next time, should we make it like a soccer net? If it’s not big enough then, we’ll put the goalie out so he could look like the Goodyear blimp. It’s crazy.”

There are many reasons that scoring has declined, among them that goaltending — once the refuge of poor skaters — now draws kids who are athletic and get specialized training. And blame Patrick Roy for inspiring legions of French-Canadian kids to stop pucks instead of score goals and become the next Guy Lafleur.

Goalies’ gear, while slimmed over the years, is bigger than necessary purely for protection. The pads of 6-foot-7 Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning seem as tall as high-rise buildings and leave little to shoot at.

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“There’s really only two places to score now, and that’s above the glove or above the blocker,” said Corey Hirsch, a former NHL goalie who’s now an analyst and writer for Canada’s Sportsnet.

“I’d cut the tops of the pads off. They’re way too big. They’re way too tall. It’s cheating. It covers the five-hole,” he said on shooting between the goalie’s legs. “There’s no protection there. And I would open up the five-hole again so players can actually score there….Open up the five-hole, you’re going to create goalies trying different things to try and close it. You don’t need the pads to be more than two to three inches above the knee. That’s protective enough.”

Ducks General Manager Bob Murray said he’s tired of hearing annual reports on modifying goalie equipment and wants action.

“It’s ridiculous,” he said. “It’s so way out of proportion. You get that right and everything will be fine. And that’s not a radical change. Let’s just bring it back in control. It’s been proven the goalies won’t be in danger.”

He’d also like to see a return of small goalies, though that’s unlikely. You can’t put height limits on the position.

“But you can put restrictions on the height of the pads,” Murray said. “You can fix the pants. You can fix the shoulders. And when we’ve fixed the goalie equipment, let’s give it some time and see what happens.”

In the meantime, McVie said, “The forwards and everybody are just going to have to bang away and get better, I guess.”

Oil in the name of progress

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The best move the Edmonton Oilers have made lately — other than win the draft lottery four times in six seasons — was hiring Todd McLellan as their coach. The former San Jose Sharks coach has brought structure to a team that’s loaded with offensive talent but urgently needed a defensive backbone after yielding a league-high 283 goals last season.

“Todd’s been great,” forward Teddy Purcell said Saturday after the Oilers’ 4-3 loss to the Kings. “It’s a huge improvement from last year. We’re doing things the right way and we’re giving ourselves a chance. I remember last year there were games that we had no sense of being in and I just felt like we were in the wrong league.”

McLellan’s priority was instilling a belief system and making players accountable to each other. “A lot of that had to do with defensive play, which we’re still working on,” he said. “Some nights we’re fine, other nights we struggle with it…

“We’ve got to continue to grow players and let them experience the good and the bad in the league. We’re doing that, and in the meantime we’re trying to win games. There’s no better training tool than wins and we’re a little on the short end of that now but we can learn a lot from some of the losses as well.”

The Oilers (6-12-0) have made progress but have also had many learning opportunities. “It’s encouraging for sure,” Purcell said, “but we’ve got to take that next step now.”

Slap shots

•Mike Richards, who had his contract terminated by the Kings and later was charged with possession of a controlled substance, has been practicing with his old junior team, the Kitchener Rangers. Richards reached a settlement with the Kings over the remainder of his contract and is an unrestricted free agent. “Obviously it has been stressful,” he told the Waterloo (Canada) Record. “Everyone says different things but I know who my family and friends are and that’s all that really matters, having their support. You can’t do anything about it now but push forward and look toward the future and try to learn from your mistakes.”

•The NHL advised teams to be on heightened alert following the terrorist attacks in Paris, so expect tighter security at arenas.

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Helene.elliott@latimes.com

Twitter: @helenenothelen


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