Blackhawks will need to adjust to NHL’s new goalie pants soon

Corey Crawford has tried the new pants before, but he’ll have to start using them permanently starting Saturday.

During the 2017 NHL All-Star Game, Corey Crawford allowed five goals in 10 minutes of 3-on-3 action. Afterwards, he jokingly blamed the slimmer goalie pants he was wearing during the game, which are part of the league’s ongoing effort to trim down goaltender equipment.

Hopefully Crawford can adjust to those new goalie pants soon, because he’ll need to start wearing them for real by Saturday. The All-Star Game may have been a trial run under circumstances he’ll never see in a normal contest, but with the league transitioning to its new goalie pants, Crawford doesn’t have much time to embrace his new digs.

Starting in just a few days, every goaltender in the NHL will be required to wear the new pants that Crawford wore for the All-Star Game on Sunday. The league sent out a memo on Jan. 19 giving the official deadline for all goalies to wear the new pants, and it sounds like Crawford is still adjusting to the fit.

Crawford was joking about the pants causing his struggles in the All-Star Game, which was a 3-on-3 game full of superstars that didn’t remotely resemble a normal NHL game, but that’s not the first time he’s worn them. He also wore them in a terrible 6-0 loss to the Capitals on Jan. 13 in which he got benched after allowing five goals.

The goalie didn’t blame the pants for his struggles in that game, and like Braden Holtby and Tuukka Rask, he’s said it’s not much of a change.

“Tough one to try them out in,” Crawford said with a laugh. “I wore them in practice, too. They’re definitely thinner. It’s not going to make a huge difference, but there are some little tweaks to be done with the equipment.”

Hopefully Crawford can make those tweaks quickly. There are two more games (Tuesday vs. San Jose, Thursday vs. Arizona) before the deadline for wearing the pants full-time goes into effect.

The new pants

So why is the NHL changing its goalie pants? It’s part of an ongoing effort to make the equipment used by netminders smaller.

The league already trimmed leg pads over the past few years, and now it’s targeting the pants as the next step in shrinking bloated goalie equipment. The belt of the pants is now custom fitted to each player, form fitting around their waist, and the width of the pants has been reduced from a 10-inch contoured fit to a nine-inch contoured fit.

The new rules were agreed upon last March, and were supposed to be implemented at the start of the season. But given the importance of getting this right the first time with various manufacturers, the league pushed back the date for implementation to early February.

The tweaks are small, and for those watching at home, they’ll probably be unnoticeable. And while you might think that’ll surely lead to more scoring, NHL senior director of hockey operations Kay Whitmore (a former NHL goalie) noted it’s possible this makes goalies even better.

“We have no expectations with regards to goal scoring and realize it could actually make the goalies quicker and better,” Whitmore said.

Scoring has been hovering in the same level (2.7-2.8 goals per game by team) for the past several seasons, and while this is on pace to be the highest-scoring season since 2010-11, it’s a far cry from 2005-06 (3.1 goals per game) or, say, 1992-93 (3.6 goals per game).

So the NHL may quietly hope to squeeze more goals out of this, but it’s possible that once Crawford and other goalies get a good feel for the new pants, it’ll make these incredible athletes even more impressive. However, with the thinner dimensions, there’s still a good chance this lets a few more goalies slip through here and there.

Crawford has argued that improving ice conditions across the league would do more for scoring than shrinking goalie pads. He might be a tad biased there, but he’s probably right that better conditions would make executing high-skill plays quickly in tight spaces a bit easier. Still, we’re getting the smaller pants, so it’s going to be Crawford making the adjustment for now.