NHL goalies making adjustments to new controversial chest protector


NHL goalies making adjustments to new controversial chest protector

SAN JOSE -- Over the course of a 12-year career as an NHL goalie, Sharks goaltending coach Johan Hedberg said he only changed his chest protector twice. 

“The one when I retired, there was nothing left,” Hedberg said in a phone interview with NBC Sports California. “[It was] like a wet sweater pretty much.”

Were he still playing, Hedberg would wear his third this season. Goalies around the league are wearing new, streamlined chest protectors under an updated rule from the NHL and the NHLPA in an effort to increase scoring and enforce uniform standards among netminders. The chest protector is the latest piece of goalie equipment to be regulated, following the shrinking of the leg pads and pants. 

Specifically, the chest and arm pads “must be anatomically proportional and size-specific” based on the goalies’ bodies. The result is more form-fitting, with slimmed down arms and strict regulations for padding around the shoulders and collarbone.

“Everybody’s got the same, level playing field,” Hedberg said. “I see no [downside] on shrinking some of the stuff, and just making it smarter where you do have the protection, but you’re not covering anything but your body.”

Early in the season, some goalies have questioned whether or not there is still enough protection, specifically in the arms and shoulders. 

Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky told the Columbus Dispatch last month he had bruised arms and elbows for the first time in his career, and called the changes “terrible.” Goalies Braden Holtby, Brian Elliott, and James Reimer, among others, have also shared safety concerns.

Greg Balloch, a writer for the goalie-centric publication InGoal Magazine, saw this coming to some degree. This summer, he watched AHL goalie Ken Appleby in the new chest protector take a routine shot from an NHL player in a drill, only to cut it short. He said he understands why the goalies worry, since they face so many shots in practice. 

“You want to be protected,” Balloch said in a phone interview. "You're playing in the best hockey league in the world and these guys seem to find spots that normal shooters don't. And you know if you're not well protected, then it can be dangerous.”

Sharks goaltender Martin Jones said last week he hasn’t had any problems adjusting to the new equipment, while backup Aaron Dell said he’s “only had a couple of issues.”

“I have kind of noticed on the outer shoulders I get a couple more stingers and things like that,” Dell said last week at the Sharks’ practice facility. “For the most part, it’s not too different.”

Dell said he’s used to the changes now, but he only started practicing with his new chest protector “a week or two” before training camp. Joonas Korpisalo, who is Bobrovsky’s backup, told NBC Sports California last week that his came in days before his first preseason game. 

That’s perhaps because the approval process is far more involved. The league now scans all the chest protectors for compliance with a 3D scanner, NHL goaltending supervisor Kay Whitmore told InGoal this summer. 

The season is barely a month old, but goal-scoring is up. Teams are averaging 3.10 goals per game, an increase of 0.13 over last season. Whether that holds, or is driven at all by the rule changes, is unclear. 

Despite it all, goalies are adjusting. Korpisalo said the manufacturer of his chest protector was very responsive to his initial feedback, as was the case with his peers. 

“I think there’s a lot of guys who have the same problems,” Korpisalo said last week when the Blue Jackets were in the Bay Area. “Even before Sergei said that, we knew there [were] a lot of goalies who agree. … A lot of goalies, it helped to change manufacturers, find [the right chest protector]. For me, it worked.”

It remains to be seen if the controversy surrounding the chest protectors will persist. Hedberg thought a lot of the shortcomings, particularly in the shoulders, can “easily be fixed” without making the pads bigger.

Despite the public backlash, many goalies are in favor of the idea behind the rule, if not the execution.  Dissatisfaction with the new rules is driven by safety concerns, not about their save percentages and goals against averages, according to Balloch.

“They want the talent to rise to the surface,” Balloch said. “They don't want somebody succeeding just because of the gear. … They trust in their ability and the fact that they’ll be able to adapt.”

Former Sharks defenseman Paul Martin announces retirement


Former Sharks defenseman Paul Martin announces retirement

After 14 seasons with the Devils, Penguins and Sharks, defenseman Paul Martin has called it a career.

Martin announced his retirement from the NHL in an article published by The Athletic on Wednesday.

The 37-year-old spent the last three seasons in San Jose and was released on June 22.

In three seasons with the Sharks, Martin finished with seven goals and 41 assists.

Martin was defense partners with Brent Burns when the latter won the Norris Trophy during the 2016-17 season.

As you might imagine, Burns had nice things to say about Martin in The Athletic's piece.

“The most special thing about that guy is it didn’t matter how many times you asked him how he was or what was he doing or what was going on, he always just cared about you," Burns told The Athletic's Michael Russo. "We always joked, we know his name, but we know nothing else ’cause he’s always asking if we’re all right, how our kids are doing, how life is. He just cared that much and he really put the ‘Nice’ in the Minnesota Nice. It’s like this guy just exemplifies that. I mean, just look what he’s doing for kids in Minnesota. That says everything you want to know about him. It’s just so genuine of him. I’m not kidding you, he’s the most genuine human being I’ve ever met."

Peter DeBoer talks Erik Karlsson, John Tavares ahead of first showdown


Peter DeBoer talks Erik Karlsson, John Tavares ahead of first showdown

SAN JOSE -- With the Toronto Maple Leafs in town and the Canadian media on the scene, there were two names that popped up a lot at the Sharks’ Wednesday morning practice: Erik Karlsson and John Tavares.

The two veterans were the biggest names on the market last summer -- both captains on their respective teams who had the opportunity to play for a contender. Fast-forward to November, and the two players are facing off for the first time since sporting new sweaters.

So naturally, Sharks’ bench box Peter DeBoer was peppered with questions about the Leafs’ newest forward and Team Teal’s newest defenseman.

You may recall the Sharks were initially in on the John Tavares sweepstakes before the 28-year-old center chose to take his talents up to Toronto. That didn’t stop DeBoer from praising his success since joining the Leafs.

“John Tavares, for me, is one of the best players in the world,” DeBoer said. “Playing with a lot of confidence.”

It’s easy to see why Tavares is playing so confidently, too. He’s leading the team with 11 goals in 18 games and is ranked second on the squad with 22 points. 

“I just love the honesty to his game,” DeBoer continued. “He plays both ends of the rink. He wins battles. He goes to the dirty areas of the rink. And he makes other people around him better.”

Of course, the conversation turned toward the big acquisition the Sharks did make this off-season: two-time Norris Trophy-winner Karlsson. While much of the outside focus has centered on the defenseman not scoring his first goal of the season yet, DeBoer was frank when he said he likes what he’s seeing from the new addition to the roster. He also noted that the number of goals scored isn’t the only number outsiders should be looking at.

“I think his game is trending in the right direction,” he said of No. 65.  “When you look at the underlying numbers of what he’s doing here, they’re as good or better than they were two years ago in Ottawa.

“All those things are there. It just hasn’t (broken) the right way for him yet.”

As far as finding the back of the net, DeBoer acknowledged the pressure on Karlsson can play a role.

“It’s human nature. You want to come in, you want to make an impact," DeBoer said. "For sure, that can weigh on you. But sometimes you have to take a step back and look at what’s actually going on.”

What’s going on now is the Leafs making their one and only season visit to San Jose after defeating the LA Kings 5-1 on Tuesday. The matchup with Toronto won’t be easy, much like the contest the Sharks just played on Tuesday against the conference-leading Nashville Predators.

“We know, like with Nashville, that we have to be on top of our game,” DeBoer summarized. “If you try and cheat, they can put up some goals really quickly on you.”