With tonight being game one of the Stanley Cup Finals I thought I would write about the overrating of number one goaltenders in the NHL.
Things have changed over the years in hockey. In years past you could always count on your number one goaltender to steal game after game. Goaltenders such as Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur, Carey Price, and Henrik Lundqvist were staples needed to win a cup. Detroit seemed to be one of the first teams to debunk this myth. They rode a hot Mike Vernon and a mediocre Chris Osgood to Stanley Cup victories. Now you are seeing the same thing with Corey Crawford. His numbers are good. But would you consider Corey Crawford to be an elite goaltender?
It’s all about the system that is played in front of the team. If you have a team that plays a very good puck possession and defensive game you can nearly put anybody back in net and they will look like a star. If you take the Los Angeles Kings for example. Even when Jon Quick isn’t in net, the backups have very similar numbers. Could Ben Scrivens have won a cup if he was the starter? I am not sure that we can go that far, but it’s a debate that you could have. How did Ilya Bryzgalov fair when he was removed from the Phoenix Coyotes trap system? He can answer that after he is finished counting his cash from his buyout.
There isn’t a huge difference between a star net-minder and a decent one. There are multiple coaches that seem to ride the hot hand. Just look at what Chicago did in these current playoffs. They had no problem with starting Scott Darling for a couple of games just to see what he could do. This is what happens when you have a fantastic team in front of you. The one goaltender in the NHL currently that can win a series by himself seems to be Carey Price. I believe that you can replace every other goaltender in the NHL. Have you ever noticed that European goaltenders will come out of nowhere and steal the show? Antti Niemi, Pekka Rinne, and Frederik Andersson to name a few. There is such a slim margin between net-minders in the NHL now.
The days of the 7-8 million dollar contracts over 7 or 8 years for goaltenders is probably over. Sometimes you witness the burden of the contract to great for the player. Jimmy Howard is somewhat going through that now. Roberto Luongo just went through that in Vancouver. It doesn’t matter how great your stats are in the regular season. The team that is paying you big money, and expects you to carry them throughout the playoffs as well. How many years did we witness a Vancouver Canucks team that couldn’t score, and were eliminated from the playoffs early? Luongo would take the blame.
The best NHL teams now have a system in place that all is required from the goaltender is a few key saves. Just don’t let in the big goal. They don’t need to be spectacular. Just good enough for the team to stay in the game. We are seeing this year after year. And we will probably continue to see it even more in the years to come. Coming from a Philadelphia Flyers fan this is going to sound weird, but goaltenders are expendable.