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11:34 PM ET, 5/29/06
The future of goaltending
Posted by Michael Farber
If you peruse the list of Stanley Cup-winning goaltenders of the past 20 years, you should be struck by the sheer quality of the names: Roy and Hasek and Brodeur and Belfour and Vernon. There is hardly a mystery guest among this distinguished lot, depending on how you feel about Chris Osgood (not persuasive although he is north of 300 career wins), 1990 Conn Smythe winner Bill Ranford (240 regular-season wins but a losing career record) and Nikolai Khabibulin (who earned himself an albatross contract with Chicago after his 2004 stellar play for the Tampa Bay Lightning).
Now fast-forward to the perplexing spring of 2006. Either Dwayne Roloson, the two-headed Cam Ward-Martin Gerber monster or Ryan Miller will be skating around with a 35-pound Cup over their heads in the next few weeks. Getting into touch with your inner Kreskin, if you had to look at these names from the perspective of 2026, I suspect that Buffalo's Miller or possibly Ward won't look terribly out of place. They would be viewed as rookies who went on to stellar careers after surprising early playoff success, comparable if obviously not in the same class as Patrick Roy's stone brilliance with the 1986 Montreal Canadiens. The others, well, they will be historical blips, of continuing interest to puckheads mostly because they won the championship in the year that goaltending changed forever.
I am still trying to get my mind around this, and playing with a couple of theories that could be more wrong than Sergei Gonchar on the Penguins blueline.
Theory 1: Forget what we've seen. NHL goaltending in 2005-06 is a fluke, as aberrant as Jim Carrey's Vezina Trophy in 1995. (Hey, general managers: good going with that vote.) Once the shock of the changes that the league made post-lockout subsides, goaltending will be business as usual. Goalies were force-fed so much this season: narrower pads, smaller catching gloves, the no-handle zone behind the net, a larger offensive zone (with the nets moved back), legal two-line passes, rule interpretations that limit the skulduggery that defensemen did to prevent scoring chances, more power plays, etc.
Once goalies adjust to the new game, the dominant netminders of the past few years, especially Martin Brodeur and Roberto Luongo, will again restore the natural order to the position. Roloson, who has been superb, will have been an interloper, not a goalie of enduring Stanley Cup caliber. I floated this theory past Brian Hayward and Darren Pang, two ex-goalies turned television analysts, and neither thought it had much merit. They sense the upheaval is permanent.
In any case, I still believe that hot goaltending will beat conventionally good goaltending; maybe that's all 2006 will prove to be.
Chew on Theory 2: Because the nature of goaltending has changed, and because the position is so much more difficult to play in 2006 than in, say, 2003, you might need two goalies to win a Stanley Cup. You won't hear that in Edmonton, of course -- there have been no Ty Conklin or Jussi Markanen sightings -- but Carolina coach Peter Laviolette has the Hurricanes a game away from the finals with a goalie carrousel (Gerber's play in Game 4 was as strong as Ward's relief work in Game 5 against Buffalo) and Anaheim reached the Western Conference final by sticking with the hot guy.
The axiom that if your team has two goalies it only means that it has no goalies will no longer wash if the Hurricanes win the Cup. There's a long way to go, of course (and the Philadelphia tandem of Ron Hextall and Garth Snow in the 1997 final is not exactly a template for this theory). But with all the breakaways, the odd-man rushes, the growing need for goalies to be as athletic and laterally mobile as they are technically solid, the exigencies of the position will force teams into thinking about using both goalies in the playoffs.
Well, I think your comment about Roloson being an interloper is incorrect. He was the Western Conference All Star in 2004 and his years with the Wild he was a solid netminder. With Edmonton he has returned to his 2004 form yet again.
I think that it's likely a combination of the two.
Clearly, the two years that've passed since we last saw playoff hockey meant that there was going to be an inevitable changing of the guard, and thanks to the lost season, certain young goalies--and older ones--would emerge from their lockout experiences as better goaltenders.
Roloson is an excellent example, because he went over to play for Lukko in Finland, and, like his teammate Shawn Horcoff, he was placed in a role he'd never had before--that of the go-to netminder, and he's blossomed this spring because he got a chance to show the hockey world that even at 37, a guy can break out.
Miller and Ward got valuable pro experience in the AHL, and it helped their games immensely. When we last saw Ryan Miller, he was a skinny goalie who could get rattled easily, and Cam Ward was a kid who was wowing in the WHL. Miller's now got confidence and poise, and Ward was groomed for his pro career.
But I think there's also a sense that between the year off and the rule changes, some goalies were going to need a year to adjust. Very technical netminders like Kiprusoff, Belfour, Nabokov, and Giguere seemed to struggle, the latter three much worse than the former, because of the restrictions in gear and new angles to adjust to...but athletic goaltenders like Theodore, Brodeur (it could be argued that he's both tremendously technically skilled and very athletic), Luongo, and Khabibulin struggled as well.
Was it the lockout? Was it the change in angles, crease-crashing, or gear?
Maybe both. A year passed, and some players in every position had to adjust, some were prepared to break out, and some probably lost their edge forever.
But goalies in particular were caught having to deal with a shift in their leg channel, leading to knees on ice fast, and groin injuries. They had to deal with a smaller blocker, and a smaller sideboard, too. They were forced to wear pants they didn't feel safe in. And the glove restrictions, not just in perimeter, but also in pocket depth and trapper depth, were huge changes.
Throw in entirely new angles and a lot of crease-crashing, and you're going to have guys who can adapt, guys who'll take a while to do so, and guys who just won't adapt at all.
Roloson, Ward, Miller, and, arguably, Gerber, to some extent, aren't flukes.
It's hard to believe that Brodeur, Luongo, Giguere, Khabibulin, Nabokov, and Theodore are all washed up, too. I don't think that they'll all prove that 05-06 was a year of adjustment, but most of 'em will.
What should be interesting will be the meeting of the goalies in the finals. Roloson, the more established and experienced one will battle with either Miller or the Ward/Gerber tandem, and no matter who he plays, he will have the advantage of being the veteran. I think, though, that his goaltending hasn't been quite as spectacular as that of the Eastern Conference, but he tends to trip players up and help out his team in less conventional ways (like by shaking off his helmet or taking a water break at the most opportune time).
Gerber definitely isn't a fluke- 38 regular seasons isn't flukey, his playoff play (except for Game 4) is flukey. Ward and Miller will last as well.
I like the discussion going on here, but I have to comment on a previous post claiming "Very technical netminders like Kiprusoff...struggled." Kiprusoff is a Vezina finalist. Lumping him in with Belfour, Giguere and Nabokov is a mistake.
I disagree with your view that the position of goaltender is more difficult than it used to be. Due to the fact that NHL players very seldom lift the puck off the ice any more we now have a league filled with “butterfly” goaltenders. They all play the same way and if they win or lose purely depends on if the team they are playing shoots the puck high or low. If the opponent is shooting high they will lose and if they are shooting low they will win. It’s that simple in today’s game. Shot from the point, drop in a V, shot from the circle, drop in a V shot from anywhere on the ice, drop in a V. There is no real skill to the position any more. There is no such thing as a butterfly goalie making a “great” leg save. He’s going to do the same thing no matter what the shot is.
Today’s goaltenders have put much more pressure on their defensemen because when you are in a V you cannot control or cover rebounds. They are totally dependent on the defense to clear the puck for them. With today’s equipment and style of play Tony Esposito would have been a god. I have been watching the NHL since 1966 and I enjoy watching the games today all except the goaltending. I see nothing skilled about dropping to your knees on every shot. If you were to put a piece of plywood in the net with only the top two corners open, say a foot and a half square on each side, you would easily win the Stanley Cup and probably 80% of your wins would be shut-outs.
The top corners are open on all these goaltenders ALL the time. Why NHL players continue to shoot the puck low baffles me…
roloson is a solid goalie, with a good head that keeps him in the right spot. But he also needs good D around him to clear lanes and help with rebounds, the main reason why he has been a journeyman backup for most of his career.
Ward/Gerber, probably along the lines of good goalies playing hot at the same time. I'd hate to compare either one to guys like Turek or Osgood, who have stellar seasons but fall apart in the playoffs...when it really counts. But only time will tell with those too.
By far the most talented, and the youngest I think, is Ryan Miller. He has the potential to be in the same class as Roy and Brodeur and have teams built around him. Even if the Sabres get oustaded this year, they will be back to the finals and Miller will be leading the charge.
The butterfly developed as the answer to a simple equation - standup guys have trouble covering the low corners, but spreading one's base too far leads to a lot of 5-hole goals. How to cover both? Close the hole, hence the butterfly.
The solution is not merely "shoot high." For one thing, in close a goalie in the butterfly doesn't really leave a lot of room, and shooters will often miss over the crossbar or hit the keeper. For another, everyone is taught to keep point shots low on purpose - it's easier to pick up goals on deflections and screens. And the rebound control? Some butterfly goalies are better than others, just like any other goalies. High shots are easier to control than low ones - they can be caught cleanly or angled to either side. Low shots cause rebounds and garbage goals against anyone.
I play keeper myself - trust me, you still need to have reflexes to get side-to-side, and there are times to kick out or stack the pads or stay upright. You still need to know when to commit and how to read when a guy's picked his spot or made his move. And if you leave holes or can't recover quickly, you're not long for the crease, either standing or kneeling.
Interesting dicussion, and I see merits in both theories. I put forth another one here. Preface first with I play net (about 8 years, though not very high - club in college) and I'm a huge Canes fan.
If you see most goals nowadays, they are 'unstoppable'. Count the percentage of goals that *any* goalie could have saved in a series that wasn't saved... very low. like maybe 10%? I watch a lot of Canes games, the number of tip/deflections/triple rebound/crash the net goals is like 80%. You play the percentages, You can't cheat so to keep your Sav% as high as possible, you do what the goalie did in that situation. So in essence, unstoppable.
That tells me that teams are game planning seriuosly against a specific goalie. His tendencies are watched like a hawk in video reviews, when he goes down, how high he holds his glove, is there extra space low blocker, etc. etc. so I think the future is having two distinct style goaltenders like a ward/gerber or a complete maverick like Hasek. That way players are always having to 'change' their shooting mentality and in that split second, really aren't as good as if they faced the same goalie every night or the 'D' has then closed in on them and changed the shot.
I think your first theory is correct, but slightly mis-stated. The first year after all these changes, it's as if all the goalies needed to retool their whole game. Everyone's been given a fresh start, and it's not hard to imagine certain 'quick learners' jumping out of the gate while the old guard struggles a bit to recover. It's not even as if Brodeur was really bad this year - he played fine. He just didn't excel like he normally did. Someone else just learned a little quicker.
But give it another year, and I think the great goalies will start separating themselves again. Their natural talent cannot be argued against, and once they adapt to the new rules as well as Roloson, Gerber, etc., their talent will shine through. Hell, we saw this with almost all the top goalies during the season - they struggled a bit in comparison to the rest early on, but recovered nicely later in the season (see Brodeur himself). There's no reason to suggest that goalie talent can't survive in this era of the new rules; just that they haven't had a chance to really use it yet.
I also played goal for many years. I have been involved with hockey as either a player, coach or official since 1972. If I were coaching today I would tell my players one thing. SHOOT HIGH. The top corners are ALWAYS open.
I think Miller is going to be one of the dominant goalies of this era. I watched him play at michigan state when he won the hoby baker and you could just see him take over games. His play this year shows that he has begun to translate that ability to the NHL level. I suspect that we are only seeing the begining of the great buffalo teams backstopped by Miller's solid play.
That said the NHL playoffs have always to a certain extent depended on the runs of hot goalies, Johan Hedberg and Ron Tugnut for Pittsburg a few years back come to mind. Teams will always make playoff runs based on the strength of a hot goalie, everyone relaxes and everything becomes easier when you know that your mistakes will be gobbled up by the goalie.
Interesting theories all around... I like lokben's comment too.
One thing that's inescapable is that the 'Canes have seemed totally energized every time they swap between Ward and Gerber (much to my chagrin as a Sabres fan). Maybe that's just a fluke, but it seems like every time they've switched in this series, they become invincible.
Greystoke, do you watch hockey at all? What, you never saw a goalie make a glove save or a blocker save on a shot headed top corner? Anyways, I disagree with you Mr. Farber in regards to Brodeur. His numbers dropped drastically this year because for the first time in his career he did not have the league's best D in front of him. Instead of facing 20 shots a game like during any other year, he faced about 28 shots per game. Brodeur is a very good goaltender, but he is not nearly as good as people give him credit for. His great career numbers are a product of playing behind a dominant defense that gave up fewer shots (and fewer quality shots) than any other team in the league year after year, that is until 2005-06. And that theory some analysts say that it is tougher facing fewer shots because it makes it harder to stay in the game mentally, don't think so. I played the position too (Junior B). That theory is nonsense.
I thing that thise playoff year is a showcase of some of the best young goaltending talent in the league. While I give Peter Laviolette credit for being an excellent puppet master with his goalies, keep in mind the level of play both Ward and Gerber showed this season; niether one is a fluke. Dwayne Roloson is not much of a surprise either, considering how athletic he is, and the fact that the new rules favor quick skates. Ryan Miller shouldn't be surprising ; he won the Hobey Baker in 2001 as the best collegiate hockey player! The reality of this year's Stanley Cup playoffs is that some of the young, talented goalies are showing everyone what they are made of. Belfour, Brodeur, Hasek, and the like couldn't rain supreme forever after all.
I hate the butterfly style. Tony Esposito did it 30 years ago and I hated it then. I never saw so many shots deflect off the handle of a goal stick in all my life! The butterfly, much larger goalies, and massive pads have taken the beauty out of goaltending. What happened to the days in the NHL where goalies had beat-up undesized pads, small catching gloves, where it actually took courage to stand there with such equipment. Now, you're 6'2" and 220lbs, huge pads, drop to your knees and you take up 75% of the net!
One comment on the butterfly goaltending thread. I don't imagine that there is any way for any goaltender to always cover all of the net, (or else whoever figured it out would get a lot of easy shutouts and everyone would be clambering for the net sizes to be increased) so some part of the net will always be open no matter what style you play. I think the butterfliers are just playing the percentages. Is it easier for the shooter to consistently hit the top corner or the bottom corner? Going down in the V forces the shooter to take the harder, lower percentage shot.
I agree with you, BigDew. Brodeur is not as good as every one credits him with being. Plus, being a life long Ranger fan, I have a special place in my heart for the Devils. This season was not as flukey, but is time of adjusting for goalies, and for the forwards and defense as well. I think the scoring will stay up, though, due to the rule changes, and if that affects GAA, oh well, cause I want to see goals as much as the next guy. Go Oilers!