Let’s break out the Delorean, dust her off, and put the pedal to the stainless steel floor. We’re cruising at 88 MPH and about to take a little trip back in time to … 2003? Yeah. We’ll go to 2003.
When 2003 began, Eminem was on top of the charts with “Lose Yourself”. Eminem would go on to win an academy award for the song in 2003 and a Grammy in 2004. In 2003 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the first book in the J.R. Tolkien series adapted for the big screen, was the highest grossing film and would win every single academy award it was nominated for. And finally, In 2003, Martin Brodeur would win not only win his first Vezina Trophy, but also became an NHL All-Star for the seventh consecutive time, tie Roman Chechmanek and Robert Esche for the Jennings Trophy for the goaltender whose team has allowed the fewest goals during the regular season, and win his third Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils.
Well now we’ve pretty much recapped all the important things that happened in 2003 so let’s rev up the engine and floor this baby, get back to the present. It’s 2010 and so far Eminem has had a couple of number one singles, as he’s reclaimed his sense of urgency and passion. Alice In Wonderland, another book adapted into a movie, has been the biggest movie of the year (so far) raking in over one billion dollars worldwide. And Martin Brodeur was once again one of the league’s best goaltenders, leading the league in both shutouts and wins during the regular season while playing for whom else, but the New Jersey Devils.
So not too much has changed, right? Wrong.
Eminem released a fairly terrible record called Relapse, Alice In Wonderland wasn’t that good (although Johnny Depp was), and Marty’s Devils lost in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals to the Philadelphia Flyers and their journeyman-back-for-a-third-go-round-with-the-club, Brian Boucher. The Flyers made it to the Stanley Cup Finals on the backs of two journeymen masked men: Boucher and Michael Leighton. After barely squeaking into the playoffs in a shootout on the last day of the regular season, this unlikely tandem was pretty good up until that last series. So things have, in fact, changed quite a bit around these parts. If we take a good, hard look at the past five NHL seasons, we’ll find one thing that’s been consistent: the goaltender who wins the Stanley Cup is not an elite netminder or at least not yet.
Quick recap: In 2006, Cam Ward lifted the cup. In 2007, Jean-Sebastian Giguere hoisted it. In 2008, Chris Osgood picked up that big shiny trophy over his head. In 2009 Marc Andre-Fleury won it all. And in 2010, when we saw Anti Niemi, a 26-year-old Finn, have Lord Stanley’s Chalice passed to him and he raised it as high as his big goalie shoulder pads would allow him to, anyone who studies the game realized something. They realized something that was about as subtle as a car made of stainless steel with gull-wing doors: the necessity for an elite goaltender is a thing of the past.
I don’t think anyone could possibly argue the fact that some of the goalies in that post-lockout-cup-winners are decent, solid, make the save when it counts kind of guys. But who would honestly argue that any of them are elite? If we look at the ones who have made it to the Finals, there’s not a single one that I would call elite, or even top ten really.
Sure, if I were building a franchise and had Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, I would gladly have Fleury between the pipes. If I were Peter Laviolette and had that stellar defense Carolina had in 2005-2006, I would take my chances on a rookie goaltender after being two games down in the first round. Absolutely. But last year’s playoffs, and finals especially, proved that teams don’t need to go and spend upwards of $3.0 million on a goaltender.
The Flyers shelled out under $3.0 million for all of their goaltending expenses (maybe slightly over if you count every one of the five they used during the season), and still found a way to come within two wins of getting the franchise’s name engraved for a third time in the team’s history on the cup. The Chicago Blackhawks had pumped out quite a few more bones for their goaltenders, but they were obviously a much more confident team with Niemi backstopping them.
Cam Ward, Jean-Sebastian Giguere, Chris Osgood, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Anti Niemi are just okay, maybe good or even great at times. But those times are ever so fleeting. They can steal games, but often they don’t. They don’t make those saves that wow you, they simply just get in front of the puck because their defense and system allows them to see few shots or few quality chances. Not that any of them are incapable of being elite, they’re just not at the same level as a guy like Brodeur… But, if this is the trend that is going to stick in the post-lockout NHL well then…
Where we’re going we don’t need goaltenders, or we don’t need great ones apparently.