When you’re sitting around talking hockey with the likes of Georges Laraque, Claude Lemieux and former Calgary Flames GM Craig Button, interesting ideas are bound to come up.
That was the case the other day when I was, admittedly, a little out-gunned as the fourth member of a panel on TSN’s Off the Record. The question that put our collective minds to the test was, ‘Is there a true franchise goalie in the league today?’
It arose in the context of talking about Martin Brodeur and whether he could actually spend what remains of his time in the league playing for another team. Brodeur most definitely is one of the guys who carried the “franchise” label for a big portion of his career, as did the likes of Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek.
You’d be tempted to throw that designation on a few goalies today, perhaps somebody like Buffalo’s Ryan Miller or Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff or even Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury. But the problem with bestowing that kind of praise on a goalie who’s still strapping on the pads two to three times a week is, if you’re watching close enough, you’re going to see the warts. Hindsight has a way of distorting reality and the simple fact is, even though we tend to romanticize how bulletproof some of hockey’s power puckstoppers are or were, it really is one volatile position.
Miller looked about as good as a goalie can look last year, but this season his win total is tied for 14th in the league, his goals-against average is 18th and his save percentage ranks tied for 19th.
(On a side note, could you imagine if Miller was displaying Vezina form once again; it’s conceivable the three nominees for that trophy could all come from the same division the way Carey Price and Tim Thomas have been playing.)
Roberto Luongo seems like he should be the epitome of “franchise,” what with his huge frame, strong focus and incredible ability. Yet in the minds of some, he’s the Canuck with the most to prove in the playoffs. Last year’s post-season hero, Jaroslav Halak, started this year on fire after moving to St. Louis from Montreal, but his GAA is 14th right now, while his save percentage is 23rd. Did the Canadiens only get Lars Eller and Ian Schultz from the Blues because GM Pierre Gauthier had a bad day at the office or because the other clever GMs in the league realize that two months of out-of-this-world play doesn’t necessarily mean a goalie is good to go for the next 10 years?
Steve Mason looked like the sure thing two years ago, now he’s trying to put the pieces back together in Columbus; Kiprusoff can’t always be counted on in Calgary; Henrik Lundqvist has had some clunkers in New York – the list goes on.
It’s no revelation to suggest goalies, like every player except Sidney Crosby in the league, have their good days and their bad ones. And, of course, the stakes are always higher and the mistakes more glaring when you’re the last line of defense.
The one name that did come up as a goalie who didn’t need the benefit of sometimes-selective memory to be consistently unbeatable year after year was Hasek, he of the six Vezinas in eight seasons from 1994 to 2001. Basically, you could drop ‘The Dominator’ on any caliber of team during that time and you instantly had a club nobody wanted to face. Ever.
And, even with the amazing athletes tending the twine today, that’s a more rare distinction than we often recognize.
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