No Respect For “Number One” Goalies

The goalie tandem has become a more popularized strategy in the post-lockout NHL and it seems to have a lot of coaches and fans confused.  “Number One” goalies are harder to define and some of the best in the game (read: Luuuu) are seemingly mistrusted by their fans and bench bosses.  Since the NHL’s work stoppage in 2004/05, the league has prioritized open-ice skating, clutch-free play, and goal scoring.  No surprises here: goaltenders have suffered.

The William M. Jennings trophy is awarded to the goalie (or more commonly, goalies) who represent the best team defence by allowing the fewest goals.  This distinction was once given by being the Vezina Trophy winner but the NHL must have decided that the team with the fewest goals against did not necessarily have the best goalie.  The Jennings has been given out since 1982 and many goaltending tandems have since won the award.  Goal scoring has gone up since the lockout, and the evidence is found in Jennings winners.

In the five years preceding the lockout, the average goals against total for Jennings winners was 169.6.  Goal scoring was going down, shutout records were being broken, goaltenders had job security.  Of those winners, there was one true tandem: Robert Esche and Roman Cechmanek of the Philadelphia Flyers.  For the sake of illustrating my point on goaltending, I should really exclude the Flyers’ and their exasperating history with goalies but…I digress.  Other winners included Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, and Dominik Hasek – indisputable Number One’s.

Indisputable Number One: Martin Brodeur

In the five years after the lockout (which doesn’t include the 2010/11 season), the average goals against total for Jennings winners is 192.4.  Three of those five winners were tandems and in two cases (Dominik Hasek/Chris Osgood and Niklas Backstrom/Manny Fernandez) each goalie played at least 40 games.  Goal scoring is up, Roberto Luongo’s ice time is down, and Jonathan Bernier is already more popular than Robin Gibb.

Most importantly, faith in number one goalies is down.  Both coaches and fans have less patience with their starters and I believe this has led to an inconsistency in the position and potentially a psychological roadblock for younger netminders.

Case in point:  Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings has performed admirably in his first two seasons as the starter (09/10: W-39, G.A.A. 2.54;  10/11: W-35, G.A.A. 2.24) (NHL.com).  Yet fans of the Kings are clamouring to see his understudy, Jonathan Bernier, supplant him as soon as possible.  Quick, figuratively, was Bernier two seasons ago: a young, rookie goaltender with tremendous upside.  But now, since the Kings haven’t won the Stanley Cup yet, it’s apparently time for change.  In some of these cases, it’s the coach who’s wishy-washy.  In this case, it’s the fans.

An even more explicit example was seen this past season with Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider.  While the Vancouver Canucks were sweeping through most of the league with convincing victories, superior special teams, and an impressive road record, there was talk in the playoffs about Schneider replacing Luongo and in fact, he did step in for Game 6 of their first round series with Chicago.  I believe this shook Luongo to the core at the absolute worst time.  It was a bad coaching decision.  Luongo started out fantastically against the ‘Hawks but after that series was never really in the Conn Smythe Trophy debate for the playoff MVP.

scores against Luongo

(Icon SMI)

Goaltenders are a sensitive breed.  They’re in an isolated position on the ice and off of it.  That’s most likely why Luongo was stripped of the team’s captaincy before the start of the 10/11 season.  Time and time again, it’s been called the most psychological position in sports and it’s true.  My humble experience with competitive hockey was spent in the net and having the confidence of the coach and my teammates meant the world to a young goalie.  If an NHL team has bet the farm with their supposed “number one”, their poker face better be rock solid.  Stick with your guy through the worst of times and watch him flourish.  Tim Thomas.  Enough said.

Yes, there are examples of success through having two netminders battle for the position.  But this is also the business of managing people, not simply assets, and the Kings, Canucks, and others should be careful in how they handle their personalities in goal.

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8 Comments

  1. I have lost track of how people keep mentioning the fact that Lou got 2 shutouts in the playoffs, and how we throw him under the bus.
    The really frustrates me, due to the fact that our Nuck’s were playing for the Grail.
    Tim Thomas did not get pulled, but did last season, and the beginning of their season. I stand so firmly behind how I feel that Lou is “not” capable of puling off a stellar playoffs, and a final series to the cup. I no longer have empathy, and can no longer support his nasty little comments. Some that as he puts it, do not include the fan base. AV has to take part of the blame here, but Cory should have been in net for the entire Boston series, and that is a fact! Lou had a great regular season, but see what has happened the last 3 in the playoffs………………….

  2. Joe – nice article. I appreciate your viewpoint on #1 goalies. I think the concept of tandems is overplayed, and as you pointed out, a negative influence on goaltenders. I took a look at the save percentages of starting goalies in the playoffs versus the regular season in an attempt to see if ‘heavy’ workloads impacted a goalie’s stats (you can read that here). The results reinforce the idea that a strong #1 goalie can handle the workload.

    • Thanks Mike. I did read that post and I’m glad to add to that conversation. I really feel it is a post-lockout trend and I’d like to se it change. If not for selfish, fantasy hockey reasons…

  3. “In some of these cases, it’s the coach who’s wishy-washy. In this case, it’s the fans.” GREAT quote. I think it applies in the Luongo situation in Vancouver, as well. People in Vancouver are so willing to throw Bobby Lou under the bus when the team collapses, but rarely give him props when he deserves it. The man posted TWO shutouts in the Stanley Cup final, but he’s the only goat on a team that by every predictive stat in the book should have won the championship going away?

    Love your work here, Joe. I’m looking forward to reading more of you here on THW.

    • Thanks Jason, I appreciate it. Certainly, and inevitably, all players are open to criticism but we all know that media and fan reaction actually reaches the ears of some players. Vancouver fans are kidding themselves if they think they need a better goalie in order to win the cup and it’s in their interest to boost their number one guy. With that team, they have a chance to win the cup every year for the forseeable future. Getting a Miller, Lundqvist, or Cory Schneider for that matter, won’t be the tipping point. Luongo will hear those hurtful words and there isn’t a goalie in the world who’s made of stone. Trade Schneider and tell Lu he’s playing 72 games next year. Look what happened with Price after Halak left. Brilliant!

  4. Well written article. Thanks for the insight. Goalies definitely deserve more respect and support.
    I wish they would stop trying to manipulate the game for profit & just play hockey.
    [I liked your reference to Robin Gibb ~ that back-up BeeGee!]

  5. Hey Matt, thanks for the response. Kipper is certainly a number one and in 2004, perhaps should have been awarded the ultimate prize. The Flames have leaned on him and for the most part, he has been a premiere goaltender. That being said, I also think they should take advantage fo his contract and build heavily around him. I’m sure Feaster is working on it. I was worried that Buffalo would forever waste Ryan Miller’s time with the Sabres. Not to say that they haven’t wasted some money…but I was happy to see them support him. He, like Kiprusoff, is a Stanley Cup worthy goaltender.

  6. Matt Britton says:

    The EXACT same can all be said of Miikka Kiprusoff. I am a Flames fan..always have been, and aside From Mike Vernon, Calgary has never had a Goalie as Great in net as Kipper. kipper takes a lot of heat, but still remains cool in net, but I am sadly awaiting his Patrick Roy-ish Snap to unfortunately see him walk off the ice fed up. The Coach intentionally plays him too much, but at the same time..treats him like he is under appreciated. The GM put Crappy Defenders in front of him, and expects that Kipper will save the day no matter what. Kipper is a 1 time Vezina Winner, and by all rights, should have been the Netminder in 2004 to hoist the Cup (Thanks Refs for your blindness.)..but I do feel it will not be long before Miikka will be waiving his NTC and heading to a team who all round has a better chance at ever hoisting the cup (That’s not to say I don’t have faith Calgary can do it…)

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