Do you need to have an elite goaltender to win the Stanley Cup?
The knee-jerk answer to that question is yes, absolutely. In reality? I’m not sure that’s the case.
Since they changed Vezina Trophy voting in 1982, only three goalies have won the Vezina and the Stanley Cup in the same year (Martin Brodeur, Grant Fuhr, Billy Smith).
When you consider the top-two finalists in Vezina voting over the same period, only nine of a possible 56 goalies have appeared in the Cup Final in the same season as their nomination.
Since the lockout, which goalies have won the Stanley Cup? Antti Niemi, Marc-Andre Fleury, Chris Osgood, Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Cam Ward.
That’s not exactly a Muderer’s Row of elite puck-stoppers.
There’s no question having a goalie who can consistently stop the puck is essential to on-ice success. Non-playoff teams are almost always among the league’s worst in goals against.
But with parity being the name of the NHL game these days, it seems you can enjoy ultimate success without a world class netminder.
Here now are the goalie rankings for the Eastern Conference heading into the 2010-11 season. Goaltenders were rated individually, with starters weighted more than back-ups.
Ryan Miller is the best in the game. Patrick Lalime is okay in the back-up role.
New York Rangers
This might be the best goaltending tandem in the league.
Is it just me, or does Marty Brodeur look an awful lot like Patrick Roy at the end of his career? The numbers are still fine, but the playoff success is missing. Johan Hedberg may be the best back-up they’ve ever had during the Brodeur-era.
Still battling consistency a bit, and he was injured last year, but when he’s on Cam Ward is one of the best in the league. Justin Peters is an up-and-coming back-up.
Right now Tomas Vokun is kinda like the Tim Raines of hockey. A consistently solid, sometimes excellent player, whose career is going completely under the radar.
Rivals the Rangers for the best tandem in the league, and may take the title if Tuukka Rask takes another step in his development (and the Bruins keep Tim Thomas).
Still maddeningly inconsistent six years into his career, Marc-Andre Fleury can be the league’s best one night, among the league’s worst the next night. Brent Johnson is an effective starter for short periods.
Team goaltending was strong down the stretch, once Jean-Sebastien Giguere arrived and Jonas Gustavsson got over his heart issues. No reason to think this won’t continue, or improve, this year.
It’s too bad he’s no longer on Twitter, because I’m dying to hear Dan Ellis’ insight into female reporters in the locker room. He’s never started more than 44 games at the pro-level, but between Ellis and Mike Smith, team goaltending should be improved.
Might be too conservative a rating here, as Chris Mason has put up very strong numbers (.914 save percentage) during his NHL-career, and Ondrej Pavelec remains a top prospect.
Two highly touted prospects (outspoken Semyon Varlamov, Michal Neuvirth) will share the workload in Washington. Both have showed flashes of brilliance, but consistency is a likely issue. For reminder’s sake, here’s Varlamov’s take on American women.
New York Islanders
Actually, a bit of a wild card rating. If Rick DiPietro is healthy (and he claims he is for the first time in years) they would zoom up this list. But if he gets hurt I have little faith that 40-year old Dwayne Roloson can get the job done over 40-50 games.
Another team with consistency issues between the pipes. It should be noted that in six NHL seasons, Pascal Leclaire has had a goals against average over 3.00 four times. Good luck with that, Sens fan.
Carey Price is the most overhyped goalie in the NHL, but the team’s success now rests squarely on his shoulders (Alex Auld is barely NHL calibre). After a stellar rookie season Price has been very pedestrian, and his attitude hasn’t helped. He’s saying all the right things right now, but what happens the first time he’s booed? We’ll definitively know what the Habs have in Price after this season.
I’m not sure there isn’t a more stubborn team in the NHL. They really haven’t had an above-average goaltender since Ron Hextall, and refuse to address this issue year in, year out. There are goalies at Burnaby 8 rinks who could probably put up similar numbers to Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher.