April 23, 2024
As soon as upon a time, NHL goaltenders have been among the many singular stars of the sport, and you possibly can inform who they have been with only a look.

Ken Dryden, at 6-feet-4, towered above his contemporaries, a statue when the puck was within the reverse finish of the rink, cool and picked up when the motion was proper at his crease. Tony Esposito, a lefty with a butterfly model, fast and clean, flashed his leather-based glove to spear pucks as they have been headed to the highest nook. Dominik Hasek, Gumby on skates, a lithe human Slinky, made acrobatic lunges and contorted his physique each which approach to make a save. Mike Vernon and Mike Palmateer, a part of a technology of Mighty Mite goalies, relied on reflexes, athleticism and a capability to learn and anticipate the play, to change into generational fixtures.

They have been distinctive in enjoying model. Their goal could have been the identical — to cease the puck — however their strategies various wildly.

That was then, within the earlier than occasions.

Now? The overwhelming majority of NHL goalies play an analogous model that revolves round blocking, not actively stopping, the puck. It’s a small, however nuanced distinction. The change will be traced primarily to evolutions made in goaltending tools and the explosion of goalie teaching. The online consequence: There’s little distinctive to separate the present technology of goaltenders, who attempt to use their dimension and the cumbersome gear they put on to cowl as a lot web as doable and dare shooters to hit open spots.

The dearth of stylistic selection doesn’t imply goaltending has gotten worse. Fairly the other, really. Goalies have by no means been more durable to beat one-on-one, and getting good goaltending is as very important as ever to successful. However the emergence of goalie coaches — particularly from a younger age — has streamlined the place, closing the hole between one of the best and the remaining, making it more and more tough to challenge which goalies will play at an elite stage.

Adin Hill was third on the San Jose Sharks’ goalie depth chart lower than a yr earlier than he completed third in Conn Smythe Trophy voting as playoff MVP, as he backstopped Vegas to a Stanley Cup. Jordan Binnington started the 2018-19 season within the American Hockey League, then led the St. Louis Blues to a title. Tales like this have gotten extra commonplace, and the times of a goalie like Hasek main the league in save share for six straight seasons whereas racking up 5 Vezina trophies appear lengthy gone.


Is it an issue? Has goaltending misplaced its mystique, its attract, a few of what made NHL netminders such widespread figures with followers? Former NHL goalie and longtime scout Tim Bernhardt thinks so and he thinks he is aware of why, too.

“Goaltending, for me, is simply so boring to look at,” Bernhardt mentioned. “Blocking the puck is all they do. … It’s not the goalie that’s blocking the puck, it’s the tools, and it doesn’t appear to be any enjoyable to me and that’s why youngsters aren’t drawn to the place anymore.”

Bernhardt was picked within the third spherical of the 1978 NHL Draft by the Atlanta Flames. He was a standout goalie for 3 years with the OHL’s Cornwall Royals and went on to play 12 seasons {of professional} hockey, divided principally between the Flames and the Toronto Maple Leafs organizations. He then spent 28 years as a scout for the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau, then with the Dallas Stars and Arizona Coyotes.

After 4 a long time of watching goaltending evolve, he isn’t a fan of the place issues stand as we speak.

“The comparability I’d make is to soccer,” Bernhardt mentioned. “The highest athletes all go to soccer. Patrick Mahomes was a baseball participant who switched to soccer. Josh Allen was a baseball participant who switched to soccer. All of them wish to play quarterback as a result of quarterback appears to be like like lots of enjoyable.

“My feeling is the other occurred with goaltending.”

Bernhardt believes the foundation of the issue will be traced to the innovation in enjoying model made by long-time goalie coach Francois Allaire, who had amongst his disciples future Hockey Corridor of Famer Patrick Roy. Allaire’s affect created a wave of goaltenders who emerged from Quebec and adopted Roy’s lead. By the point Jean-Sebastien Giguere led the Anaheim Geese to the 2003 Stanley Cup Ultimate, the place they misplaced to Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils, the goaltenders all appeared just like the Unimaginable Hulk.


Patrick Roy’s success influenced many goalies of the subsequent technology. (Denis Brodeur / NHLI through Getty Photos)

Allaire was the goalie coach who introduced within the model of moving into place, dropping into the butterfly and getting the puck to hit you. The size of the tools grew, and so did the goalies.

Half a century in the past, in 1973-74, the common peak of the highest 5 goalies in save share was 5 ft, 10.5 inches. Final season, the highest 5 goalies have been a median peak of 6-feet-4. (Over that very same interval, the common skater’s peak went up 1.6 inches.) Just one goalie shorter than 6-feet has completed inside the highest 5 in save share up to now 11 years (Nashville’s Juuse Saros in 2020-21).


When he performed, Dryden was a part of a technology of gamers who didn’t have a goalie coach, which meant “we had to determine stuff ourselves.”
Now? Everybody who reaches the NHL stage has typically had a goalie coach from the time they first strapped on the pads.

Former Dallas Stars goalie coach Mike Valley, who now instructs at Elite Goalies — a coaching program that works with newbie {and professional} netminders — believes a significant hurdle for as we speak’s technology of goaltenders is that they rely an excessive amount of on approach and never sufficient on intuition.

“This over-thinking of the place is sort of paralyzing at occasions,” Valley mentioned. “The most effective goalies, or one of the best athletes typically, are those who’ve skilled actually laborious, perceive the approach, however haven’t overlooked having the ability to have your individual model and type.

“Now you may have a bunch of athletes who don’t know how one can handle their very own video games, they usually’re so over-coached. It’s essential take duty to your personal recreation, and when the puck drops and the stress is on, you understand how to handle feelings. You understand how to thrive below chaos. I believe lots of that disappears with an excessive amount of teaching.”

However based on Adam Francilia, a former San Jose Sharks goalie advisor who now works privately with many NHL goaltenders, there’s a constructive to emerge from Dryden’s before-and-after shift in netminding: It’s attracting a distinct breed of athlete to the place, one which enjoys the problem-solving that goaltending within the fashionable period requires.

“It’s a way more tough place, cognitively and neurologically, to play as a result of there are such a lot of extra facets that it’s important to be actually good at,” mentioned Francilia. “I believe with a purpose to achieve success in that capability, you’ll want to have a fairly excessive neurological IQ.

“Goalies are such fascinating athletes. They’re quirky they usually’re goofy. … I like the truth that goaltending is the place it’s, as a result of I like having to have the neurological intelligence to go along with the athleticism it takes to be a goalie. It’s positively creating a really particular kind of individual that may be good.”

Francilia used Winnipeg Jets star Connor Hellebuyck for example. He’s not essentially the most bodily gifted goalie, however he’s cognitively fast.

Based on Francilia, the cookie-cutter nature of goaltending has taken a little bit of the character out of the place.


Connor Hellebuyck is among the NHL’s prime present goalies, however is he an enormous title? (Ethan Miller / Getty Photos)

“It’s not that there wasn’t approach. Dominik Hasek had nice approach, he simply did it in a means that was distinctive,” Francilia mentioned. “Grant Fuhr had rhyme and cause to his play. It was simply so totally different.”

Today, goalies navigate the crease and make saves in a similar way as a result of it’s the best approach to preserve the puck out of the online. Pointless motion makes a goalie much less environment friendly. Nonetheless, approach can’t cease each puck. With the entire velocity and talent on the ice, goalies will inevitably must make stops outdoors of their construction and approach. That’s the place many consider fashionable goalies are falling quick.

In Valley’s thoughts, younger goalies must be taught the basics however from there, even be held accountable for what they do and don’t do on the ice. Forcing younger goalies to suppose for themselves makes them higher drawback solvers.

“When a child has that, they don’t begin … placing blame elsewhere,” mentioned Valley. “They give the impression of being internally.”

Trendy goaltending requires loads of athleticism, positive, however on the highest stage, variations will be minute. What separates one of the best from the remaining is a capability to course of the motion in entrance of them, diagnose the issue — a scoring risk — and clear up it.

“Should you all the time have a instructor standing subsequent to you telling you what the reply was, you then don’t develop that talent of attempting to determine it out your self,” Valley mentioned. “That’s the place creativity comes from. That’s the place having the ability to join the dots on the ice comes from.”

Based on Dave King, a three-time coach of Canada’s Olympic workforce, who additionally coached the Calgary Flames and the Columbus Blue Jackets, there are two distinct issues within the present goalie improvement system. The primary is that younger gamers change into specialists far too early. The second is that they’re overcoached.

“When youngsters come up within the recreation enjoying totally different positions, their thought processes all of a sudden get broader,” King mentioned. “They get a wider appreciation for the sport.”

In 2005, King grew to become the primary Canadian to teach in what then was often called Russia’s SuperLeague and returned in 2014 to teach Lokomotiv Yaroslavl within the KHL. King mentioned he went to Russia initially to watch the Russian improvement system. In his second stint, he began to see modifications in the way in which Russian goalies have been being developed.

“I actually consider one of many causes their goalies are so good is that they’re allowed to be extra athletic once they’re younger,” King mentioned. “They’re not as inflexible in positioning. They don’t begin instructing a disciplined model till a sure age. They need the children to change into good athletes — cell, agile. They need them to be taught to learn the sport so that they don’t over place them and make them robotic.”


One results of all of the teaching and preparation, based on Bernhardt, is the hole between top-tier goalies and the remaining has shrunk.

“Earlier than, these prime 5 – 6 guys have been simply so a lot better than everybody else,” Bernhardt mentioned. “Now? Even the twenty fifth or thirtieth goalies are all fairly good. The tools and the model of play has closed the hole.”

As is the case in all sports activities, analytics are enjoying a bigger position. With exact knowledge on precisely how objectives are scored, goalie teaching has improved at instructing methods to cease them. In a long time previous, one of the best goalies largely taught themselves, giving those that developed efficient methods a definite edge. The streamlining of the place by teaching has closed the hole, and it’s displaying within the salaries of the highest goalies.

In 2000, 10 of the highest 50 salaries within the NHL have been paid to goalies. Roy, Brodeur, Curtis Joseph, Fuhr, Tom Barrasso and Vernon have been all among the many highest-paid gamers. This season, there are solely three goalies within the top-50 salaries. Carey Worth — who hasn’t performed in over two years — is one in every of them, so there are solely two lively goalies (Sergei Bobrovsky and Andrei Vasilevskiy) with top-50 salaries in 2023-24.

They’re additionally the one two contained in the top-100 salaries. As not too long ago as 2015-16, there have been 16 goalies within the prime 100 league-wide. Because the place has change into tougher to foretell because of parity, many basic managers have shied away from giving goalies mega contracts.

There’s no higher latest instance than Hellebuyck, who was set to hit unrestricted free company this summer time. He has been the mannequin of consistency, ending within the prime eight in objectives saved above anticipated in 5 straight seasons, and main the league thrice in that span. He’s solely 30 years outdated, and but final offseason, the commerce marketplace for Hellebuyck was chilly due to groups’ hesitancy to signal him long-term.

Hellebuyck ended up signing a seven-year extension with Winnipeg in October, however with a median annual worth of solely $8.5 million. That isn’t chump change, however in knowledgeable sports activities panorama by which salaries proceed to rise throughout the board, it’s notable among the best goalies of his technology signed for much lower than Worth, Bobrovsky and Vasilevskiy did earlier than him, and solely $1 million greater than Roy made in 2001.

It’s not laborious to see why. Normal managers have a look at what Hill did in Vegas, and Binnington did in St. Louis, and hope they will replicate it. There are extra goalies enjoying within the NHL than ever earlier than. Final season, 77 goalies began at the least 10 video games. That’s the best whole ever, and up 19 goalies from simply 9 years in the past in 2011-12, when solely 58 goalies noticed that quantity of motion.

In some methods goaltending is in a great place. The technical evolution of the place has led to extra goalies than ever enjoying at a excessive stage. And but, has the place change into much less enjoyable to play and fewer of a marquee place as a result of goalies will be schooled into competence with angles and blocking positions?

The final word objective is to cease as many pucks as doable, but when the place turns into too robotic with much less to separate the greats from the remaining, does it make goaltending much less fascinating to look at and provides workforce executives fewer causes to pay them handsomely?

Glorious goaltending remains to be required to win, and the successful netminder will all the time be bathed in glory. That hasn’t modified. Groups are simply attempting totally different methods to seek out it, leaning into platoons of netminders in hopes that they discover one thing that excels. What does it imply for the way forward for the place?

Dryden is optimistic. He now has grandchildren who play, and even when the trendy goalie has change into reliant on tools and approach, Dryden believes the motivation to change into a goaltender stays.

“You might have this unbelievable tools. You might have this gladiator look. There’s one thing heroic about what you do,” Dryden mentioned. “Those that wish to be goalies nonetheless have good causes to be goalies and nonetheless like to be goalies.”


Ken Dryden, a goalie icon of the previous, stays optimistic about the way forward for the place. (Denis Brodeur / NHLI through Getty Photos)

To decide on to be a goaltender nonetheless requires a mixture of valor and zaniness, only for totally different causes than it did up to now. Goalies are not braving slap photographs with questionable safety, risking life and limb within the title of saves. They’re, nonetheless, dealing with the likelihood that they’ll be reduce free for somebody cheaper.

Skaters can mix in once they’re having an off evening, and even manufacture success with effort alone. Skate laborious and land a couple of large hits, all is forgiven. Goalies can’t outwork their dangerous nights, and there’s nowhere to cover within the crease.

No place performs a much bigger position in wins and losses. The price of each mistake is magnified, which makes success that rather more tough to maintain.

“Goaltending isn’t about whether or not you’re boring or not,” Dryden mentioned. “It’s not whether or not you do it with aptitude. It’s about being efficient. You possibly can consider — and I can consider — plenty of goalies who performed with plenty of aptitude who have been completely not boring, however have been mediocre and lasted a couple of years and that was it.

“It’s within the nature of the place that you simply’ve acquired to be reliable, dependable. You’ve acquired to discover a means of stopping what must be stopped within the second that it must be stopped. You’re all the time in search of the best goalie — and that’s true, whether or not it was 50 years in the past, or whether or not it’s now.”

(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic. Pictures: Candice Ward, Doug Griffin / Getty Photos)