Wednesday, November 11, 2015


I’m happy to hear the NHL is, seriously, looking at ways to get more scoring into its game.  It’s been broken for 20 years.  The time has come.

To me, 1996 was the end of the NHL in its best form.  That was the year the Florida Panthers choked everyone to death to make the final, only to lose to Patrick Roy (who some say wouldn’t make an NHL roster today and I’ll expand on that shortly) and the Colorado Avalanche.  There can’t, possibly, be any argument from fans who was the more entertaining team to watch of the two.  And, the NHL should be in the business of entertainment.  The league office should always be determining ways to make the game more entertaining for its customers and sponsors.  That’s how you keep the league healthy.  I’d argue watching Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Sandis Ozolinsh, and Valeri Kamensky is better than watching Scott Mellanby, Johan Garpenlov, Rob Niedermayer, and Robert Svehla.  

One of the arguments from the pro-2015 goalie faction is that the goalies of yesteryear were not as good as the goalies of today.  While this sends me up a wall as I feel there is no comparison and that goalies from the 90s were far superior, I will tackle this argument from a different perspective.  Let’s pretend they are better today.  Are they more entertaining to watch?  Do you leave the rink or the television screen after watching the NHL finals between Tampa Bay and Chicago and think, “Wow, Corey Crawford and Ben Bishop played some of the best hockey I’ve ever seen.  What athletic specimens.  Forget Patrick Kane, Tyler Johnson, Steven Stamkos, and Jonathan Toews, I want to see more of Bishop and Crawford.”  Anyone feel that way?  Anyone?  Crawford, you may remember, lost his job for a spell in last year’s playoffs.  Bishop finished with a nice 2.18-GAA and .921-SPCT; which would lead you to believe he was tremendous.  But, go back and watch the video and I think you will come to the conclusion that while he wasn’t a negative on their team, he was hardly a top reason for the Lightning getting as far as they did.  Even if he was, I will again ask the question.  Who got you more excited, Bishop’s play in net or Tyler Johnson’s 13-goals in 26-games?  Would it have been more exciting if Johnson’s goal total was closer to 18?  Or, would it have been better if Bishop’s average was 1.95, but nothing about how he played his game changed?

I’ve watched NHL hockey since 1982.  I was 7-years-old.  While a 7-year-old is, hardly, able to talk intelligently about the NHL, I can tell you my fondest memory was Richard Brodeur’s play in net.  Brodeur’s GAA was 2.70 in those playoffs and the historians will tell you it was one of the single greatest goaltending playoff performances ever.  And, while Tyler Johnson’s 13-goals kept us excited last year, it is worth noting that both Stan Smyl and Thomas Gradin averaged more than a point per game for the Canucks in the 82 playoffs.  Johnson had 23-points in 26-games.  Keep in mind, I’m not arguing who’s better.  I’m only trying to stimulate your brain, if you are old enough to go back to 1982, to try and get you to think which playoff year was more enjoyable.  It is possible to have goalies be at the centre of that excitement, but in 2015 that’s just not the case.  They hinder it.

The Gretzky/Lemieux era produced never before seen offense and I’m not willing to compare it to anything else.  It’s not fair.  There was expansion that diluted the talent pool and I also think Gretzky and Lemieux were far greater than any other player before or after them so to use them as comparables to players of today isn’t right.  Having said that, if you are old enough to remember Gretzky and Lemieux, were you entertained?  Was it awesome turning on the highlights to see if Gretzky could get his 50 in 39 games?  What about Lemieux trying to track down Gretzky’s consecutive games with a point streak? Was that fun to watch or no?  In the mix of all that, you had Pete Peeters chasing a consecutive unbeaten streak in net.  I also think Peeters had 8 shutouts that year he was chasing a record.  So, there was excitement if you like goalies too.

Let’s look closer at the goalies.  As I go off the top of my brain without looking at any stats, some of the more memorable performances in the playoffs came in 1985 (Pelle Lindberg), 1987 (Ron Hextall), 1990 (Bill Ranford), 1993 (Patrick Roy), 1994 (Mike Richter and Kirk McLean), and 1996 (John Vanbiesbrouck and Patrick Roy).  There were some unreal netminding from all of those goalies (and others if I bothered to go back and look at what all unfolded in those years).  Now, as I go back through the last few years I am required to cheat and look at who won the Cup, because aside from Jonathan Quick in 2012, I can’t recall a big time goalie performance that brought me out of my seat.  And, even Quick’s wasn’t all that remarkable when you factor in his average shot total per game was 26.  Hey, a GAA of 1.41 is incredible.  I don’t care what era it is.  But, Vanbiesbrouck faced an average of 34 shots in 1996.  He gave up over a goal per game more than Quick; and yet (and this is for debate, I know it’s not a slam dunk) I look back and I say Vanbiesbrouck’s body of work in 1996 was better than Quick in 2012.  Here are some of the players Vanbiesbrouck went up against in ‘96:  Oates, Bourque, Tocchet, Lindros, LeClair, Renberg, Hawerchuk, Brind’Amour, Mario, Francis, Jagr, Nedved, Zubov, Sakic, Forsberg, Kamensky, and Ozolinsh.  Here’s what Quick had to face: Sedin Twins, Kesler, Andy MacDonald, Patrick Berglund (I had to name them in full or you wouldn’t know who they are), Antoine Vermette, Doan, and then in the finals he got Kovalchuk, Parise, Zajac, and Clarkson (sorry Leaf fans, but he did have 12 points!).  What year would you rather watch over again if you could go back, without knowing who will win?  All you have to go on are the names I have provided in this paragraph.  Can you say with a straight face you will go with the best line-up that faced Quick over the worst line-up that faced Vanbiesbrouck?

Again, forget what eras goalies are better.  Just think about the excitement and entertainment.  Looking at the stats, we should be left with the impression that the best goaltenders EVER are playing right now.  Let’s pretend that’s the case.  Why aren’t Carey Price, Ben Bishop, Henrik Lundqvist, Corey Crawford, and Deven Dubnyk worth the price of admission?  Connor McDavid, Steven Stamkos, Alex Ovechkin, Tyler Seguin, and Patrick Kane sure are.  Why is that?  It’s because the skaters score goals!  And, they’d be worth even more to a viewer or sponsor if we are tuning in to see if Ovechkin could score 92 and break Gretzky’s record.  What about Seguin challenging the 215 point plateau?  What do you think that does for hockey in Dallas?  Yeah, I know.  Who cares about Dallas?  Well, the NHL and it’s advertisers care a great deal.  Do you even know who has the all-time lowest GAA record?  Highest SPCT ever?  I don’t.  Is it captivating for viewers and sponsors?  I’m going to say NO since nobody really knows.  What’s the single season shutout record?  No idea.  And, I don’t care.  

So.  Let’s compare.

The best goalie I’ve seen, according to my eyeballs, is Patrick Roy (with all due respect to Martin Brodeur, who’s 2nd).  This is hard for me to admit.  I despise the Habs and despise Roy even more.  But, the guy was amazing.  Without him, Montreal doesn’t win the last 2 Cups they’ve won.  Heck, they maybe aren’t even in the playoffs.  Without looking at his stats, I feel he played his best hockey early in his career when the Habs won their two Cups, but he was also really darned good for the Avs too.  Better support cast, no question.  But, how do you explain a 36-year-old who’s ready to retire posting the best stats of his career?  Roy had 9 shutouts and a GAA 1.94 in 2002; yet all I remember is him fighting Chris Osgood one time in the playoffs and winning 3 Stanley Cups by age 30.  Until we reached the era of no scoring (1997 and beyond), Roy had a goals against average of 2.50-2.95 and a SPCT of .900-.918.  He was one of the best.  Or, I think.  The best.  Yet, all of Roy’s best stats come AFTER 1997 when he should be getting worse due to his age.  I would argue his stats from 1997 and beyond are misleading.  35-year-olds don’t put up career seasons. Ask Gretzky and Lemieux.  And, to sit and watch the games...he was way better prior to 1997 despite what the stats tell you.

Again, I will refer back to the entertainment factor.  For me, I go back to 1993 and it was all about Roy.  I wanted the guy injured so some other team could win.  He was that good.  I don’t get a sense the Chicago Blackhawks are any less of a threat to win a Cup if Corey Crawford goes down.  In fact, even the Montreal Canadiens are showing that the best goalie in the world (Carey Price) today can get hurt and it doesn’t change a single thing.

Arguing who’s better gets you nowhere, but I still maintain that if you dropped today’s goalies into the 1990s, most of them would be out of the league within two years for sure.  There’s no way the majority of them survive outside their ‘blocker’ style of play.  It’s entirely possible Dominik Hasek would look ridiculous trying to play the way Carey Price plays.  There’s no denying that.  But, again I will ask you as a fan:  who would you rather watch do his thing?  For’s Hasek and it’s not close.

I will not concede today’s shooters and players are less than what they were in the 90s and the pro-2015 goalie faction will say the goalies are better and the shooters are worse.  That’s a silly argument.  I look at the stats put up by today’s players and I have no reason to believe they couldn’t reach the levels we saw in the 90s.  I think Stamkos and Ovechkin are good enough to score 70.  I think Stamkos, Ovechkin, and Seguin are better than players like Bernie Nicholls, Luc Robitaille, Doug Gilmour, Sergei Fedorov, and Jeremy Roenick (players who put up more than 100 points a season, regularly).  I think Ovechkin is every bit as good a goal scorer as Brett Hull, but he won’t get Hull’s numbers.  I don’t think it’s crazy to say his 53 last year is the same as 80 from when Hull scored 76.  It becomes a lot more fun for media, fans, and sponsors if you can look at the record books and follow his charge towards it.  Do I think McDavid has a future to be one of the best ever?  I sure do, but in the current climate he won’t go anywhere near Gretzky’s 215.  But, think of the excitement and interest if he could.  

For fun, here are the best single season performances by goalies as far as GAA is concerned in the modern era:  Brian Elliott (1.56), Josh Harding (1.65), Mikka Kiprusoff (1.69), Marty Turco (1.72), Ron Tugnutt (1.78), and Roman Cechmanek (1.83).  Aside from Kiprusoff (and, maybe Turco) these guys can’t even come close to laying claim as being the best of their kraft even in the same season in which they posted these records!  Did any of these goalies make you want to turn the tv on to see if they could continue their season of excellence?????

Folks, the time has come to increase scoring in hockey.  It has to be done.  I don’t care how they do it.  But, it has to be done.