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Canada’s Goaltending Problems

from Jordan Heath-Rawlings of Sportsnet,

A newspaper headline in early May summed the situation up: “Mike Smith makes case for Canada’s 2014 Olympic team.” And somewhere, Patrick Roy, Ed Belfour or Brodeur did a spit-take with their morning cornflakes. Mike Smith? The 31-year-old laid out a biography that would, to put it politely, make him unique among NHLers who have worn the red-and-white in an Olympic crease in recent years: “I played a year in the East Coast League, four years in the minors and found my way to the NHL,” Smith reflected. “It was an endurance race for me. Not a sprint.” That a goalie with Smith’s modest pedigree can so easily join the discussion is a clear indication that the blue ice that once belonged to blue-chippers may now be an open competition, claimed by whoever enters February 2014 with the hottest glove hand.

So where does that leave Steve Yzerman’s Team Canada? Grasping at Crawfords. And Devan Dubnyks. And James Reimers. Good players all, and they might not be bad Olympic goalies. But there’s no evidence they’ll be great ones. It’s an uncomfortable feeling for Canadian hockey fans—but we should have seen it coming. Of the past 15 Vezina Trophy nominees, just three were Canadian—Steve Mason in 2009, Brodeur in 2010 and Luongo in 2011. The 2013 award marks the second straight year without a Canadian nomination, and the fifth without a win.

As a whole, the 36 Canadian netminders who made an NHL appearance this season combined for a 2.58 GAA and a .911 SP. The American, Russian, Finnish and Swedish goalie contingents all had better numbers. And Canadians were increasingly playing smaller roles. Though they made up 43.9 percent of NHL netminders, Canadians played just 38.5 percent of the games. (Finns, in contrast, represented 9.8 percent of goalies and played 14.4 percent of the games.) A decade ago, that wasn’t the case—the Czechs, thanks largely to the work of the sublime Dominik Hasek, were the only nation with comparable on-ice goaltending stats, and Canadians represented 57.1 percent of the goalies while playing 58 percent of the games. Two decades ago, there weren’t even enough non-Canadian goaltenders to make a fair comparison. It’s not just that Canada’s no longer the only fish in the pond, it’s that the other fish are growing rapidly.

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Comments

Hootinani's avatar

Clearly the answer is to ban non-Canadian talent from playing in North American junior hockey.

Posted by Hootinani on 06/13/13 at 08:28 AM ET

Nathan's avatar

Geez, I feel bad for Luongo. The guy is still a really freaking good goalie, and seems like a great choice as your Olympic team starter. Sure, his NHL contract stinks, even for an excellent player, but what the heck does that matter to Team Canada?

Posted by Nathan from the scoresheet! on 06/13/13 at 09:24 AM ET

Primis's avatar

This whole thing is so overblown.

For years team USA didn’t really have NHL starters, but a lot of NHL backup-types, and those guys almost always performed at least minutely better than everyone feared.

Aside from the obvious Brodeur and Luongo, Canada still has Cam Ward, MA Fleury, Carey Price, etc if they wanted some experience without having real oldies.  In fact they have more of a pool to choose from than Team USA still.  Aside from Ryan Miller, they next most-experienced USA goalies are Rick Dipietro and Brian Boucher for crying out loud.

The options are there for Canada.  The Canadian media is just knee-jerk reacting over this.  They just may not have an obvious, hot goalie to fall on for once.  A trio of Luongo, Ward, and say Mike Smith, Price, or even Brodeur would be perfectly acceptable

Posted by Primis on 06/13/13 at 09:41 AM ET

Red Winger's avatar

Aside from Ryan Miller, they next most-experienced USA goalies are Rick Dipietro and Brian Boucher for crying out loud.

Where does Jimmy Howard fit in that equation?

Posted by Red Winger from Sault Ste Marie on 06/13/13 at 09:48 AM ET

Primis's avatar

Where does Jimmy Howard fit in that equation?

Posted by Red Winger from Sault Ste Marie on 06/13/13 at 09:48 AM ET

Not anywhere near as many NHL Games Played.  I was listing “experience” by NHL Games Played, since it’s highly unlikely any major nation would name goalies without at least 1 or 2 of them being real NHL vets.

Posted by Primis on 06/13/13 at 09:58 AM ET

henrymalredo's avatar


Where does Jimmy Howard fit in that equation?

Posted by Red Winger from Sault Ste Marie on 06/13/13 at 09:48 AM ET

Not anywhere near as many NHL Games Played.  I was listing “experience” by NHL Games Played, since it’s highly unlikely any major nation would name goalies without at least 1 or 2 of them being real NHL vets.

Why’s total NHL experiance matter?  I could see Ryan Miller get a look because of his past performance, but on their recent track record, I see Team USA looking good in goal with Quick and Howard.

Posted by henrymalredo from Lansing on 06/13/13 at 10:15 AM ET

Primis's avatar

Why’s total NHL experiance matter?  I could see Ryan Miller get a look because of his past performance, but on their recent track record, I see Team USA looking good in goal with Quick and Howard.

Posted by henrymalredo from Lansing on 06/13/13 at 10:15 AM ET

You guys are missing the point here.  I wasn’t suggesting anything about those guys being guys Team USA should name.

I said that about the experienced goalies to point out that despite USA seeming to be in a better goalie position and people crying about Canada’s woes, they still have more depth.  Team USA has what appears to be a better top-end right now but… there’s still plenty for Canada to choose from.

Posted by Primis on 06/13/13 at 10:22 AM ET

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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.

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