Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Paul on 06/13/13 at 08:18 AM ET
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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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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