The surviving teams in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs offer a cornucopia of goaltending situations, dilemmas and ideals.
The Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings are going with rookies. The Philadelphia Flyers have a journeyman thrust into a starting role due to injuries; otherwise, they may have had a two-headed monster between the pipes like the Montreal Canadiens have had when Jaroslav Halak isn't played like Ken Dryden.
The other three finalists are devotes of the goaltender star system: Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks, the captain and Canadian gold-medalist; Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the former No. 1 pick with the Stanley Cup ring; and Evgeni Nabokov, who has pretty much been San Jose's starting goaltender since the first "X-Men" film was in theaters.
That's three teams out of the final eight that have big-name and big-ticket goaltenders between the pipes. Meanwhile, Ilya Bryzgalov and Ryan Miller are off planning competing Vezina parties and Marty Brodeur is recovering from that loss to the Flyers with bacon-scented aromatherapy.
Are we seeing the last gasps of the "goalie era" for the National Hockey League?
That's the premise of Mac Engel's piece for the Star-Telegram earlier this weekend, and it's an interesting one:
The goalie era is gone.
"The NHL went to war with the goaltenders," said Dallas Stars color analyst and former NHL goalie Daryl Reaugh. "It had become this plodding, dull, goalie-dominated series. There was drama at times. But if you scored first, it was over. And God forbid you ever trailed after the second period. Now teams just play."
Since the lockout ended in 2005, the league was desperate to infuse some semblance of scoring. The evolution was painful, but this current edition of the NHL playoffs proves that while you can win with defense in the regular season, you better be able to score in the postseason.
This is partly due to the fact that the goalie position has been singled out by NHL legislation, as Engel writes:
Goalies wandered around to and fro, deftly handling the puck and oftentimes killing forechecks. There were rules, but they weren't always enforced. And goalie equipment grew so big and so light that netminders looked like marshmallow men.
In the quest for goals, and stars, all of that has changed. Goalie equipment is smaller. The brawler defenseman has been replaced by the player who can handle the puck and do more than just slap it around the boards.
That last point is an intriguing one: Is the blueline now more important than the goal line in building a team? In the sense that we're moving away from building from "the goalie out"; that the cap hits for the keepers will be much, much less than those for the top 4 defensemen?
The Detroit Red Wings were able to win a Stanley Cup with Chris Osgood playing in back of Lidstrom, Rafalski and an impressive group of defensemen. Scuderi, Gill, Gonchar and Orpik may have been more vital to the Penguins' Cup than Fleury was. Montreal's upset of the Washington Capitals -- whose ouster as the preeminent offensive team in the League Engel calls "an aberration" -- featured a few games of Halakian mastery and seven games of Gill, Josh Gorges and Andrei Markov keeping players like Alex Ovechkin in a shoebox.
So as the focus shifts to free agency for the other 22 teams, the focus should be on this list of defensemen rather than this list of goaltenders. Or at least the bigger names on that second list. Craig Anderson of the Colorado Avalanche is the prototype of what these teams should be looking for, rather than going large for Nabokov or Marty Turco.