For Goalies, Regular Season Rest is the Key to NHL Playoff Success
In the last few seasons, goalies in the NHL have prided themselves in playing as many games as they can possibly play. It is almost like a competition in itself, to see who can become the Iron-Man of goaltenders. Martin Brodeur, in his older age, continues to play well over seventy games, and Grant Fuhr set the record when he played in seventy-nine, back in 1995/96 for the St. Louis Blues.
But there is a pattern in all of this, that extends into the post-season, and that is, goalies who play less games during the regular season go farther in the playoffs. It sounds simple doesn’t it? Sounds like pure common sense: play less games, become more rested, achieve a greater durability. But unfortunately, goaltenders do not care about this; they want to play and win as much as they possibly can.
But what good are regular season wins if you are a failure in the playoffs?
Take Chris Osgood of the Red Wings for example. He is a mediocre regular season goalie, and sometimes even ends up losing the starting job and playing less games. But come playoff time, he is a completely different player. It is as if he elevates his consciousness to another universe.
Osgood is one of the very few goaltenders around the league who actually “get it.” Regular season wins are all fine and dandy, but when a career is finished, rings on your fingers are more important than wins.
Take a look at the last decade, at the goaltenders who have won Stanley Cups. See if you can spot a trend in their amount of games played:
2008/09: Marc Andre Fleury: 62
2007/08: Chris Osgood: 43
2006/07: J.S Giguere: 53
2005/06: Cam Ward: 28
2003/04: Nikolai Khabibulin: 55
2002/03: Martin Brodeur: 73
2001/02: Dominic Hasek: 65
2000/01: Patrick Roy 61
1999/00: Martin Brodeur: 72
1998/99: Ed Belfour: 61
If you notice, in the last decade, Martin Brodeur is the only goaltender to play more than seventy games during the season and win the Stanley Cup, and unfortunately, that can be attributed to him playing behind a defensive trap, facing a minimal amount of shots per game.
For the other goaltenders, whether it be due to an injury, a late season call-up, or just getting rest, they have all played less than sixty-five games. Because of this extra time off, they are better prepared for the playoffs, which we can all agree on, is a different animal because of such a high intensity.
Goaltenders themselves are the culprit for this, and who can blame them? If any of us made professional sports we would want to be in every game we could possibly play in. But the goalies have to look at the bigger picture, and take one for the team, and sit out some extra games.
For the team I cover, the New York Rangers, coach John Tortorella promised that Henrik Lundqvist would not play as many games as he had in the past. Unfortunately, due to a revolving door of backups that extended to the end of the season, this could not be accomplished, and Lundqvist played in a career high 73 games. The Rangers had a porous defense, and Lundqvist was under siege in almost every game, but he carried the load, and brought the team to within a point of the playoffs.
But let’s just say the Rangers ended up making it, how many rounds could he have played in? He would have been absolutely dead by the second round, if the Rangers would have hypothetically advanced to it. Tell me again how playing in so many games is good for a team.
All the blame cannot be placed on the shoulders of the goalies, however, because the salary cap has a lot to do with it. In this day and age, general managers have to be careful where they put their money. After paying $5-7 million for a number one goalie, no one wants to go out and throw millions at a backup. So they instead sign a goalie making under a million, someone who cannot be trusted in big games, or to carry the workload.
And if a backup cannot be trusted, than he will not play. Thus, the number one goalies workload goes up.
It is because of this, that I propose that when the CBA is up for discussion and amendment after next season, the NHL should not allow goaltender’s salaries to count against the cap. If a team wants to spend $10 million on two goalies, then by all means, let them if they can afford it, and do not penalize them by forcing them to look at the cap.
Similar discussions have come up alleging that a “franchise player clause” will be instituted, allow the franchise to pick one player whose salary will not count against the cap. To me, allowing teams to save money in another way, in the goaltending way, would make much more sense because it would be a lot more fair.
Either way, small market teams will further be hurt by a clause of any kind, because salary caps are not the issue—payroll is. But by placing the relief with a goaltender, it will seem fair, and I doubt teams will complain about it as much.
It may seem like a drastic proposition, as people are very touchy when it comes to discussing the salary cap and CBA. But I think it could get enough support, if voiced by someone on a higher level. Allowing teams to have a better backup will allow the starter to be at the top of his game, and when that happens, the NHL playoffs will be even more exciting than they are now.
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