A lot has changed for the NHL since the infamous lockout wiped out the 2004-2005 NHL season. After all the dust settled, it seemed like an entirely new NHL was born.
Much change in a single offseason, but the NHL was coming off of what seemed like several offseasons. Gone were the super teams like the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars whose dominance was helped by the lack of salary cap.
While the Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, and New Jersey Devils (until recently) were able to continue their success in the salary cap era, teams are no longer able to "buy championships" or multiple Hall of Famers every offseason.
Remember when the Red Wings added Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille, Dominik Hasek, and rookie Pavel Datsyuk to a team that already had six future Hall of Famers on its roster.
Or when the Colorado Avalanche acquired Ray Borque and Rob Blake in consecutive years at the trade deadline.
Another big change in the post-lockout NHL was the liberation of rules for offensive players. Scoring has now dramatically increased from the days when a 40-goal scorer was the league leader.
More goals are being scored and goalies now face more shots than in years past. While this has made goalie statistics look less impressive than years past, this is far from the reason why the NHL had better goalies a decade ago.
A decade ago the nets were being protected by more veteran and established goaltenders. Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek, Martin Brodeur, Curtis Joseph and Ed Belfour were arguably the five best goalies in the league.
All of them were already Hall of Famers and with the exception of Brodeur, had already been playing for 10-plus seasons.
Four of these players helped the earlier mentioned super teams win Stanley Cups at one time or another from 1995-2003. The one goalie who never won a Stanley Cup from that group, Curtis Joesph, has the most wins ever for a goalie who never won a Stanley Cup.
Those five were the cream of the crop, but they were far from the only quality goaltenders at the time.
Chris Osgood was already two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Detroit Red Wings. He is arguably the most under-appreciated goalie in NHL history.
Roberto Luongo had yet to establish himself an elite goaltender, but José Théodore, Jean-Sebastian Giguere Evgeni Nabokov, and Marty Turco were making names for themselves.
Théodore won the Hart Trophy in 2002 and once seemed destined to be the next great Montreal Canadians goalie.
Giguere won the Conn Smythe winner in 2003 after one of the most impressive performances in Stanley Cup Playoff history. The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim fell one win short of the Stanley Cup that season. He later helped them win a championship in 2007.
Did the NHL have better goalies a decade ago?
Marty Turco is no longer a superstar in the league, but he did help the Dallas Stars stay competitive after Brett Hull and Ed Belfour left the Lone Star State.
Another distinction about the pre-lockout NHL was the abundance of good veteran goaltenders, that didn’t have last names like Roy and Hasek.
You’re not going to find Byron Dafoe, Tommy Salo, Nikolai Khabibulin or Olaf Kolzig in the Hockey Hall of Fame, but they all had some great seasons at their peak.
Mike Richter was still around, but the New York Rangers were never in the playoff hunt despite their expensive free agent signings or big trades.
And who could forget about Sean Burke, who like Tim Thomas, seemed to reach his peak during his late 30s.
The position was much deeper 10 years and there are not nearly as many quality goaltenders today. That’s not to say there aren’t great goalies. That is far from the truth. Ryan Miller and Roberto Luongo are two of the best goalies in the NHL today and would have been amongst the best a decade ago.
However, there are fewer big name players at the position nowadays. After Miller and Luongo, how many goalies would most fans consider superstars? Pekka Rinne and Henrik Lundquist are great, but they don’t quite have the reputation of Miller and Luongo.
Cam Ward and Marc-Andre Fleury are Stanley Cup winners. They are NHL All-Stars, but not elite players. They wouldn’t have been considered elite goaltenders at their peaks ten years ago.
Antti Niemi has also won a Stanley Cup, but he did it beyond a team with offensive and defensive depth. Corey Crawford has done a good job replacing him, but part of his success can also be tied to playing with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.
Carey Price and Jonathan Quick have helped their teams reach the playoffs for the last two seasons. They are great examples of the youth that can be found at the position nowadays.
While Martin Brodeur is still playing today, he has quickly lost his previous title as the undisputed best goalie in the NHL.
A reason for the small quantity of elite goalies is the big age difference between these two eras of goaltenders. During the turn of the millennium, the NHL had a lot more veteran goaltenders and there were fewer up and comers.
Most of the top goalies in the NHL today are under 30 such as Rinne, Lundquist, Ward, Fleury, Price, and Quick. Ten years ago most of the top goalies in the league were older than 30.
Even if these younger goaltenders continue to improve their resumes over the next decade or so, they will have a hard time matching what Patrick Roy and his peers accomplished.