NHL: Using Current Stars to Build the Ultimate Goaltender
In the game of hockey, even the best goaltenders of all time lose every once in a while—such is the nature of the NHL.
On those rare occasions, fans of Tim Thomas, Martin Brodeur or Henrik Lundqvist may hear themselves complain about why their team's star can't stop nearly every shot he faces. They may grumble about why an All Star isn't enough, that what their team truly needs is the "ultimate goaltender."
That was just a selfish pipe dream, of course, that subsided the next day when logic kicked back in.
Well, until now.
No, we're not referring to some long-since-retired Hall of Fame legend like Terry Sawchuck or Jacques Plante. No, we're not going to go on some rambling claim about why a little-known prospect (who also happens to be a cousin) will take that title in a few years.
No, this faultless goalie is not a single player but rather a combination of modern-day stars—modern-day stars who, with their attributes blended like McDonald's new mango-pineapple smoothie, create a netminder fully worthy of impeccable status.
But what will the ultimate goalie look like? What kind of statistics will he be capable of? And which real players will donate a skill to his creation?
It might be a tad bit difficult to answer those first two questions (don't worry, the robotics engineer is on the phone now, though), but we're going to give our take on the latter: which eight current stars will be sharing a dominant talent with their new ultimate competition?
Let's just take a look.
Size: Pekka Rinne
The fact that Nashville Predators goalie and Vezina Trophy nominee Pekka Rinne is only contributing his size is, by no means, an insult to his plethora of other skills. Rinne's .930 save percentage and 2.12 goals-against average (GAA) this past season certainly attest to that.
However, the one area where Rinne stands out most above the rest (alright, pun intended) is in his mammoth figure. Though he's not upright much during games, the 28-year-old stands at six feet, five inches and weighs just over 200 pounds.
In a regulation-size goal with just 24 square feet of opening, there's not much space that Rinne doesn't cover by just staying square to the puck. Rinne's talents are undeniable in terms of reflexes, too, yet the one characteristic where Rinne will best help our in-progress ultimate goalie is certainly in his size.
Stamina: Cam Ward
Carolina franchise cornerstone Cam Ward's stamina was put to the test in 2010-11 (kudos to Justin Peters for arranging that), and he delivered with a career-high season facing career-high pressure.
The lack of a consistent defense for the 'Canes coupled with aforementioned Peter's incompetency left Ward as the last resort on many a night in Raleigh.
Ward started and played in 74 of the team's 82 total games, the highest total for any goaltender since the 2005-06 lockout. Spelling out even more disaster was the fact that the Hurricanes allowed the most shots-against per game, but Ward came to rescue again. The 27-year-old goalie put up a solid .920 save percentage, despite facing over 230 more shots over the course of the season than any other goaltender.
The outstanding endurance that Ward possesses was also shown late in games as he helped the 'Canes become a team that proved tough to rally against. When holding a lead going into the third period, Ward had a 26-1 record at earning those two within-reach points.
Although Carolina fell just short of the playoffs, Ward did help the team make a late season push for a spot—a third example of his stamina—and helped himself find a role in the creation of the ultimate goalie.
Glove Hand: Marc-Andre Fleury
While this category might be a bit more debatable than some of the others, there's little doubt in our minds that Penguins' goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury has rightfully earned his recognition.
From Pittsburgh's back-to-back Eastern Conference Championships to more recent seasons, Fleury's prowess with his glove hand continues to turn heads. There was the last-second sprawling tip-away to win the '09 Stanley Cup. There was his headline-making overtime snag on February 23 against San Jose Sharks star Patrick Marleau. And then, back in the first round of the 2011 playoffs, he committed this robbery to keep the Pens alive.
With that left glove hand, Fleury brings to the ice the reflexes of a cat...or better yet, the reflexes of a cat in a flying mice cage. Our soon-to-be-legendary goalie shouldn't feel too offended with Fluery's skills here.
Survival Mode: Tomas Vokoun
For goalies, the term "survival mode" is often synonymous with the penalty kill. And, when you play for the Florida Panthers for four whole seasons, that connection becomes even more apt.
The Cats 'D' has never been known for being especially strong, and that particular weakness generally haunts a team to no end when they go down a man. However, Vokoun's excellence in fending off oncoming pucks for those 120 seconds helped Florida's penalty kill actually finish a surprising sixth in the league with an 84.6 kill rate.
35-year-old Vokoun, now a Washington Capital, also allowed only 21 power play strikes in 57 games played, the lowest total for any starting goalie. As the picture to your left exemplifies, those killed PP's were very hard fought.
Therefore, we hand the survival mode attribute award over to Tomas Vokoun for his excellence at living through so many opposing penalty kills...as well as four dreadful victory-lacking years in 100-degree heat.
Reflexes: Henrik Lundqvist
He doesn't quite get the nod with his glove hand, but Henrik Lundqvist is so quick with all of his pieces of equipment that he got to take an entirely more broad aspect instead: reflexes.
Just to make sure he's not jealous, we won't forget our Youtube tour of Lundqvist highlights, either. To start it off, this video on Mike Mottau brings back some on-our-feet-screaming memories. Elsewhere, Daniel Carcillo has to be a bit crushed after this larceny, and then Mathieu Perrault was cost a sure goal in this clip as Lundqvist flashed the pad.
There's little question that Lundqvist can use his glove, but his proficiency with the pads and blocker as well give Lundqvist the edge for best all-around researches. He's made Rangers fans ecstatic for years to have him between the pipes in MSG, and now he's about to contribute one of the most important components to our ever-improving impeccable goalie.
Shootouts: Jonathan Quick
Whether you like it or not, the game-deciding shootout appears to have made itself permanent in the game of hockey, and—as unrealistic as it is—there is definitely an art to success.
In the goaltending department, Los Angeles's Jonathan Quick seems to have monopolized that expertise. Even though, amazingly, he's only been the Kings' starter for less than three seasons, Quick has been dynamite in shootouts from the very beginning. Over his 180-game NHL career, 25-year-old Quick has won 23 of his 31 shootout appearances, including leading all goalies in total 'SO' wins in both 2009-10 and 2010-11.
The most sparkling part of his success, conversely, was exemplified this past season with a sparkling 10-0 undefeated record in shootouts. That's the first time a goalie with six or more shootout decisions has gone undefeated in the history of the tie-breaker—Kari Lehtonen's 5-0 mark in them in 2005-06 is the second-best unbeaten record.
Having such success in shootouts takes a variety of skills as well as some cunning anticipation; however, no matter how he manages it, Jonathan Quick is a runaway to become the donor of our goalie's future shootout talents.
7. Consistency: Ryan Miller
Buffalo star Ryan Miller could fit just fine in a large number of these topics, but consistency is one particular thing that he does best. Miller's combined 70-30-12 regular season record from 2005-07 is the peak of his career to date, but the 31-year-old has never posted a single-season GAA worse than 2.73 and has become the epitome of consistency especially in his most recent seasons.
The number of times Miller allowed just one or two—and, in some cases, zero—goals during the 2010-11 campaign was uncountable, and it gave the Buffalo offense—which was a bit unsteady albeit high-powered—a lot of stability to build off. Miller isn't the largest news-maker, but he gets the job done...and that's a truly underrated characteristic for any hockey player.
Clutch Ability: Tim Thomas
Oh, what more can we say? In terms of clutch moments, Tim Thomas has simply done it all.
First of all, playing in the Stanley Cup Finals is the ultimate apex of pressure. When you eventually win those Finals (after trailing two games to none at one point), there's no greater clutch moment in life.
Tim Thomas has done that.
Additionally, even on a typical night, there are always the third period jitters and doubts floating around; can they hold onto this hard-fought lead? In Boston, those were always quickly silenced this season, as the Bruins allowed the fewest third-period goals against of any club in the league. They were second best in that category in 2009-10, too—and third best in 2008-09.
You guessed it—Tim Thomas also made that happen.
He might not be the fastest goalie, the most consistent goalie, or the biggest goalie...but Tim Thomas is just undeniable in pressure situations. So, in clutch fashion, Thomas gets the nod to add the eighth and final piece to the puzzle of our "Ultimate Goaltender."
In the end, Mr. Perfect will get his size from Pekka Rinne, his stamina from Cam Ward, his glove hand from Marc-Andre Fleury and his survival mode from Tomas Vokoun; he'll get his reflexes from Henrik Lundqvist, his shootout skills from Jonathan Quick, his consistency from Ryan Miller and his clutch ability from Tim Thomas.
All of that is certainly settled...but one question remains.
What is our ultimate goaltender going to be named?
Mark Jones is currently Bleacher Report's featured columnist and community leader for the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes. In his 35 months so far with the site, he has written over 305 articles and received more than 350,000 total reads.