Patience with an NHL Goalie Can Be a Virtue

Kevin van Steendelaar@@LeTirEtLeButAnalyst IApril 29, 2009

SAN JOSE, CA - APRIL 19:  Jonas Hiller #1 of the Anaheim Ducks makes a save against  the San Jose Sharks during Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 19, 2009 at HP Pavilion in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

With the quick exit of the Montreal Canadiens by the Boston Bruins last week, many fans and media drew their attention on goaltender Carey Price.

For some reason, they assume all the team's failure fell on the 21-year-old's shoulders.

The key to part of the problem is that Price is just that, 21 years old.

With no veteran goalie on the team, Price and fellow goaltender Jaroslav Halak, 23, are basically learning as they go with little time to develop.

Granted, it was GM Bob Gainey's decision to run with two young goaltenders. Was it the right one, or do critics just need a bit more patience?

I did a little research, and while there are several goaltenders who have had success out the gate and maintained it through their careers, they are greatly outnumbered by those who have had time to develop for several years following their drafting.

To give you an idea, I've compiled a list of goaltenders, past and present who fall into that category.

Note that not all of them have been Stanley Cup winners but have established themselves as solid No. 1 goaltenders.

The list is in no particular order:

Ken Dryden

This HOF goaltender made his mark stealing the 1971 Stanley Cup Playoffs for Montreal, having just six regular season games under his belt. Although a rookie, Dryden was 23 when he debuted and had his college years and half a season in the AHL to hone his craft.

Martin Brodeur

His first full season did come at age 21, in '93-'94, where he played in 47 games. He wouldn't become the workhorse—67 plus starts a year—of the team for two more seasons.

Gerry Cheevers

After playing 22 games for Boston in '66-'67, Cheevers became the No. 1 goalie the following year at age 26.

Jacques Plante

Considered one of the greatest of all time, Plante did not lay claim to the No. 1 job in Montreal until '54-'55 at age 25.

Niklas Bakstrom

Came to Minnesota as an undrafted free agent and took over the Wild's No. 1 position in '06-'07 at age 28. He'll be there another four seasons after signing a four-year extension.

Pekka Rinne, Henrik Lundqvist, Ilya Bryzgalov

Here are a trio of European goaltenders that were all drafted and took four to five years before becoming No. 1 goalies for their respective teams.

Johnny Bower

Made his debut with the New York Rangers at age 28, but his Hall of Fame career with the Toronto Maple Leafs did not begin until five years later.

Tim Thomas

A 1994 draft pick of the Quebec Nordiques. Thomas never saw NHL action until '02-'03, becoming a full time Bruin in '05-'06 at age 31. Did anyone see this year's finalists for the Vezina?

Ed Belfour

Calder, Vezina, Hart Trophy nomination in his rookie year. Not bad for an undrafted free agent that the Blackhawks signed at age 22 and developed for a year-and-a-half in the IHL. Oh, and tack on a second Vezina in 1993, a Stanley Cup ring, and 484 career wins.

Jonas Hiller

Signed as an undrafted free agent at age 25. After proving a capable backup last season and 46 games this season. He single-handily flushed the San Jose Sharks down this year's Stanley Cup toilet.

For argument's sake, people will say, "But Roy won a Cup in his rookie year at age 20."

True, Patrick Roy went on a tear and stole the '86 Cup Playoffs for Montreal, becoming one of hockey's greatest goalies.

But it should be noted that Roy spent most of his first decade playing 60 percent of his team's games through the regular season, most of them at home, before taking the dominant reigns in a 60-plus game capacity.

Grant Fuhr is another example of that.

Coming straight out of junior, he played in a tandem with Andy Moog and Bill Ranford for most of his career in Edmonton.

He played 75 games for the Oilers in '87-'88 but only played more than 58 games in four other seasons in his brilliant career. Three of those were in his latter years with crappy Blues teams.

A goalie that reminds me of what Carey Price is going through is the Pittsburgh Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury.

Fleury had a less than stellar 22-game stint after being drafted, then benefited from the lockout by playing in the AHL.

Since then his team, thanks to some bad seasons prior to his arrival, has been built around him—Crosby, Malkin, Gonchar—and his play has improved dramatically.

Whether the Canadiens choose to groom Price slowly as a tandem with Halak, etc. and build around them—or not—is entirely up to them.

In any event, just be patient Habs fans and give the kids time.

Columbus Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals fans may wish to do the same as Steve Mason enters his sophomore season with the Blue Jackets and the Capitals' Simeon Varlamov is doing his magic in the playoffs against the Rangers.

Just remember that this time last season, Price was the darling of Habs fans and media alike.


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