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2010 Winter Olympics: Team Canada's Goaltending Dilemma

Peter PemmelaarContributor IFebruary 23, 2010

VANCOUVER, BC - FEBRUARY 21:  Goalkeeper Martin Brodeur #30 of Canada scratches his head next to Scott Niedermayer #27 of Canada during the ice hockey men's preliminary game between Canada and USA on day 10 of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics at Canada Hockey Place on February 21, 2010 in Vancouver, Canada.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Everyone likes to believe (or at least all Canadians) that the most important national team in the country’s psyche rests in the hands of competent, knowledgeable hockey management, honed through years of experience playing  or at least coaching at the highest professional level.  For the most part they are right. 

However, in any industry, event, or endeavor, those in charge must inevitably resort to all kinds of rules of thumb, shortcuts etc to pared down the overwhelming plethora of choices that they face to a few manageable variables. In marketing they call this brand awareness. 

Choices are not based on a thorough review of all options but quickly narrowed down to a few choice options based on those brands that are best known.  Brodeur is a brand as is Loungo.  You might consider them the Mercedes and BMW of Canadian goaltending. Conversely, Marc Andre Fleury is more closely the Buick of goaltending. 

A brand redefining its image and trying to overcome deep seat prejudices that consign him to the back-up in case the back-up gets injured role.

The new Buick may be every bit as good a value as its German cousins ( a conclusion that the mainland Chinese seem to support in the thousands) but try to convince a North American of that and you are fighting an uphill battle against preconceived notions, and deficit in social status that actually underlies most luxury car purchases.

 As the current NHL seasons stands the three Goaltenders win-loss stats are as follows:

 

Wins

Losses

OT

Win %

Brodeur

34

20

3

60.7%

Luongo

31

17

2

62.0%

Fleury

26

17

2

57.0%

I know most of the Brodeur/Luongo buyers are pointing out that the win percentage for Fleury is the lowest of the three, true. But the difference is really not much.  One extra win for Fleury and the tables reverse putting him on top.  In other words they are almost equal, the difference is what statisticians called acceptable deviance. 

If you really want the closest test lab to the Olympics available I would suggest last year’s NHL playoffs. After all next to the Olympics it’s the greatest concentration of hockey talent and the pressure is every bit as great.  Based on last year’s NHL playoffs here is the case for turning the net over to Marc-Andre.

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As the Olympics stand a total of 18 games have been played (and for some strange reason no one is eliminated).  Assuming Canada manages to beat Germany, Slovakia rolls over Norway and then loses to Sweden (which is a big if) then Canada’s two games leading up to the gold medal game will be against Russia and Sweden respectively.

Flash back to the 2008 playoffs and who did the Pens face in the semi-finals and finals? Washington and Detroit, with Marc Andre Fleury backstopping both series.

The semi-final showdown against Washington ended with a 4-1 series victory for Pittsburgh.  If any team in the NHL resembles Team Russia it is the Capitals.

Apart from the obvious that Ovechkin and Semin play for the team, it is very much like the Russian team, an offensive juggernaut firing on all 12 cylinders, with a defense that hopes the offense keeps firing.  No one can argue that Fleury faced this opposition in the pressure cooker of the NHL playoffs and won.

Fast forward to the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals versus Detroit. Detroit could be characterized as the Swedish national team’s home away from home. It is the team of Lidstrom, Franzen, Kronwall, Zetterberg, Samuelsson, Ericsson, and Holmstrom, not to mention at the time Jiri Hudler who may not be Swedish but plays like he learned hockey on one of Stockholm’s 13 Islands.

They play a puck possession game similar to Team Sweden (which is hardly surprising considering the number of top ranked Swedes on the team). The result, a 4-2 series win for Pittsburgh.

I know there will be those who will claim that Fleury’s success was due in large part to the excellent team in front him during the 2008-2009 playoffs. That may be true, but the team in front of him in Vancouver will be no less than Team Canada, which outshot the US 45-23.

I would argue that Fleury’s success is the result of an ability to perform well under pressure something that Brodeur has not demonstrated and that Luongo has never been able to do consistently. It time to put the Canadian goaltending icons aside and look at the cold hard facts of who performs best.

Bold decision making is required as the time tested brand awareness strategy has resulted in Canada sitting in sixth place with arguably one of the most talented teams in history.  Unfortunately at the time of completion of this opinion piece Mike Babcock has still not returned my calls.

Peter Pemmelaar can be reached at Pemmelaar@gmail.com

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