I returned home from vacation last week and found The Hockey News Yearbook in my mailbox with their annual Top 50 players feature. Number 1 on their list is Carey Price, this coming a couple months after the love fest for Price that was the NHL Awards. Carey Price is not the top player in the NHL and should not have won the Hart and Ted Lindsay awards, and here’s why. Goaltender has become the most robotic position to play over the past 20 years for many reasons. Teams do not need a top goalie to win in today’s NHL and if so many teams can have success without the prototypical #1 goalie, then why would a goalie be an MVP?
Scoring is low, yet it is not because 30 teams each have a stud netminder playing 70+ games per season. The evolution of this conundrum goes back a few decades.
First came the butterfly style chiefly brought to the masses by Patrick Roy in the 1980’s which not only popularized the method, but really sparked the era of the goalie coach. Then there was the enormous growth in equipment in the 1990’s which the NHL has paid lip service to making smaller recently, but has worked in only limited ways at a real effort to find the true balance of protection and size. What pad width has to do with protection for shots that come from the front is a mystery. Why a goalie needs a catching glove the size of a garbage can lid to stop a 3″ puck is beyond me and a goalies hand is only about 20% of that area so the massive trapper is not protecting anything. The league continues to rely on equipment manufacturers to make changes. They do not engage in any R&D or have a third party evaluate breakthroughs in material science and create design guidelines. So the manufacturers still try to make goalies happy and sell gear since they are staying within the rules the NHL sets, which are backed up by some guys gut feeling of what a goalie needs down at NHL HQ. Former goalies probably don’t have advanced degrees in industrial design, material science, or any other field related to how a projectile can be stopped and a human protected. Then you have the physiological growth of all NHL players, including goaltenders, which makes the current goalie take up far more net than a few facades ago. So combine the increased size of the athletes, the bigger equipment, and more position specific coaching and you have a single spot on the ice with many more advantages.
Now take that individual and put them into a mix that has seen defenseman get bigger and stronger while becoming far better skaters than as recently as the 1980’s. That alone reduces the threat. But take these athletes and their body armor and add in the evolution of coaching and systems in the NHL that bring forward into the defensive scheme more and have all 5 defenders blocking shots and you end up with an era that makes the goal scorer challenged to find anyplace to shoot against even the worst goalie in the league.
In sort of an inverse equation, the exact lack of offense league wide makes it impossible for any goalie to be most valuable. The goalie is no longer chiefly responsible for snuffing out offense, but merely the bloated backboard against which the very few quality shots that actually make it on net bounce off of like rain drops hit a roof. The roofs default position is to stop the rain, it is not heralded for doing so, only when it leaks through is it noticed. The monolithic presence of today’s goaltenders makes most saves a forgone conclusion.