What do Andrew Hammond, Keith Kinkaid, Antti Raanta, Cam Talbot and Martin Jones have in common? They are all undrafted, overlooked goaltenders who, through a series of interesting circumstances, have found themselves thriving in the spotlight on hockey’s greatest stage. Throw in the insanely improbable story of Chicago’s Scott Darling and the resurrection of perennial outcast Devan Dubnyk, and you’ve got the script for “The Expendables 4.”
In reality, we really shouldn’t be all that surprised. This is, after all, the “Age of the Goaltender.” Today’s prototypical goalie is 6 foot 4, explosive from post to post and trained by a plethora of goalie coach gurus the world over. Compared to the netminders of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s, we’re seeing a vast transformation in the net, more than any other position. Another thing we’re seeing is a crazy amount of depth at the professional levels. It’s gotten to a point where the talent is so immense at the position that it almost doesn’t matter who you throw out there on any given night. The results over large sample sizes are pretty consistent.
Case in point:
New York’s Net:
Success of goaltenders in today’s game also weighs heavily on the type of system a team plays. For nearly two decades, Martin Brodeur benefited from a stingy defensive system in New Jersey. In today’s game, where every movement on the ice is tracked, analyzed and re-analyzed, system play has become a science. The sport of hockey itself has become extremely cerebral, much more of a chess game. This contributes to the reason why we’re seeing more consistency in the goaltending numbers for each specific team.
Systems aside, today’s goalies are just so damn good. The emergence of the out-of-nowhere game-stealer like Ottawa’s Andrew “Hamburglar” Hammond, and Scott “That’s right, the Southern Professional Hockey League” Darling is a testament to the strength of the goaltending position across the board in the NHL. I would compare NHL goalies to NFL running backs. If one goes down, there is someone right behind him, champing at the bit to get a shot to prove he’s legit. Hell, there’s even someone waiting behind that guy. There are just so many good ones in hockey today, and that’s a stick tap to goalie development in general.
Will this newfound cache of uber talent at the goaltending position have an impact on how teams operate? Maybe. Anything is possible and probable in a salary cap environment. For example, Chicago has some tough decisions to make beyond this season with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane locked up to huge deals, soaking up a third of their cap space. Knowing this, does it make sense for them to keep Corey Crawford around at $6.5 M per year and risk having to move Brent Seabrook or Patrick Sharp, or could they move Crawford and go with a tandem of Raanta and Darling (who combine for a measly $1.35 M cap hit)?
One thing is for certain. We’re only just beginning to see the fruits of a movement that has really just begun. Until only recently, unless you were from Finland or had enough money to pay for private goalie training sessions, goalies were trained by coaches who knew very little about the position. We’re now starting to see more specialized training at the goalie position across the board in minor hockey. Going forward with this approach, we’re going to be seeing a lot more Hamburglars and Darlings popping up.