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The Myth of the Number 1 Goalie

I was reminded yesterday of a conversation I had with a friend of mine (Ben), where the end result was that I could not have been more wrong. Immediately following the trade deadline, I told Ben “with so many goalies available, the Flyers and Hawks will regret not having traded for one, come playoff time”. Please go easy on me in the comments section.

I bring that up because I should have known better. Since the lockout, there is a trend regarding starting goaltenders that shows a strong correlation between a goalie’s playoff success and regular season games played. Here is a look at the workload of goaltenders that have gone on a long playoff run in the 5 seasons of post-lockout hockey. For the purposes of this study, “a long playoff run” is defined as going to the conference finals.


Stanley Cup Winner Carolina Cam Ward 28
Cup Finalist Edmonton Dwayne Roloson 19
East Conf Finalist Buffalo Ryan Miller 48
West Conf Finalist Anaheim Ilya Bryzgalov 31


Stanley Cup Winner Anaheim JS Giguere 56
Cup Finalist Ottawa Ray Emery 58
East Conf Finalist Buffalo Ryan Miller 63
West Conf Finalist Detroit Dominik Hasek 56


Stanley Cup Winner Detroit Chris Osgood 43
Cup Finalist Pittsburgh Marc-Andre Fleury 35
East Conf Finalist Philadelphia Martin Biron 62
West Conf Finalist Dallas Marty Turco 62


Stanley Cup Winner Pittsburgh Marc-Andre Fleury 62
Cup Finalist Detroit Chris Osgood 46
East Conf Finalist Carolina Cam Ward 68
West Conf Finalist Chicago Nikolai Khabibulin 42


Cup Finalist Chicago Antti Niemi 39
Cup Finalist Philadelphia Michael Leighton 27
East Conf Finalist Montreal Jaroslav Halak 45
West Conf Finalist San Jose Evgeni Nabokov 71

Adding up the 5 seasons; the goalies that make it to the conference finals or better play an average of 48.1 games in the regular season.

This essentially destroys the myth that you need an elite goaltender to go on a long playoff run. The question now becomes why the relation between regular season games played and playoff success is so apparent. The answer is simple, the goalies are overworked and exhausted by the time the playoffs roll around. The explanation however, is a bit more complex.

First of all – PARITY is one of the driving forces that tires out goaltenders. The introduction of the salary cap has created a more level playing field amongst the 30 teams, meaning there are less “elite” teams and less “awful” teams. With fewer games that seem to be automatic wins, and the difference between playoff teams and non-playoff teams being so slim, coaches are forced to play their “number 1 goalie” more often and end up tiring them out.

MORE OFFENSE is another explanation as to why goalies that play many games are exhausted come playoff time. Rule changes introduced post-lockout have resulted in more shots, more scoring chances and more powerplays than ever. So not only do goalies play many games, they are forced to work harder than ever in those games.

The SPEED OF THE GAME has also increased in the new NHL, and that has also had an effect on goaltenders. Since the game now promotes speed and skill, goalies need to be faster and more skilled as well if they want to survive in the league. Combine that with the fact that goaltenders must now wear SMALLER EQUIPMENT, and you’ll realize that they are now required to be more athletic than ever, and not just stand in one place with gigantic pads covering the net.

Finally, because of the nature of the SALARY CAP, teams can no longer afford to invest big money into a backup goaltender; thus reducing the quality of the number 2 goalie on many teams.

My recommendation would be for teams to have the same attitude towards games played by a goaltender, that MLB teams do towards the pitch count of their pitchers. GMs need to be resourceful and find backups that can play 25-30 games and be effective, otherwise, the teams that burn out their starters over the course of the regular season (Brodeur, Luongo, Lundqvist, Kiprusoff) will continue to be disappointed in the postseason.

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I am the Director of NHL Content & Habs writer for; I have spent 8 seasons behind the bench as a minor hockey coach; and I am the future GM of the Montreal Canadiens (according to my mom). I spend my days managing the Harrow Sports brand in my hometown of Montreal and I moonlight as a Hockey Advisor for Pi Athlete Management. Most importantly, I'll throw anyone under the bus for a laugh.

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In response to “The Myth of the Number 1 Goalie”

  1. Eric Cooney May 27 20101:06 pm


    Corey, I agree with you immensely that teams need to have a backup that can handle at least a 20 game load per regular season. The pace of the game today is such that a goaltender that plays 70+ games is worn out come playoff time. Look at Jonathan Quick; he couldn’t notch that 40th win after 8 tries! And then in the playoffs he was worn out.

    1. Corey Krakower May 27 20101:29 pm


      people including myself are quick to suggest Habs should trade one of Price/Halak. Maybe its not such a bad idea to keep both!

      1. James Centifonti May 27 20102:23 pm


        will the cap allow it ?

      2. Eric Cooney May 27 20102:27 pm


        I’m looking forward to having both Quick and Bernier in the pipes for the Kings next season. I think it’s also important how they receive being put in a position like that. Some goaltenders don’t like to have their position threatened and play worse, some revel in it and play better. I’m not sure how Quick and Bernier will respond. I think Halak would be game for it, but do you think Price would be okay with that situation?

  2. James Centifonti May 27 20102:22 pm


    Does this mean Bob Clarke was right to not invest big money in a goalie and rather in the players in front of them…………..thus resulting in the endless number of goalies.

    1. Dan Rakusan May 27 20103:05 pm


      Only time will tell James. Let’s face it, there is no runner-up prize for making the Finals and not winning. My thought is that the way the Rangers have done it is the ideal way. Lundqvist is good for 60 games or so, but having a platoon of backups (Auld, Johnson and Zaba) seems to work okay… The team’s problems weren’t rooted in goaltending… Better to spend a bit on defence and forwards rather than over-invest on goaltending… At least, that’s my opinion.

      1. Corey Krakower May 27 20103:12 pm


        is that comment based on this year only?

        Lundqvist played:
        70 games in 06-07 – lost in rd2
        72 games in 07-08 – lost in rd2
        70 games in 08-09 – lost in rd1
        73 games in 09-10 – missed playoffs

        are you not curious to see how well King Henrik and the Rangers would do if instead of playing 70+ games per year, he got an extra 10 games of rest?

        1. Dan Rakusan May 27 20105:29 pm


          My comment is based on not over-investing in a tandem of NHL-calibre starting goalies where one will sit on the bench. The only way to groom a goalie is to have him play, and the only way you won’t lose games for no reason is to make sure that goalie is ready by seasoning him in the AHL first (or Europe).

          In Hank’s case, he’s kinda victimized by the fact that we have no real strong backup, and thus signed Auld to get us down the stretch run. He was “adequate” at best.

          Rangers should go out and get Hedberg on the open market to prevent Hank from playing too many games. In this season, you have to consider the Olympics in some ways as a factor for being tired out. However, over the long-haul, Hank can’t possibly play 70+ games per season and remain an elite goalie. Look at how Brodeur performed down the stretch and you will see the same thing Flames fans see each years. A goalie who is tired out from playing too many games. You DO need a solid number 2 guy, but in Montreal they would be best off dealing Price for a solid backup plus either a pick or an established player.

          Just my opinion though…

          1. Ben Petrino May 27 20109:30 pm

            Hank is an elite goalie stuck in a bad spot. Rangers defense doesn’t give him any help so his good numbers don’t look as good as they should be. This is a guy who can carry a team deep into the playoffs every year.

            I see the correlation but I don’t believe that it is causation. As a Devils fan, I saw Brodeur play very well in the playoffs but didn’t win because they didn’t score goals and didn’t play with any heart.

  3. The_Canuck_Journalist May 27 20103:16 pm


    There`s is just one exception to this rule. Last year -because of a torn bicep- Marty Broduer only played 31 games. The result? Another first-round exit. Regardless of the talk about age catching up to him he is still an elite level goalie, not to mention being nominated once again for the Vezina this year. However, I do strongly agree that fatigued goalies are a burden on any team- just as fatigued regular players are. Halak, for example, just ran out of steam in the conference finals, he was not robbing anyone like he did againsat Malkin in game 7 with his left pad. Strong point though, you really need two strong goalies now to get anywhere.

  4. The_Canuck_Journalist May 27 20103:19 pm


    Or as Philly has… eight mediocre ones.

  5. PatrickHulst May 28 20106:30 am


    I heard an interview with Ken Holland (Detroit) on the Fan590 early this year. His theory on goalies: get a decent one whose save % is at or above .900. Then spend the money on D and a good game plan, keep the shots against around 25, and you only need to score 3 to win most games.

    Sounds easy. Apparently in Detroit it is, as that formula has worked for years. It sure beats leaning on your goalie to stop 38 of 40 shots every game – on the nights where he’s “only” .900 you need to score 5. Ouch.

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