I’ve long believed goaltending in the NHL is the single most important position in all professional team sports.
He is the most relied-upon player on a nightly basis, the individual who has a greater influence on his team’s success or failure than any other performer.
Who comes close? A starting pitcher in baseball who pitches once every four or five days? An NFL quarterback, who’s on the field for approximately half of each game – and half the time he is, he’s handing the ball off to someone else to do the grunt work? Basketball? Heck, hoopsters are so scared of goaltending they’ve banned it outright.
Hockey’s netminders can be called upon at any given moment to make a critical save, give his team a lift, keep his team in a game. The focus and mental energy required – not to mention the athleticism and skill – is colossal.
All of which makes Martin Brodeur’s accomplishments that much more amazing. That he has been able to maintain his standing as an elite stopper nearly every year of his 15-plus seasons career – there he is again among the league leaders in wins in 2009-10 – should not be underplayed. It’s remarkable.
For further evidence of the achievement, check out how those around him have struggled for consistency. A quick glimpse show us:
• Jean-Sebastien Giguere, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 2003 and Stanley Cup champ in 2007, has fallen from his lofty perch, fighting for playing time.
• 2009 Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas, who has played better of late, nonetheless ranks tied for 21st among goalies in wins.
• Columbus’ Steve Mason, the 2009 Calder Trophy winner and Vezina runner-up, is a horrid 41st – or last overall – in save percentage at .879
• The Stars are liking what they’re receiving from Marty Turco this season far more than what they got last year, but his middling playoff record and hefty price tag have them playing wait-and-see until season’s end before they think about offering him another contract.
• Carey Price may get run out of Montreal if he doesn’t turn things around in a hurry.
• Chris Osgood blows hot and cold.
• The Leafs paid an exorbitant price to get Vesa Toskala, only to see him lose his mojo and become a highly paid backup.
• Jose Theodore won the adoration of the hockey world in 2002 with his Vezina and Hart triumphs, but has been mostly disappointing since.
• Calder sensations such as Andrew Raycroft and Jim Carey hit the skids soon after winning hardware
• The Vezina runners-up in 2000 and 2001 became a pair of fallen Roman (Turek and Cechmanek) empires.
OK, I’m rambling, but it reinforces the point. Becoming an all-world goalie is a remarkable feat. Maintaining that status for a prolonged period of years is darned near impossible.
It’s simply another reason to put Brodeur on a pedestal all his own.
Jason Kay is the editor in chief of The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Fridays.
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