Jan. 7, 2014 is D-day, but for Canadians it may as well be G-day. That’s the date on which all Olympic hockey team rosters are due and we discover which three goaltenders will be sharing the Canadian crease.
There are a host of other intense competitions for the privilege to represent home and native lands on the world stage, but none has approached the level of scrutiny Canadian masked men have received.
Small-picture, it’s a little overblown. Canada still produces quality stoppers, many of whom dot the NHL leaderboard this season. The men who occupy the top three spots in save percentage right here, right now (Ben Scrivens, Josh Harding, Carey Price) are from the Great White North. Others such as Roberto Luongo, Mike Smith and Jonathan Bernier are respected goalies capable of getting the job done at the highest level.
Big-picture, however, there has been a palatable and measurable sea change.
Not so long ago, Canada had virtual a monopoly on elite-level netminding. Yes, Europeans and Americans were starting to infiltrate the NHL steadily at the skilled skater positions, but the game’s masked heroes were still overwhelmingly guys from north of the 49th parallel. The red and white owned the blue paint.
The reality is no longer so smug. The decline of the Canadian goaltending empire is more than a decade old, one that began about the time Dominik Hasek was working magic in the Buffalo Sabres crease. He won the Vezina Trophy an astounding six times from 1994 to 2001, the Hart twice, and his rise signaled an international transformation. James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail did a terrific analysis of this trend on the weekend.
And the numbers are indeed telling. In 1988, according to quanthockey.com, 87 percent of all goaltenders in the NHL hailed from Canada. By 2000, it had fallen to 61 percent. And this season, the number has swooned to 38 percent. During the same span, the overall Canuck-born player level has eroded, but at a far slower pace – 75 percent in 1998, 55 per cent in 2000 and 52 percent this season.
From a trophy perspective, Europeans and Americans have consistently pushed Canadians off the NHL Awards stage. Since the 2005 lockout, just one Canadian has captured the Vezina Trophy (Martin Brodeur in 2007 and 2008). Of the 16 runners-up in that time span, just five were Canadian.
We aren’t presenting this as a crisis or a problem, but a reflection of how much our game has changed.
For the NHL, it could be an opportunity. The league is still eager to grow the game south of Ontario and east of Newfoundland. There are vast revenue streams to be siphoned, particularly in affluent Europe. And if you’re looking to sell the game overseas, wouldn’t you rather have Henriks, Tuukkas and Anttis to promote than Steves, Careys and Coreys?