Two years ago at this time, Canadian hockey fans were all a Twitter about who would tend goal for them at the Olympics.
Carey Price wasn’t yet Carey Price, having finished tied for 10th in Vezina Trophy voting the previous season. Roberto Luongo was a co-favorite for Sochi, but he didn’t inspire universal confidence. Stoppers such as Mike Smith, Cam Ward and Corey Crawford were also blended into a situation that was screaming for someone to elevate.
Overall to that point in 2013-14, Canadian goalies comprised just 38 per cent of the NHL’s netminder population, far below the country’s representation among all positions (52 per cent). The Vezina had ceased to be a birthright of Canadians; Americans and Europeans won six consecutively before Price’s heroics last season. It had people wondering just what was wrong with Canadian goalie development.
The answer might be nothing – that it was just a downward tick in a predictable evolutionary process.
A snapshot of this year’s big picture tells two tales. One: the quality of netminder Canada is producing is again outstanding. Along with Price, Braden Holtby, Marc-Andre Fleury, Devan Dubnyk, Jake Allen and Martin Jones dot the league’s leaderboard in stats categories. Accordingly, the perception of the Canadian stopper been adjusted in the eyes of experts.
In our recently published Goalie Issue, a panel of former NHL netminders placed six Canadian goalies among the top 10 in our ranking, and 12 in the top 25. Price reigns supreme, while Holtby clocks in at No. 5.
The second part of the story underlines how the rest of the world continues to catch up – Canadians now hold 35 per cent of crease jobs, compared to 49 per cent at all positions. The U.S. has made large inroads, owning more than 20 per cent of crease roles in 2015-16.
Looking ahead, we should expect that trend to continue. In Future Watch 2105, our ranking of already-drafted prospects, two of the four goalies in the top 50 are Canadian: Zach Fucale and Malcolm Subban. In the 2015 NHL draft, however, just four of 24 netminders selected are from the Great White North, while eight hail from the USA.
Who knows which of the 24 will ascend to big league status, but we could be talking about another Canadian goalie “crisis” if the cycle swings back downwards in six or seven years.