Do NHL Teams Need a Top-Tier Goalie to Win the Stanley Cup?

It's the common mindset throughout the entire hockey world - you aren't going anywhere without good goaltending.

There's no disputing that logic. Someone with ample ability needs to be between the pipes if you hope to remain in any individual game, let alone win hockey's greatest prize. Goaltenders throughout the history of the sport have made their names during crunch time - Dominik Hasek, Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur - all Stanley Cup champions who were big reasons why their teams were able to win titles.

The logic that is often associated with this discussion is that a team needs a Vezina-winning keeper in the net to win the Cup - someone who will play 70 games a year, win 40 of them, post a sparkling goals against average and save percentage and run away with the goaltender of the year award before leading his team to a date with hockey's holy grail. Is that really what championship teams are made of? Let's find out.

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3 Vezina Winning Goalies Who've Won the Cup (in the "New" NHL Era)

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

  • 2005-2006 - Miikka Kiprusoff
  • 2006-2007 - Martin Brodeur
  • 2007-2008 - Martin Brodeur
  • 2008-2009 - Tim Thomas
  • 2009-2010 - Ryan Miller
  • 2010-2011 - Tim Thomas
  • 2011-2012 - Henrik Lundqvist
  • 2012-2013 - Sergei Bobrovsky (shortened season)
  • 2013-2014 - Tuukka Rask

Each goaltender on this list had at least 35 wins (except for Bobrovsky, but that was a shortened season) - the highest GAA was Ryan Miller's 2.22 in 2009-2010, and the lowest save percentage was Martin Brodeur's .920 in 2007-2008. These goaltenders put up incredible stat lines consistently throughout the season - but did it translate to playoff success?

  • 2005-2006 - Miikka Kiprusoff - Lost in Round 1
  • 2006-2007 - Martin Brodeur -  Lost in Round 2
  • 2007-2008 - Martin Brodeur - Lost in Round 1
  • 2008-2009 - Tim Thomas - Lost in Round 2
  • 2009-2010 - Ryan Miller - Lost in Round 1
  • 2010-2011 - Tim Thomas - Won Stanley Cup
  • 2011-2012 - Henrik Lundqvist - Lost in Round 3
  • 2012-2013 - Sergei Bobrovsky (shortened season) - Out of Playoffs
  • 2013-2014 - Tuukka Rask - Lost in Round 2

The Boston Bruins ended up winning the Stanley Cup in Tim Thomas's second Vezina season - other than Thomas, none of the other "best regular season goalies" were able to lead their teams to postseason glory. While the point of this article is not to prove the notion that "riding a goalie all year tires him out for the playoffs" is true (I personally find the notion a tad ridiculous, to be perfectly honest), it does beg the question why the team with the supposed best goaltender of that particular season was not able to have greater playoff success, during a time of year where goaltending is usually the factor that tips the scale one way or the other.

2 Riding the Hot Hand

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

There's definitely something to be said for "getting hot at the right time." Perhaps that's the crux of this entire issue, no goalie is bound to stay hot all season long (with the odd exception taken into account) - perhaps the Vezina winner is simply the hottest "regular season goaltender," while the playoffs (which are played at a different pace and intensity level) brings out the best in someone else, making them the hottest "postseason goaltender."

It seems like a very basic argument to make, but in cross-referencing the Stanley Cup winners of the last nine years with their rank in that year's Vezina trophy voting shows otherwise:

  • 2005-2006 - Cam Ward - (no votes)
  • 2006-2007 - Jean-Sebastien Giguere (tied 8th in voting)
  • 2007-2008 - Chris Osgood (11th in voting)
  • 2008-2009 - Marc-André Fleury (no votes)
  • 2009-2010 - Antti Niemi (no votes)
  • 2010-2011 - Tim Thomas (Won Vezina Trophy)
  • 2011-2012 - Jonathan Quick (2nd in voting)
  • 2012-2013 - Corey Crawford (8th in voting)
  • 2013-2014 - Jonathan Quick (5th in voting)

Riding the hot hand is easy when you already have an established number one goalie - unless that goalie falters. Most of the names above did not falter - rather, they rose to the occasion - but a guy like Cam Ward never even sees the crease if Martin Gerber hadn't been awful in the Hurricanes series against the Montreal Canadiens. Chris Osgood's backup in 2008 was Dominik Hasek, of all people - talk about having to play with a shadow cast over you.

Other than Thomas in 2011 and Quick in 2012, none of the most recent Stanley Cup winning goaltenders got anywhere near winning a Vezina trophy in that season. Of course, they got the "preferred" hardware, so they aren't complaining. The issue remains - why is it so difficult for the voted-upon "best goaltender" in the league to carry their regular season success into the playoffs?

1 The Bottom Line

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Over the years, the hockey world has found a way to skew the meaning of their trophies. The Hart Memorial trophy has basically become the trophy that accompanies the Art Ross, while the Norris Trophy is essentially an award for being one of the highest scoring defencemen in the NHL.

In the case of the Vezina, while it still has it's shiny title as "the award given to the best goaltender in the league," one can argue that it could also be given out as a way to say "your team is pretty awful, but you stole them a bunch of points and got them into the playoffs, so you deserve this." However, just a cursory glance at that standings shows just that this is completely false (again, with the odd exception):

  • 2005-2006 - Miikka Kiprusoff - 3rd in the West
  • 2006-2007 - Martin Brodeur -  2nd in the East
  • 2007-2008 - Martin Brodeur - 4th in the East
  • 2008-2009 - Tim Thomas - 1st in the East
  • 2009-2010 - Ryan Miller - 3rd in the East
  • 2010-2011 - Tim Thomas - 3rd in the East
  • 2011-2012 - Henrik Lundqvist - 1st in the East
  • 2012-2013 - Sergei Bobrovsky (shortened season) - 9th in the West
  • 2013-2014 - Tuukka Rask - 1st in the East

You're reading this right: for the past nine seasons, the lowest playoff-seed a team with a Vezina winning goalie has played for was 4th in the conference (New Jersey in 2007-2008), and yet during that time only two of those teams have made it to a conference finals, and only one has won a Stanley Cup.

Great teams with great goalies should equal more success, should it not? What's the problem then?

That's the million dollar question, apparently - but it would appear that having both those qualities means much less these days. The parity in the NHL has reached an unprecedented level, which doesn't help the high end teams (in fact, all it seems to do is put pressure on them).

No is saying that Jonathan Quick, Henrik Lundqvist or Tuukka Rask are not high-end goalies - that would be preposterous. What can be said, though, is that your top-end goaltender doesn't need to stand on his head all season long - and get a trophy for it - to guarantee success in the playoffs.

Besides, the more meaningful goalie trophy is the Conn Smythe, right?

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