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.
3 Vezina Winning Goalies Who've Won the Cup (in the "New" NHL Era)
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?
2 Riding the Hot Hand
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:
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.
1 The Bottom Line
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):
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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