If you ask me, this is a golden era of goaltending for hockey. While the “Dead Puck Era” produced better numbers in many cases, it’s hard to imagine a time in which so many teams had so many solid-to-great goalies. Maybe that might make it tougher for individuals to stand out, but there really aren’t a whole lot of teams who are just flat-out “lost” at the position anymore. There aren’t many squads that need to camouflage Dan Cloutier-type liabilities in net.
We could debate the bigger picture merits of goalies all day, but there’s one thing you’ll have a really tough time making me dismiss: this is the highest point for American hockey goaltending ever. One could argue that is true from both a quality and quantity standpoint. With all due respect to the legendary Olympic run of Jim Craig, scattered talents throughout older times and a solid recently past era that included Tom Barrasso, John Vanbiesbrouck and Mike Richter, this is a peak generation for U.S. netminding.
Let’s take a look at a list of the most prominent active American goaltenders to drive the point home.
It’s been said over and over again, but it never really gets old: Thomas put together a combined playoff and postseason run for the ages this year. He generated a record-breaking .938 save percentage during the regular season and somehow found a way to top that by reaching the .940 mark in the playoffs. Oh yeah, he also won the Vezina Trophy, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup in the process. It isn’t outrageous to wonder if Thomas literally put together the best single season and playoff run an NHL goalie ever enjoyed, although it’s tough to be sure because different scoring eras fudge the numbers (we’re looking at you, high-scoring 1980’s).
Thomas might not be a traditional butterfly goalie, but his “redneck style” and resilient journey to the NHL make him the American dream in leg pads.
If you just flat-out refuse to admit that an unorthodox goalie is the best in the world, then Miller provides another example of an American netminder who is clearly at the top of the form. While Thomas owned just about everything that had to to with 2010-11, Miller was the darling of the 2009-10 season, including the 2010 Olympics. He carried the U.S. to a surprising silver medal after helping them make it within a famous Sidney Crosby overtime goal of the gold and took home the 2010 Vezina Trophy as well.
For those counting at home, the last three Vezina Trophies went to American goalies: Thomas twice and Miller once. The closest example of that happening before was when Barrasso won it in 1984 and Vanbiesbrouck took it in 86.
This class of American goalies runs deep. Howard might not roll of your tongue when you’re naming the NHL’s elite, but he’s the present and future of Detroit’s goaltending. The past has been pretty sweet, too; he’s currently riding two consecutive 37-win seasons. After his stats slipped a bit from the 09-10 to 10-11 regular season, Howard responded with a .923 save percentage in the 2011 playoffs.
Jonathan Bernier couldn’t win the Jonathan Championship from Quick last season and it’s going to be tough for Bernier to usurp the steady American next season. Quick won 39 games in 09-10 and 35 last season while improving his individual numbers along the way. The Connecticut product could rise in many peoples’ eyes if he comes through in what looks to be a promising 2011-12 season for the Kings.
The jury seems to be out on Anderson, but one cannot deny his potential after he carried the Colorado Avalanche to a surprise playoff berth in 09-10. The Ottawa Senators made a big investment in Anderson and he might just have the tools to make that pay off.
Ben Bishop, Brian Boucher, Jack Campbell, Scott Clemmensen, Ty Conklin, Rick DiPietro, Brent Johnson and Al Montoya
The long list of backups and/or emerging prospects might push this era over the edge. Boucher and Johnson rank among the better journeyman backups in the league while Conklin isn’t far behind. Bishop is an over-sized goalie for St. Louis while Clemmensen signed an over-sized contract with Florida. DiPietro’s health is a problem and his contract is a punchline, but there was a time when he was an All-Star goalie. Campbell and Montoya are former first round draft picks we’ll probably see more of in the future. If nothing else, more American born goalies are getting work than ever before.
Again, if you ask me, this marks the highest point for American goaltending at both the elite level (three straight Vezina trophies) and from a sheer quantity standpoint. I’m curious to hear counterarguments to this point, though, so feel free to light some logical fireworks in the comments.